Predicting Every NHL Team's Top Scorer in the 2015-16 Season

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2015

Predicting Every NHL Team's Top Scorer in the 2015-16 Season

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Picking every NHL team's leading scorer seems like a relatively easy task. Rookies rarely come out on top, and aside from the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals, few teams have multiple players with star power who could lead not only their team in the points race but the entire league.

    But factor in potential injuries, upward or downward trends, contract situations and perhaps new life with a new team, and the picture can be fairly cloudy.

    If a team is particularly bad, a defenseman may win the crown. Perhaps a breakout season—like the one by Vladimir Tarasenko last year—will topple your pick.

    Well, sharpen the pencils and grab a piece of paper if you still go the old-school route. It's time to select the leading scorer for every NHL team for the 2015-16 season. Add your picks to the comment section and enjoy debating this for the next couple of months before the new campaign begins.

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf, C

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Ryan Getzlaf has firmly entrenched himself as the lead duck in the flying V. The Anaheim Ducks captain has been the team's top scorer the past three seasons and has been the points-per-game leader in six of the last eight—including a half-dozen years in that span netting at least one point per game.

    The 30-year-old may not be a lock for 82 points in 82 games these days with goals and points at a premium in today's era that features tight checking, massive and athletic goaltenders (wearing equally gigantic equipment) and the gradual re-introduction of allowed interference. Still, Getzlaf is going to score 20-plus goals and rack up the assists at a pace his triggerman Corey Perry can't compete with.

    Top contenders: Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler

Arizona Coyotes: Mikkel Boedker, LW

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    Hannah Foslien/Associated Press

    Defensemen have led the Arizona Coyotes for three years running, but that could finally change this season. With some young blood being injected into the lineup—2014 first-round pick Max Domi is among those who are expected to make an impact—the talent at forward may finally rival some of the goods from the back end.

    It's a relative veteran who will come out on top of the scoring race this season. The 25-year-old Mikkel Boedker was third in points per game on the team before having his spleen removed in January, and he was just two points off the team lead two seasons ago.

    If he can stay healthy, the eighth overall pick from the 2008 draft should crack the 60-point mark for the first time and edge the likes of blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

    Top contenders: Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Antoine Vermette

Boston Bruins: David Krejci, C

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Times have changed in Boston. Gone is power forward Milan Lucic. Matt Beleskey joined in free agency with the Bruins hoping he can do a suitable job in making up for at least some of the offense.

    Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, however, remain as the top two centers. Despite the new cast members on their flanks, they will produce at a strong pace and be neck-and -neck come season's end. That's the way it has been in Boston for half a decade.

    Krejci is the more reliable of the two when healthy—at least when it comes to the offensive statistics. The 29-year-old had a tough season a year ago, capped off by a partially torn MCL, but he still finished with a respectable 31 points in 47 games.

    Because Bergeron may be relied on even more heavily in a shutdown role, Krejci will be given more offensively adept partners and should capitalize with one of his strongest seasons since the 2008-09 campaign when he cracked 70 points for the first and (so far) last time.

    Top contenders: Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Buffalo Sabres: Ryan O'Reilly, C

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres drafted a star when they used the second overall pick in June's draft to scoop up Jack Eichel, but they brought in center Ryan O'Reilly in a blockbuster trade so that Eichel could hone his NHL game slowly without the pressure of being the top-line guy.

    O'Reilly, who quickly signed a massive seven-year deal with his new club, will get big minutes in all aspects of the game: power plays, penalty kills and plenty of time at even strength against the opponents' top players. All that leads to his likely status as the top point-getter for the young and rebuilding Sabres.

    A healthy Evander Kane might have a chance at the title if he finds chemistry with his new teammates. But he has yet to live up to his potential as a top power forward in six NHL seasons.

    Top contenders: Kane, Sam Reinhart, Eichel

Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau, LW

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Johnny Gaudreau finished second in team scoring in his rookie season and will only get better as he gains strength in the pros. The 21-year-old had 24 goals and 64 points in his NHL debut. Only veteran Jiri Hudler contributed more with 31 goals and 76 points.

    Hudler, however, could find himself on the trade block by midseason as he skates toward unrestricted free agency. The Calgary Flames are looking at squeezing in some big contracts for a handful of critical players in the next couple of seasons.

    The uncertainty of Hudler's future in the Flaming C and the pure skill of Gaudreau—he's arguably one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire league despite his diminutive 5'9" stature—make the sophomore the front-runner.

    Top contenders: Hudler, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett

Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Staal, C

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    One day, Eric Staal will no longer be a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Until that day, he's the team's leading candidate for top scorer.

    It's possible Carolina could trade him before this year's deadline as he enters the final season of a seven-year deal. But even in two-thirds of a campaign, he might still be the most likely player to take top honors. Jeff Skinner has been a massive disappointment since his incredible rookie season. Elias Lindholm took steps forward in his sophomore year but may not be destined for big numbers offensively.

    No, it's the 30-year-old captain Staal who has paced the Canes for six straight seasons and eight of the past 10. Until he's gone, he'll remain the favorite. 

    Top contenders: Skinner, Lindholm

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, RW

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Patrick Kane finished two points behind teammate Jonathan Toews last season—but he played 20 fewer games after a separated shoulder knocked him out of the Chicago Blackhawks lineup in late February.

    In short, Kane is in a league of his own when it comes to offensive skills. Argue all you want about who is the more well-rounded player—and recent writings of Kane's potential for distraction at the sight of a famous blonde in the stands punctuates the fact Toews can't lose that discussion—but Kane is among the most electric forwards in the league.

    Kane has averaged at least one point per game for three straight seasons and five of the last six. He produces regardless of who his linemates have been as the Blackhawks continuously make changes to remain under the salary-cap ceiling.

    Top contenders: Toews, Marian Hossa

Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene, C

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    A 37-year-old Jarome Iginla paced the Colorado Avalanche in points last season. 

    That's a testament to how good Iginla remains at his advanced age—by NHL standards, at least—and also how bad many of his young teammates were in 2014-15.

    Matt Duchene was among those who slumped. The 24-year-old hit the 20-goal mark for the second straight year and fourth time in his career—something he's done in every full season he's managed to play—but his point total dipped to 55 in 82 games. It was his worst point-per-game season since an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign in which he finished with 28 points in 58 games.

    His best came in 2013-14 when he put up 70 points in 71 games. That’s the type of production you should expect to see from him again if he stays healthy. Colorado will rely on him even more heavily with Ryan O’Reilly’s trade out of town.

    Linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog form the nucleus of the other top line and will contest for the title, but Duchene and linemates Iginla and Alex Tanguay should be more in sync this season after spending a year together.

    Top contenders: Landeskog, MacKinnon

Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen, C

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Nick Foligno came out of nowhere last season to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets in scoring with a career-best 73 points in 79 games.

    His previous best was 47 points in 82 games back in 2011-12 with the Ottawa Senators.

    Regardless of whether or not Foligno slides toward his former NHL pace, the guy who assisted him on his way to an excellent one-year total (which led to a handsome new six-year deal with the Jackets) was his center, Ryan Johansen.

    Johansen spent the preseason as a contract holdout last year but played all 82 games and finished second behind Foligno with 71 points. That came on the heels of his breakout third season during which he put together a 33-goal, 63-point performance that put him on the map as one of the league's rising stars. 

    At 22, we haven't yet seen the best from Johansen. We might have seen the best from the 27-year-old Foligno last season, though.

    Former Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad could be this year's Foligno after a big trade brought him to the Blue Jackets, but it's unlikely he'll shoot past Johansen and Foligno in his first year in Columbus.

    Top contenders: Foligno, Saad

Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin, C

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Dallas Stars had a solid offseason, adding former Chicago Blackhawks sniper Patrick Sharp to the mix and giving second-line center Jason Spezza a new winger to play with.

    But this team lives and dies by dynamic duo Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who have alternated for the team lead the past two years. Benn won the NHL title this past season with a 35-goal, 87-point performance, but Seguin missed a bunch of time with injury and played just 71 games. He had a slightly better point-per-game average than Benn with a 1.08 to the captain's 1.06.

    Yeah, it's essentially a coin flip since they play together—but bet on Seguin to get back on top.

    Top contenders: Benn, Spezza, Sharp

Detroit Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    If you're waiting for the day when one of these slideshows will boldly predict someone other than Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg to win the Detroit Red Wings scoring title, today is not that day.

    Outside of one lone season in which both players dealt with serious injuries two years ago, one of the two has topped the scoring since the 2004 lockout. Daniel Alfredsson paced the team in 2013-14. Before that, Sergei Fedorov was the last to top either of the two aforementioned superstars in 2003.

    Their run is drawing near its end, but those waiting in the wings aren't quite ready to surpass these future Hall of Famers.

    Zetterberg (34) gets the nod over the older but slicker Datsyuk (37) because of the latter's injury, which is expected to keep him from starting the season

    Top contenders: Datsyuk, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist

Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, C

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    Former first overall pick Taylor Hall can't stay healthy. Countless other first-rounders haven't lived up to their potential.

    The Edmonton Oilers' latest top pick, Connor McDavid, is expected to break that trend. Considered a "generational talent" the likes of which the league hasn't seen since Sidney Crosby or Eric Lindros, the hype is in full swing for the 18-year-old lottery steal.

    Take his five scrimmage goals, for example. How often are scrimmage goals national news?

    So why not buy into the idea McDavid is at least better than the collection of underachieving bums the Oilers have strung together in recent drafts and instantly becomes their top offensive contributor?

    He may not put together a 100-point rookie year like Crosby or Alex Ovechkin did, but even a Lindros-like debut of 70-plus points should be enough for McDavid to pace the Oilers.

    Jordan Eberle earned the honor last year with 63 points in 81 games.

    Top contenders: Hall, Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Florida Panthers: Jaromir Jagr, RW

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Last year's point leader for the Florida Panthers, Jonathan Huberdeau, had a breakout season with 54 points in 79 games.

    But his incredible performance down the stretch had as much to do with a new linemate than his own awakening. Veteran Jaromir Jagr came over from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline, and Huberdeau finished with 21 points in his final 20 games.

    Jagr, meanwhile, was rejuvenated with 18 points in his 20 games as a Panther. The two should carry their chemistry and momentum into the coming season and be neck-and-neck at season's end. The choice here is Jagr based on his passion for the game, his commitment and fitness level—and, of course, his experience.

    Top contenders: Huberdeau, Reilly Smith

Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar, C

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Anze Kopitar has been the Los Angeles Kings' leading scorer for eight straight seasons. There's no logical reason to believe this year won't make it nine.

    The 27-year-old hasn't had much competition over the years, and although the Kings have some talented forwards on the roster, none are in his elite category.

    Even a healthy Marian Gaborik can't compete. Kopitar has produced at a pace of 0.80 points per game or better for seven consecutive years despite the fact the Kings promote a defense-first mentality.

    Top contenders: Gaborik, Jeff Carter

Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise, LW

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Zach Parise has never been able to duplicate his 94-point season as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 2008-09. However, he has maintained his status as one of the league's most dangerous scorers and is surrounded by up-and-coming talent.

    There is some competition here. Parise is by no means a sure thing. He played alongside Mikael Granlund for much of last season, and the 23-year-old is primed for a bigger breakout as he enters his fourth NHL campaign.

    Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are also capable offensive weapons. Parise is simply the most reliable and skilled at this stage of his career.

    Top contenders: Granlund, Vanek, Pominville

Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Semin, RW

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Here's an opportunity to go out on a limb. The Montreal Canadiens have leaned on Max Pacioretty the past four seasons but brought in Alexander Semin on a low-risk one-year deal to help lessen the scoring burden.

    If ever there was an opportunity for Semin to prove he can be motivated, it's the one-year, $1.1 million deal he inked with the Habs—which could be his last NHL opportunity.

    Montreal will feature him prominently in the top six and give him every chance to show his tremendous skill on special teams. What he does with it could help determine whether or not the Canadiens can get over the hump in the playoffs.

    It's hard to ignore his incredible years with the Washington Capitals. But if you're a skeptic who believes his numbers were bolstered only by the presence of Alex Ovechkin, look no further than his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes as evidence of his ability to produce at a point-per-game pace on a team that is not blessed with the same caliber of talent.

    Top contenders: Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk

Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg, C

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    This one really comes down to super sophomore Filip Forsberg or veteran playmaker Mike Ribeiro.

    Forsberg had a stellar rookie season to lead the way last year, posting 63 points in 82 games for the Nashville Predators. He edged Ribeiro by a single point.

    Ribeiro bounced back from a buyout from the Arizona Coyotes and showed he is still a slick passer capable of being a top-line player.

    The battle could come down to a point or two assuming the off-ice distractions that derailed his time in the desert don't come back to haunt Ribeiro.

    We're picking Forsberg based on his potential to become one of the league's elite and Ribeiro's risk.

    Top contenders: Ribeiro, Shea Weber, Roman Josi

New Jersey Devils: Michael Cammalleri, LW

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Mike Cammalleri came in as a free agent last season and wound up as the New Jersey Devils' most productive offensive player. Considering the direction of the Devils, who are in the painful first steps of a total rebuild, he is the massive favorite to repeat.

    A once-promising Adam Henrique seems to have plateaued with a pair of 43-point seasons in a row. Veterans Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias are shadows of their former selves. And at the moment, the Devils lack top-end offensive talent in the prospect department.

    Top contenders: Elias, Henrique, Zajac

New York Islanders: John Tavares, C

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    New York Islanders captain John Tavares finished with a 35-point edge over his closest competitor last year and was the league's runner-up in the points department, finishing a single point behind the Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn.

    Tavares would have to suffer a serious injury and miss a quarter of the season or more for anyone else to have a shot.

    Even New York Rangers fans wouldn't wish that on him.

    Top contenders: Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome

New York Rangers: Derek Stepan, C

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Things don't seem to be going too well in contract negotiations between Derek Stepan and the New York Rangers, but in anticipation of those getting sorted out before the season and any hard feelings being water under the bridge by then, we're ready to proclaim the 25-year-old center as the team's next big thing.

    Stepan trailed last year's leader Rick Nash by 14 points and played 11 fewer games. This year, he should surpass his on-again, off-again linemate. Despite missing time to start the season, it was a breakout year for Stepan, who should assume top-line center duties on a full-time basis and be plenty motivated in a season he'll be asked to prove he's worth top dollar.

    Nash, meanwhile, will be hard-pressed to duplicate his best non-lockout season since 2008-09.

    Top contenders: Nash, Derick Brassard

Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris, C

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Defenseman Erik Karlsson has led the Ottawa Senators in points for two years in a row. He's good, but that says as much about the collection of forwards in front of him as anything else.

    Since the departure of Jason Spezza, the Sens have been looking for a leader among the forward ranks. Rookie Mark Stone and Kyle Turris tied for the lead among forwards with 64 points last season.

    It's a difficult thing for a sophomore to repeat early success—see Nathan MacKinnon as Exhibit A—but Turris has increasingly improved his game over four seasons with the Sens after a disappointing start with the Phoenix Coyotes.

    Top contenders: Karlsson, Stone

Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux, C

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    With all due respect to Jakub Voracek, who turned into one of the league's elite wingers with a sudden leap toward the point-per-game average, it's Claude Giroux who led the team for four straight years before the blip and will be eager to bump his buddy from the top spot to reclaim that title.

    Giroux finished 24 points ahead of Voracek two years ago and eight points in arrears last season. We'll chalk it up to the time Giroux missed in training camp with a lower-body injury that prevented him from playing in the preseason.

    Top contenders: Voracek

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby, C

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Sidney Crosby looked more, well, Sidney Crosby-like last season than he has in a long while. Maybe he's finally shaking off the effects of multiple concussions and other injuries. Maybe he was happy with the change in coaching.

    And while the team has its share of stars to steal the spotlight, with Phil Kessel now joining Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it's always belonged to Crosby when he's been able to stay healthy.

    Kessel may pace the team in the goal-scoring department, but Crosby will benefit greatly from having another stellar triggerman on special teams and perhaps on his flank at even strength.

    Top contenders: Malkin, Kessel

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture, C

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The San Jose Sharks are still intent on keeping the aging core together, sticking with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton and making changes to the coaching staff instead of the player group.

    That might all change come the trade deadline if the Sharks continue to flounder. So despite the potential for Thornton to lead the team in scoring, it's nearly impossible to pick him based on the unpredictability of his future in teal.

    Marleau's best days are well behind him, which leaves Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture as the top options who are least likely to be traded when the rebuild gets green-lighted.

    Pavelski led the way a year ago with 70 points, but Couture was just three behind. He has been connecting below his career average shooting percentage the past couple of years but still producing at a strong rate, so a little more luck this year will put him in the lead.

    Top contenders: Pavelski, Brent Burns

St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko, LW

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Unless stricken with a serious case of the Alexander Semin virus—you know, the one where you get handed a sack full of cash and decide to take a couple of years off—Vladimir Tarasenko is again going to be the St. Louis Blues' biggest weapon.

    The 23-year-old winger was electric in his second full season with the Blues, scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 games. He was rewarded with an eight-year deal worth $60 million, quite a raise from his entry-level deal.

    For what it's worth, he swore to St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jeremy Rutherford he won't get complacent:

    I work all my life to make this deal and I'm not (going) to just stop working and stop improving myself. My father and my grandfather tell me when I was young, you need to be better every time. It doesn't matter how many goals you score, you need to score more every year. There is no other way, to stop doing what I was doing before.

    Top contenders: Alex Steen

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos, C

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Just when you think the departure of Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning is going to pave the way to a decade of leading this category for sniper Steven Stamkos, a little guy like Tyler Johnson emerges as a star in the making.

    But as good as the diminutive Johnson (5'8", 183 lbs) is, who tied for the scoring lead with 72 points last season, Stamkos is the favorite here.

    He'll either be playing for his next double-digit million-dollar contract or proving he's worth the enormous amount the Lightning coughed up for him (or the Toronto Maple Leafs after some blockbuster trade that sees the next handful of first-round draft picks go to Tampa, along with naming rights to all their firstborn kids).

    Johnson was a tremendous rookie two seasons ago and surprised many with his improvement as a sophomore. He'll garner more attention from top shutdown lines next season.

    Top contenders: Johnson, Nikita Kucherov

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri, C

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    Mike Munden/Associated Press

    Maybe coach Mike Babcock should convince team president Brendan Shanahan to come out of retirement. He'd probably have a chance at the Toronto Maple Leafs scoring title.

    With Phil Kessel gone, the race is wide open. Only Kessel managed 60 points last season. Besides him, only James van Riemsdyk was able to crack 50.

    The Leafs are hoping bad boy Nazem Kadri can get his game together and thrive under Babcock, but his 39-point season a year ago didn't inspire much confidence.

    Still, Kadri is the best bet. He'll be hounded by his head coach and either plummet into the abyss or become a real professional quickly.

    Top contenders: Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak

Vancouver Canucks: Daniel Sedin, LW

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    I couldn't pick them individually out of a police lineup, and it's just about as impossible to predict which one will win the Vancouver Canucks scoring race this season.

    It's a sure thing it will be one of the Sedin twins—Daniel or Henrik—but flip a coin and go with it when it comes down to a first name.

    Daniel edged Henrik by three points last season, but Henrik had Danny by the same margin the year before to take his third straight over his brother.

    The only other player who has a chance is whichever one plays the most on their open wing. That's if one or both of them get mauled by a bear on a day hike in the woods.

    Top contenders: Radim Vrbata, Alex Burrows

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, LW

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Since Alexander Ovechkin joined the Washington Capitals after the lockout season, his name has dominated the charts. It's been 10 years and counting, with the tiebreaker being goals scored, of course.

    He edged linemate Nicklas Backstrom by three points last season after tying him in the category two years ago and doesn't look ready to relinquish the spot.

    Even the addition of the defensive-minded Barry Trotz as head coach didn't dissuade Ovechkin from another 50-goal season. He did improve significantly in the plus/minus category, however. Even with that as a potential distraction, Ovechkin pulled away down the stretch.

    Scoring may not mean more to any individual player as much as it does to Ovechkin. That's a tough thing to overcome for those who are looking to take his spot.

    Top contenders: Backstrom

Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele, C

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Andrew Ladd led the way last season with 62 points and has been a steady offensive presence along with Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little for years.

    To take another step forward, however, the Winnipeg Jets need one of their younger players to pan out and have a breakout performance.

    That should come from Mark Scheifele this season. He's experienced growing pains and is being brought along slowly by coach Paul Maurice but was thrust into a bigger role for periods last season, which will bode well for his development.

    It's bold to predict the 22-year-old as the team's leader, but the seventh overall pick from the 2011 draft has the talent and perhaps now the strength and maturity to make it happen. 

    Top contenders: Ladd, Wheeler


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