1 Player on Every NHL Team to Get Excited About for the 2021-22 Season

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2021

1 Player on Every NHL Team to Get Excited About for the 2021-22 Season

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    It's a great time to be a hockey fan.

    In fact, the nearer the season draws, the giddier fanbases across the NHL's 32 teams tend to get.

    And there are plenty of players worthy of that preseason excitement.

    Toward that end, the B/R hockey writing types tasked themselves with taking a look around the league and naming a player from each team who deserves a high level of preseason enthusiasm.

    Sometimes it's a team's best player. Sometimes it's a player poised for a return to prominence. Sometimes it's a young gun ready to boost his profile. And sometimes it's a combination of these factors.

    Click through to see who we came up with and feel free to drop a comment—as exciting as need be—to let us know how we did and perhaps make a suggestion or two of your own.

Atlantic Division

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Boston Bruins: Taylor Hall, LW

    Is he the most exciting player on the team? Maybe not. But he is the only player in a spoked-wheel sweater this season who's won a Hart Trophy, and he seemed rejuvenated upon arrival last spring.


    Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield, RW

    Looking to make a wager on the top rookie for the 2021-22 season? You could do a lot worse than Caufield, a speedy sniper who had 12 points in 20 playoff games as the Habs made a deep run.


    Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov, RW

    Come for the games; stay for the press conferences. The Russian-born winger led the Lightning in postseason scoring for the second straight season and became a shirtless media darling in the process.


    Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitchell Marner, RW

    A team loaded with scorers needs a guy to make plays. And few do it better than Marner, who's bested all but three players—surnamed McDavid, Draisaitl and Kane—in assists (166) across the last three seasons.


    Florida Panthers: Spencer Knight, G

    This kid is the real deal. Still just 20, Knight saw time in four games at the end of last season and walked away with four wins, alongside a .919 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average. He's the future.


    Detroit Red Wings: Jakub Vrana, LW

    Dylan Larkin is the captain and the best player. But the Czech-born Vrana arrived in a trade from the Washington Capitals and posted 11 points in 11 games to end the year. If that continues, he'll move up the regard list quickly.


    Buffalo Sabres: Dylan Cozens, C

    Make no mistake, Western New York hockey fans will be excited if Jack Eichel is healthy and wearing a Sabres uniform. But just in case, they should get familiar with Cozens, drafted seventh overall in 2019.


    Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk, LW

    Don't overthink it. The Senators are a team to look at for a long-term rise, and perhaps the main reason is Tkachuk, a 22-year-old who's scored 60 goals in three NHL seasons. Get him locked up for the long haul and enjoy the ascension.

Central Division

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar, D

    There's lots to be excited about in Colorado these days. But blending youth, skill and a long-term contract is the 22-year-old defenseman who won the Calder Trophy in 2019-20 and may add a Norris before long.


    Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, RW

    It's hard to believe a guy drafted first overall 14 years ago is still elite, but the 32-year-old is every bit that and more. He's been at least a point-per-game player for three straight seasons and eight of the last nine.


    St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko, RW

    This'll be exciting no matter how it plays out. Though recently injured, Tarasenko has a track record as a high-caliber sniper. If he stays, he'll be an asset for the Blues. If not, the trade drama may be titillating.


    Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller, RW

    There's not a whole lot of interest-piquing talent on the Coyotes roster. But the 23-year-old Keller is doing his part, having scored double-digit goals in four straight seasons since his full-time arrival.


    Winnipeg Jets: Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW

    Big things were happening for the 6'2", 205-pounder before souring in Columbus, prompting the Blue Jackets to dump him via trade. If he nears the 27 goals he scored in 2018-19, it's a win for the Jets.


    Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros, G

    The Nashville crease was Pekka Rinne territory until July this year, but it's a new era with the 26-year-old Finn who had 21 wins in 35 starts last season. Given the dearth of reliable scoring on the roster, the goalie will have to shine.


    Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen, D

    The Stars invested in the future in signing their 22-year-old blue liner for eight years and $67.6 million. He's a mobile puck mover who had 26 points in 27 playoff games after the 2019-20 season.


    Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov, LW

    If you're a Wild fan with designs on a great season, it'll have to include the still-unsigned Kaprizov. He had 51 points in 55 games as a first-year NHL player and provided a jolt to a long-moribund franchise.

Metropolitan Division

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Columbus Blue Jackets: Patrik Laine, LW

    Here's the flip side of the aforementioned trade for Dubois. Picked one slot ahead of his trade-mate in 2016, Laine was a Grade A sniper with 44 goals in his second season. Columbus needs that production.


    Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin, LW

    What's more exciting than chasing Wayne Gretzky's all-time goal-scoring record? Ovechkin begins the season 164 goals away from a tie with No. 99, and the "Great 8" is on pace to get there in 2024-25.


    New Jersey Devils: Dougie Hamilton, D

    No player is more symbolic of the rise in New Jersey than the hulking Hamilton, who jumped from Carolina for $63 million over seven seasons. He was six points off the NHL lead for defensemen last season.


    Philadelphia Flyers: Carter Hart, G

    It wasn't long ago that Hart, still just 23, was a Philadelphia darling after winning 24 times in his second NHL season. Then 2020-21 happened, with its 3.67 goals-against average. If he's better, the Flyers excel.


    Carolina Hurricanes: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C

    There's nothing like an offer sheet to shake up an offseason. The Canes got the 21-year-old for a year at a tick more than $6.1 million after Montreal balked at matching it. He'll fit nicely with Carolina's young roster.


    New York Islanders: Zdeno Chara, D

    OK, we're going for sentiment with the choice of Chara, whom the Islanders drafted 25 years ago and re-signed over the weekend. Having a Cup-winning veteran of 1,608 games can't hurt the Isles' title plan.


    Pittsburgh Penguins: Tristan Jarry, G

    If excitement means angst, it'll initially be directed toward Jarry, whose 25-9-3 regular-season record was quickly forgotten thanks to a dubious 2-4 playoff slate. If the Pens want a Cup run, he has to perform.


    New York Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere, LW

    If you expected the No. 1 overall pick to be an instant star, 2020-21 was a disappointment. But Lafreniere finished well, scoring eight goals and 13 points in his last 25 games. If that continues, look out.

Pacific Division

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson, C

    They'll get the contract done at some point, OK? Assuming that's the case, there's no more vital player on the roster than the 22-year-old center who scored 55 goals in two seasons before a 2020-21 disaster.


    Anaheim Ducks: Trevor Zegras, C

    It's shaping up to be a nice little Calder Trophy race with Knight, Caufield and Anaheim's Zegras, who was a point-per-game player in the AHL before scoring 13 points in 24 NHL games.


    Calgary Flames: Blake Coleman, C

    It won't be talent that makes the 29-year-old dual-Cup winner an exciting commodity in southern Alberta. Instead, it'll be the mojo and presence he brings to an organization desperate for a standings jolt.


    Vegas Golden Knights: Robin Lehner, G

    It was a luxury for the Golden Knights to have two legit No. 1 goaltenders last season, but the Vezina Trophy winner, Marc-Andre Fleury, was traded to Chicago and left the crease to Lehner—who's 16-4-2 in his initial 22 games with the team.


    Los Angeles Kings: Viktor Arvidsson, LW

    One team's salary dump is another's bargain. Nashville was eager to clear off Arvidsson's three remaining years at $4.25 million a season, but the Kings will benefit if he nears the 34 goals he scored in 2018-19.


    Seattle Kraken: Philipp Grubauer, G

    It was quite the move for Grubauer to leave an elite team for an expansion operation, but he provides instant stability on the back end for a Kraken team that'll defend well but may struggle to score a lot.


    Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, C

    Oh, expecting Zack Kassian perhaps? Please. McDavid is not only the league's best, most prolific player, he's the sort of generational talent who'll be recalled long after his playing days end. And he's only 24.


    San Jose Sharks: Tomas Hertl, C

    The Sharks aren't long on thrills, but Hertl has been as consistent a producer as they've had for a while. He's scored in double digits for eight seasons, and we'll see if he stays past this year.