NHL Predictions: One Question Facing Each Team's Best Player in 2012-13
Each NHL team's best player will be under immense pressure to live up to expectations people have for his individual performance and the success of his team.
Regardless of the position these players excel at, they will play an important role in their team's challenge of accomplishing its goals.
Let's look at one question facing each team's best player heading into the 2012-13 NHL season.
Will Corey Perry return to his MVP form?
Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry didn't have a bad season last year, but it wasn't what people expected after his 2010-11 Hart Trophy season.
Perry scored 37 goals with 23 assists last year for 60 points, which was 38 less than he had the year before.
Expect Perry to have a bounce-back season in 2012-13, especially since he's in a contract year. Perry is one of the best power forwards in hockey, and it would be surprising if he didn't reach the 40-goal mark this season.
Can Zdeno Chara score 50 points again?
Zdeno Chara is best known for his fantastic defense, but last year he had the best offensive performance of his career.
He reached the 50-point and 40-assist marks for the first time in his career and was a key part of the Bruins offense.
Since the Bruins have such a balanced offense, there's no reason why Chara can't reach 50 points again.
Will Ryan Miller lead the Sabres into the playoffs?
An improved Eastern Conference will make it tougher for the Buffalo Sabres to return to the playoffs after finishing third in the Northeast Division last year.
For the Sabres to compete with the Bruins and Ottawa Senators, star goaltender Ryan Miller has to shine on a consistent basis.
If Miller doesn't play at an elite level this season, it's going to be hard for the Sabres to make the playoffs. He needs to carry the team because Buffalo doesn't have a ton of scoring, and several of the team's defensemen are not very durable.
Miller needs to win about 40 games for the Sabres to earn a playoff berth.
Will Miikka Kiprusoff have to carry the Flames to a playoff spot?
Miikka Kiprusoff had an amazing season between the pipes for the Calgary Flames, yet it still wasn't enough to get the team into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flames need to give him some more offensive support after finishing 24th in goals scored per game last year. Kiprusoff shouldn't have to win 40 games to get the Flames into the playoffs.
Will Eric Staal have a bounce-back season?
Eric Staal's disappointing 2011-12 season was a primary reason why the Carolina Hurricanes weren't a factor in the playoff race late in the year.
Now that he has several top-line caliber wingers to play alongside in Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, and Tuomo Ruutu, there's no excuse for Staal to not be a point-per-game player. Staal should also be able to reach the 30-goal mark again, which he has done in five of his eight full NHL seasons.
Will Jonathan Toews play a full season?
Jonathan Toews actually played several games with a concussion last year before having his regular season cut short in mid-February. However, he did return in the playoffs and played well.
The concussion limited Toews to 59 games, but in the three seasons prior, he missed just a combined eight games.
His durability will be a huge factor in the Blackhawks' performance at both ends of the ice next year.
Will Gabriel Landeskog go through a sophomore slump?
After winning the Calder Trophy and being named the youngest captain in NHL history, Gabriel Landeskog will have a lot more responsibility on the Avalanche next season.
His maturity and composure on and off the ice will help him handle the expectations in a positive way.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Will Jack Johnson emerge as a strong leader?
In addition to his improving skills at both ends of the ice, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson has a fantastic chance to emerge as one of the Blue Jackets' best leaders.
With former captain Rick Nash no longer on the team, Johnson could emerge as a top candidate to be captain this season or in the future for Columbus.
Is Jamie Benn ready to become a superstar?
Jamie Benn is a cornerstone of the Dallas Stars franchise and could be one of the breakout stars of the 2012-13 season.
Last season, Benn made his first All-Star Game appearance and racked up 63 points in 71 games. Going into his fourth full NHL season, the goal for Benn is to become a superstar player.
To accomplish this goal, Benn needs to reach about 80 points and help lead the Stars back to the playoffs.
Playing with veterans such as Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr should definitely help Benn learn what it means to be a superstar at this level. Both will be fantastic mentors for the Dallas winger.
Detroit Red Wings
Will Pavel Datsyuk be a point-per-game player again?
Pavel Datsyuk is arguably the most complete player in the league, but after scoring 80-plus points in the four seasons following the lockout, he hasn't scored more than 70 since.
Datsyuk has missed 38 games over the last two seasons, which isn't a major concern, but with Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler no longer part of the Red Wings, other players will need to step up offensively.
Datsyuk will be one player on Detroit that cannot afford to have a disappointing season from an offensive standpoint. He was a point-per game player during the 2010-11 season, but wasn't last year. Will he get back to that level in 2012-13?
How will Jordan Eberle respond to huge expectations and a new long-term contract?
Eberle's new contract and the high expectations surrounding himself and the Edmonton Oilers will be a lot for him to handle, but there's no reason why he cannot continue to improve.
After exploding for 76 points last season, the bar is set very high for Eberle going into this season.
Eberle works hard and is a leader for the Oilers, so fans shouldn't be worried about him having a disappointing 2012-13 season.
How much better can Kris Versteeg play?
Versteeg had a fantastic first season with the Panthers, and although his 54 points were a career high, he only had 11 points after the All-Star break, including just one point in the month of March.
It will be interesting to see how well Versteeg performs after signing a four-year, $16 million contract this summer. He's not a legitimate top-line player, but he is certainly capable of scoring 60-plus points throughout his new deal.
The Panthers are hoping that he can improve his goal total for the third consecutive season.
Los Angeles Kings
Will Jonathan Quick prevent a Stanley Cup hangover for the Kings?
If there's anyone that can help his team avoid a Stanley Cup hangover, it's Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
A strong goaltender can go a long way in preventing a Stanley Cup hangover from impacting a team's early-season performance.
Tim Thomas wasn't able to do this last season for the Bruins, but Quick could certainly have more success.
Will Carey Price have to lead the Montreal Canadiens back to the playoffs by himself?
Since the Canadiens played so poorly last season, many people did not realize how impressive goaltender Carey Price played. Now that he has signed a long-term contract, Price can relax now that his future is set.
However, if he doesn't win 35-plus games next season, the Canadiens won't be in the playoffs. That's a lot of pressure for any goaltender.
Are Zach Parise and Ryan Suter ready for the immense pressure to win in Minnesota?
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will receive a huge welcome from Wild fans when the season finally starts, but once the season gets going, the fans will expect immediate results. However, the Wild are no lock to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
With their large contracts and phenomenal talent, Parise and Suter will face more pressure to perform at a high level this season than they ever have in their careers. Not only do they need to earn their high salaries, the team needs to have a ton of success as well.
How will the loss of Ryan Suter affect Shea Weber?
Much has been made about the impact that not having Shea Weber next to him will affect Ryan Suter in Minnesota, but this is a question for both players.
Weber will definitely be affected by not having Suter. For starters, it will take time to get accustomed to playing with a new partner, and with Suter's offensive production gone, Weber will be faced with more offensive responsibility.
It will be fascinating to watch how well each player performs without the other next season.
New Jersey Devils
Will Ilya Kovalchuk be the next Devils captain?
Ilya Kovalchuk is the best candidate to replace Zach Parise as the next captain of the New Jersey Devils.
He has experience being a captain from his days with the Atlanta Thrashers and has proven to be a good leader in New Jersey. He would be a safe and smart choice to wear the "C."
New York Islanders
Will John Tavares reach 90 points next season?
Only Evgeni Malkin, Jason Spezza and John Tavares scored at least 30 goals and had 50 or more assists last season.
Tavares was tied for seventh in the NHL in points on a bad New York Islanders team and could certainly score both 40 goals and 90 points next season.
If he remains a 30-goal scorer and his assists total grows at his current pace, he will reach 90 points next year.
New York Rangers
How will the Eastern Conference Finals loss motivate Henrik Lundqvist?
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had never been closer to the Stanley Cup Final than he was last season when his team lost to the rival New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
This loss will definitely motivate Lundqvist to not only have another Vezina Trophy-caliber regular season, but to play at that same level during the playoffs.
His stats in the 2012 playoffs were far better than his numbers in the 2011 postseason, so Lundqvist has reasons to be confident about his ability to be clutch in next year's Stanley Cup run.
Will Erik Karlsson repeat his offensive numbers from last season?
Erik Karlsson's 78 points were good enough to win the Norris Trophy despite his average defensive play last season.
With a new contract and the expectations of maintaining his fantastic offensive numbers from last year, this will be a difficult season for Karlsson.
Not only will he have to deal with individual expectations, he will be responsible for helping the Senators return to the playoffs.
Will Claude Giroux become an even better leader this season?
When defenseman and captain Chris Pronger isn't on the ice, Claude Giroux is the Philadelphia Flyers' most important player.
Giroux is an alternate captain, but with Pronger's days as a Flyers player probably over, "G" has an opportunity to establish himself as a top candidate to become the franchise's next captain.
We saw leadership from Giroux in the playoffs last season when he demanded to play on the first shift of Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his foolish hit on Dainius Zubrus that caused him to be suspended for the Flyers' final game of the season was not something a leader does.
Giroux's development as a leader will be an important part of his 2012-13 season.
Will Sidney Crosby be able to play a full season?
This is the obvious question for Sidney Crosby, but since the Penguins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, he had most of the spring and all of the summer to get himself in top shape.
The fear of Crosby suffering another concussion will never go away, but since he was able to stay healthy after making his return late in the regular season, hockey fans should feel optimistic about his chances of playing 75-plus games next year.
Will Oliver Ekman-Larrson become an elite offensive defenseman?
Heading into his second full NHL season, Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be expected to provide more offense from the Phoenix Coyotes' blue line.
The team will need the increased scoring because veteran winger Ray Whitney is no longer on the team, and it's unfair to ask Radim Vrbata to score 35 goals again.
Coyotes fans have huge expectations for Ekman-Larsson this year, and it's quite possible he could become an elite offensive defenseman by season's end.
San Jose Sharks
How many more chances will Joe Thornton have to win the Stanley Cup in San Jose?
Joe Thornton has won plenty of individual awards, but he hasn't been able to capture hockey's ultimate prize. Even though the Sharks are one of the older teams in the NHL, it's too early to count them out as a Stanley Cup contender.
If they are doing well at the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see if general manager Doug Wilson sacrifices some of the future to make one last Stanley Cup run.
St. Louis Blues
Will David Backes win the Frank J. Selke Trophy this season?
St. Louis Blues captain David Backes got some well deserved recognition last season when he was named a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the league's best defensive forward.
He did not win the award, but he could be the top candidate to take home the Selke this season. Backes' defensive performance, his physical play in all areas of the ice and his faceoff ability make him one of the most complete centers in the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Will Steven Stamkos score 60 goals again?
Steven Stamkos' 60-goal explosion last season was one of the best stories in the league, and this year he can become the first NHL player to have back-to-back 60-plus goal seasons since Pavel Bure had his second-straight 60 goal season in 1993-'94.
Since the Lightning will be better this season and other forwards will likely be healthier, Stamkos might not have to carry the team offensively each night like he did last year, but it would be surprising if he didn't score at least 50 goals next season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?
I've talked about Phil Kessel needing to score 40 goals next season several times, but it's the obvious next step in his career.
The Leafs winger has improved his goal total in each of his two seasons in Toronto, and if he does this a third time, the result could be a 40-goal year for Kessel.
Will Daniel Sedin score 80-plus points?
A concussion ended Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin's regular season a bit early last year, and when he returned in the playoffs, he wasn't much of a factor offensively.
Sedin scored 67 points in 72 games last season, which was quite impressive, but will he return to a point-per-game level next year?
Since the lockout, Sedin has racked up 82 or more points four times and led the league in scoring two years ago with 104 points. If he comes into this season fully healthy, Sedin could definitely be among the leaders in scoring.
Will Alexander Ovechkin's offensive production improve dramatically?
Bet on Alexander Ovechkin having a huge 2012-13 season after not playing to the elite level last season that we are accustomed to seeing from him.
Ovechkin's goal scoring in particular should improve in a major way next year. There's no question that he has the ability to score 50 goals if healthy.
With a healthy Nicklas Backstrom alongside him on the Capitals top line, Ovechkin could reach the 50-goal mark for the fifth time in his young career.
How much better should we expect Evander Kane to be next season?
Assuming the Winnipeg Jets and star winger Evander Kane finalize a new contract before this season, expectations will once again be high for one of the league's rising stars.
Kane finally took his goal scoring to another level last season by reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time, and with Olli Jokinen as his center, it's quite possible that Kane could score 35 goals next year.
It wouldn't be unrealistic to expect 70 points from Kane next season, which would be a 13-point improvement over last year.