Projecting Every NHL Team's Leading Goal Scorer This Season

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2021

Projecting Every NHL Team's Leading Goal Scorer This Season

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Say it with us: It's hockey season.

    And with the arrival of sticks, pucks and skates comes the simultaneous arrival of a cadre of player statistics that are as familiar to diehard fans as their own birthdays and anniversaries.

    Of course, there's no stat more important than goals.

    Whether via slapper, snapper, wrister or dangler, the pure goal scorer is the most dangerous weapon in the NHL and the straw that stirs the victory drink for the most successful championship-chasing teams.

    That being the case, the B/R hockey staff was compelled to take a look at each of the league's 31 teams as the 2020-21 schedule begins and forecast who'll be the most prolific goal scorers come season's end.

    Click through to see our picks for each team and make sure to check progress toward our projected total for each team-leading player as the season progresses. And, as always, feel free to drop a comment or two to let us know how our thoughts line up with yours.

Anaheim Ducks: Adam Henrique

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    Now 30, Adam Henrique shares Wayne Gretzky's hometown (Brantford, Ont.) and has reached double-digit goals in each of the nine NHL seasons in which he's played the majority of his team's games.

    The winger peaked at 30 goals in 80 games with the New Jersey Devils in 2015-16 and had 26 in 71 games with the Ducks last season.

    2020-21 Projection: 17 goals

Arizona Coyotes: Christian Dvorak

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    A baby-faced second-round pick in the 2014 draft, forward Christian Dvorak bounced back from a torn pectoral muscle to score a career-best 18 goals in 70 games for the Coyotes in 2019-20.

    He'd scored 15 in each of his first two full seasons at the NHL level, but the injury limited him to just 20 NHL games in 2018-19.

    2020-21 Projection: 12 goals

Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak

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    Who says picking late in the first round is a bad thing?

    The Bruins nabbed David Pastrnak with the 25th overall selection in 2014 and have reaped the benefits since as the Czech has blossomed into one of the NHL's most prolific scorers.

    He tied for the league lead with 48 goals in 70 games last season, including 20 on the power play. He'll begin this season on the sidelines thanks to hip surgery but ought to resume his sniping ways in mid-February.

    2020-21 Projection: 20 goals

Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel

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    We've seen just what Jack Eichel can do as the big fish in a small pond. But now the Buffalo Sabres are anxious to see how their franchise cornerstone produces with a legit world-class linemate.

    Former NHL MVP Taylor Hall joins the Sabres to begin the 2020-21 season, and it seems certain to boost the numbers of an already reliable young superstar. Eichel netted a career-best 36 goals in just 68 games last season, and Hall's arrival should at least temporarily snuff out the idea he might want out of Buffalo.

    2020-21 Projection: 24 goals

Calgary Flames: Elias Lindholm

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    The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Elias Lindholm has boosted his goal total in each of the last three seasons since posting 11 in his penultimate season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016-17.

    His arrival to the Calgary Flames to begin 2018-19 has seen him crack into the 20s and work his way toward 30, resulting in a career-best 29 tallies in 70 games last season.

    2020-21 Projection: 17 goals

Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho

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    A second-round gem who's more than paid off on his 35th overall draft position in 2015, right winger Sebastian Aho is the centerpiece of an emerging young Carolina Hurricanes squad.

    The optimism is stoked by the 38 goals he scored in just 68 games last season, marking the third straight year he'd boosted his numbers after netting 24 goals as a rookie in 2016-17.

    2020-21 Projection: 24 goals

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane

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    And all of a sudden, Patrick Kane is 32 years old and among the elder statesmen of a Chicago Blackhawks not too far removed from three Stanley Cups.

    The Buffalo native is showing almost zero signs of advancing age, though, as evidenced by a 33-goal performance in 70 games last season on the heels of 44 in 81 matches a season before.

    2020-21 Projection: 25 goals

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon

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    Is Nathan MacKinnon the best player in the NHL?

    Well, it would be hard to find a Colorado Avalanche fan to argue the point after the No. 1 overall pick from 2013 put up 35 goals and 93 points in just 69 games last season.

    The 25-year-old was on his way to eclipsing personal bests of 41 goals and 99 points from 2018-19, and his production is the reason a lot of folks expect the Avs to lift the Stanley Cup to cap 2020-21.

    2020-21 Projection: 29 goals

Columbus Blue Jackets: Oliver Bjorkstrand

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    A 25-year-old from Denmark, right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand was in the midst of a star-making season in 2019-20 before a fractured ankle ended his run after just 49 games.

    He scored 21 times in that stretch, though, nearly equaling the 23 he scored in 77 games a season prior. Considering the tumult surrounding recently re-signed teammate Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Blue Jackets will be counting on his consistency in 2020-21

    2020-21 Projection: 15 goals

Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn

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    Another suddenly old-guard player at the ripe age of 31, Jamie Benn has been a quietly consistent NHL scorer since arriving as a rookie way back in 2009-10.

    He'd scored 20 or more goals in every season in which he'd exceeded 41 games, until skidding back to 19 in 69 games last season. Another eight goals came in the Stars' ultimately unsuccessful run to the Stanley Cup Final, and his next tally in the regular season will be the 301st of his career.

    2020-21 Projection: 20 goals

Detroit Red Wings: Anthony Mantha

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    A big-bodied winger at 6'5" and 234 pounds, Anthony Mantha was on his way to his best statistical season when it was short-circuited by a dinged-up knee and a punctured lung last year.

    He still managed 16 goals and 22 assists in 43 games of an otherwise dreadful Red Wings season, following up on seasons of 24 and 25 goals in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively.

    2020-21 Projection: 19 goals

Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl

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    Consistently dismissed as Connor McDavid's sidepiece during his first few NHL seasons, German-born center Leon Draisaitl added some more NHL hardware to boost his case as a legit superstar in 2019-20. He won the league's MVP award after a season in which he reached 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in just 71 games.

    That followed a 50-goal, 105-point season in 2018-19, and the now-25-year-old is a significant reason for the optimism emanating out of Northern Alberta this winter.

    2020-21 Projection: 29 goals

Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau

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    The Quebec-born center was already a significant player for the NHL's southernmost franchise, but the Miami-area spotlight will follow Jonathan Huberdeau even more earnestly in 2020-21 after the departures of Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman via free agency.

    Huberdeau was a 30-goal scorer across 82 games in 2018-19 before chipping in with another 23 in 69 games last season. His power-play total dipped from 11 to five over that same stretch, so that will likely be a focal point for the Panthers from the outset of this compressed season.

    2020-21 Projection: 19 goals

Los Angeles Kings: Alex Iafallo

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    A late-blooming contributor at age 27, Alex Iafallo reached the NHL as a full-timer in 2017-18 and has boosted his goal and point totals in both of his two subsequent seasons.

    The right winger had 17 goals and 26 assists in 70 games for the Kings in 2019-20, including six tallies on the power play. He'll be relied upon for steadiness this season as Los Angeles welcomes the first arrivals from a particularly deep prospect pipeline.

    2020-21 Projection: 12 goals

Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov

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    One of the best players to have not yet played in the NHL, left winger Kirill Kaprizov is in Minnesota at last after a 2015 draft selection. He seems a legit dark horse if you're looking for Calder Trophy candidates not named Alexis Lafreniere.

    Now 23, he's been playing in the Russia-based KHL since 2014-15 and scored 30 and 33 goals, respectively, in his final two seasons with CSKA Moscow across just 114 games.

    2020-21 Projection: 27 goals

Montreal Canadiens: Brendan Gallagher

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    Right winger Brendan Gallagher posted seasons of 31 and 33 goals, respectively, before injuries limited him to just 22 goals in 59 games in 2019-20.

    He's healthy to start 2020-21, however, and seeks to prolong the consistency that's seen him score 15 or more goals in all but one of his eight NHL seasons since being a 2010 fifth-round draft selection.

    2020-21 Projection: 22 goals

Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg

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    It's typically defense before offense in Nashville, but left winger Filip Forsberg has nevertheless carved out a niche with his consistent production with the Predators.

    Now 26, the former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals had 21 goals in 63 games last season after netting 28 in 64 matches a season before. He reached his high watermark with 33 tallies in 82 games in 2015-16.

    2020-21 Projection: 22 goals

New Jersey Devils: Kyle Palmieri

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    It's another season in the New Jersey comfort zone for right winger Kyle Palmieri, who's scored 24 or more goals in each of his five seasons since arriving from the Anaheim Ducks.

    The Smithtown, N.Y., native was a first-round pick of the Ducks in 2009 but never surpassed 14 goals in a season on the West Coast. He had 25 goals, including 11 on the power play, in 2019-20.

    2020-21 Projection: 21 goals

New York Islanders: Anders Lee

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    A sixth-round find by the Islanders in 2009, 6'3", 235-pound center Anders Lee has worked his way into a spotlight position with a team that was the surprise of the 2019-20 Eastern Conference postseason.

    Now 30, Lee scored a career-high 40 goals in 2017-18 and added 20 in 68 games last season, then potted seven more in 22 postseason matches as New York advanced to the conference final before elimination by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    2020-21 Projection: 21 goals

New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad

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    It's an embarrassment of offensive riches for the New York Rangers, who add No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to a roster that already includes MVP finalist Artemi Panarin and prolific center Mika Zibanejad.

    Zibanejad scored 41 times in just 57 games last season, bettering his previous career best of 30 in 25 fewer games. Included were 15 on the power play, which the addition of Lafreniere makes even more lethal.

    2020-21 Projection: 26 goals

Ottawa Senators: Evgenii Dadonov

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    It's "have goals, will travel" for Evgenii Dadonov, the Russian-born winger who scored 81 times in three seasons with the Florida Panthers before taking a free-agent deal in the fall that'll pay him $15 million over three years with the Ottawa Senators.

    Dadonov goes from a complementary role in the league's southernmost city to a high-profile slot in Canada's capital with the offense-bereft Senators, who will begin the rebuilding process while awaiting the arrival of several anticipated draft picks and prospects.

    2020-21 Projection: 20 goals

Philadelphia Flyers: Travis Konecny

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    The 24th overall selection in a 2015 first round that featured Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel up top, Philadelphia's Travis Konecny has become one of the NHL's most consistent young scorers.

    So consistent, in fact, that he's netted 24 goals in each of the last three seasons while playing 81, 82 and 66 games, respectively. The latter total included a career-high five goals on the power play for the right winger now entering his fifth season at just 23 years old.

    2020-21 Projection: 18 goals

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jake Guentzel

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    Another late bloomer from the 2013 draft, Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel rang up 40 goals in 82 games in 2018-19 and was on pace for that total again last year before injuring his shoulder in December and missing the remainder of the regular season.

    He wound up with 20 goals in 39 games and was able to return for the postseason, and he'll begin 2020-21 on a line with future Hall of Fame center Sidney Crosby, so scoring chances shouldn't be an issue.

    2020-21 Projection: 23 goals

San Jose Sharks: Evander Kane

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    Looking for a rugged, power forward type? If so, Evander Kane might be your guy in 2020-21.

    The oft-traveled former No. 4 overall draft pick has scored 20 or more goals for five straight seasons for the Sharks and Buffalo Sabres, and had a 30-goal season as far back as 2011-12 with the Winnipeg Jets.

    He's 6'2", 210 pounds and also coming off a season in which he scored 14 on the power play.

    2020-21 Projection: 22 goals

St. Louis Blues: Mike Hoffman

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    It was a harrowing offseason of free agency for prolific winger Mike Hoffman, who scored 29 goals in 2019-20 with the Florida Panthers but was forced to wait until shortly before the arrival of the 2020-21 season to sign a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues.

    It may be a delayed gratification bargain for the Blues, though, who'll try to regain their 2018-19 Stanley Cup form with a 31-year-old who's scored 22 or more goals in each of the last six seasons, including 36 with the Panthers in 2018-19.

    2020-21 Projection: 21 goals

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos

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    It looks like all systems go for high-scoring center Steven Stamkos, whose absence from the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup for nearly all the postseason was a compelling narrative alongside the championship win.

    Stamkos did return for a brief stint in the final against the Dallas Stars and was the first Lightning player to hoist the Cup after a regular season that saw him score 29 goals in 57 games.

    He won't have high-profile teammate Nikita Kucherov with him for the regular season thanks to the Russian's hip injury, but the 30-year-old Stamkos and his 423 career goals will find his footing anyway.

    2020-21 Projection: 26 goals

Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews

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    Want a first overall pick who's performed like a first overall pick? Look no further than Toronto's Auston Matthews, who's scored no fewer than 34 goals in any of his four seasons and netted a career-high 47 while playing just 70 games in 2019-20.

    A dozen goals have come on the power play in each of the last two seasons for Matthews, which provides yet another reason that Maple Leafs fans can legitimately dream about ending a Stanley Cup drought that stretches back to 1967.

    2020-21 Projection: 33 goals

Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson

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    Attention Vancouver Canucks fans. There's a budding star in your midst.

    Twenty-two-year-old Swedish export Elias Pettersson was the league's best rookie while scoring 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games in 2018-19. He then transitioned to one of the team's better veterans with a second year that saw him score 27 times and again notch 66 points, this time in three fewer games.

    Another seven goals followed in the postseason for Pettersson, who's playing time on the top line and the top power-play unit ought to ensure continued production.

    2020-21 Projection: 22 goals

Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty

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    Welcome back to the big time, Max Pacioretty.

    Just a 17-goal scorer in his final season with the Montreal Canadiens and contributor of 22 tallies in his initial season with Vegas, the now-32-year-old climbed back into the 30s for the first time since 2016-17 with 32 goals and 34 assists for his highest point total since that same season.

    That makes six 30-plus goal seasons for the 2007 draft pick who debuted with the Canadiens in 2008-09.

    2020-21 Projection: 20 goals

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin

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    When you start chasing Wayne Gretzky's records, you know you're on to something.

    That's where modern-day legend Alex Ovechkin finds himself heading into his 16th NHL season, with 706 career goals after netting another 48 in 68 games in 2019-20. That total tied him for the league's lead with Boston's David Pastrnak and marked the 11th time he'd finished a schedule with 40 or more.

    If there's been a better pure scorer in recent memory, we can't recall hm.

    2020-21 Projection: 36 goals

Winnipeg Jets: Kyle Connor

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    If you think the offensive options in Winnipeg begin and end with Patrik Laine, think again.

    Left winger Kyle Connor posted his third straight 30-plus goal season with the Jets since arriving as a full-timer to begin the 2017-18 schedule. In fact, his 38 goals in 2019-20 were his career high, though the 71 games he played were his fewest as an NHL regular.

    2020-21 Projection: 25 goals