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10 things that can define NHL in 2020

Pastrnak chasing 60 goals with Bruins; defensemen lead charge for Calder Trophy

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

It's already been a wild season. Fifty-point scorers? Defensemen in the scoring race? A topsy-turvy Atlantic Division? We've got all of that and more.

But with 2020 set to begin, there's so much to look forward to on the NHL calendar, with games to watch, races to follow, and a heavy dose of competition before we're back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April.

Of course, that's still four months away. A lot can change. It was this past January when the St. Louis Blues were in last place in the NHL, yet to start the run that would win them the Stanley Cup. Does that mean we should all be watching the bottom of the standings for signs of life?

Perhaps.

Because as soon as you think you know what's going to happen in an NHL season, everything can change.

For now, though, here are the 10 things that could define the NHL in 2020:

 

1. The chase for 100 points

We're nearly halfway through the season, but nine players have already topped 50 points: Edmonton Oilers forwards Connor McDavid (63) and Leon Draisaitl (61), Boston Bruins forwards Brad Marchand (58) and David Pastrnak (58), Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (56), Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau (53), Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (52), New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin (51) and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson (50).

Since 2009-10, there have been 18 players to reach 100 points in the NHL. This season alone, the nine aforementioned players are on pace to hit 100.

Will they all get there? Who might fall short?

Could Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (47 points), or Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (46), or Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (45) crash the 100-point party by the end of the season?

It's going to be fun to watch.

 

2. Pastrnak pushes for 60 goals

No NHL player has scored 60 goals in a season since Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos in 2011-2012. Since then, no one has scored more than 53, which (Washington capitals forward Alex Ovechkin in 2014-2015, one of four 50-goal seasons).

But it appears as though Stamkos could have some company.

Through 40 games, Pastrnak has 29 goals, nine shy of his career-high of 38 from last season, which would put him on pace for 59.5 goals this season. It's hard to know if he'll make it there, but the combination of talent, confidence, an improved shot, and elite linemates (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron) might get him to the milestone, which has been reached 39 times in NHL history.

Video: BUF@BOS: Pastrnak nets 2-on-1 feed from Marchand

 

3. Winter Classic goes south

There may not be snow in Dallas on Jan. 1, but the NHL will be there for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, with the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators playing at Cotton Bowl Stadium (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).

The game will be a rematch of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Stars defeated the Predators in six games in the Western Conference First Round. Now, they're battling for playoff position.

Video: Check out the wild numbers behind the Winter Classic

 

4. Are the Edmonton Oilers for real?

The picture isn't quite as rosy for the Oilers as it was a few weeks ago; they're 2-6-1 in their past nine games. But that doesn't mean there isn't cause for hope. McDavid and Draisaitl are electrifying, and, even with the slump, Edmonton is third in the Pacific Division.

There will be tough competition from the Arizona Coyotes, especially with forward Taylor Hall now in the fold, and the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Oilers have a chance to qualify for the playoffs for the second time since losing the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

 

5. All-Star Game heads to St. Louis

As if there wasn't enough excitement following its first Stanley Cup championship last season, there's more ahead for St. Louis when the Cup champions play host to the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition kicks off the fun on Jan. 24, followed by the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25 at Enterprise Center.

 

6. MVP! MVP! MVP!

There are seasons when there isn't much question about which player will win the Hart Trophy. It was a foregone conclusion that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov would be named the NHL's most valuable player last season, when he had 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) and received 164 of 171 first-place votes.

It's not shaping up that way this season.

The race could be contested among a group of League leaders, from McDavid and Draisaitl to Pastrnak and Marchand to MacKinnon and Carlson and Eichel. Halfway through the season, it's still anyone's game.

 

7. Stadium Series goes military

For the second time, the NHL will head to a United States service academy for a Stadium Series game, this time to Falcon Stadium at U.S. Air Force Academy, where the Avalanche will play against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15 at the 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series.

The Stadium Series was hosted by the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 2018, when the Capitals won 5-2 against the Maple Leafs.

 

8. Defending the Calder

One defenseman has won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in the past decade (Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers, 2014-15). Mostly, it's been high-flying forwards receiving the honor.

That's far from a guarantee this season.

Two of the top candidates are defensemen, with Cale Makar of the Avalanche and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks good bets to get long looks come voting time. Makar, who put an early stamp on the NHL when he debuted in the playoffs last season, has 29 points and playing more than 20 minutes per game. Hughes is right behind him, with 28 points and averaging 21:15.

Video: COL@CHI: Makar wrists home power-play goal

 

9. Wither the Lightning?

Tampa Bay was historically good in 2018-2019, winning 62 games and finishing with 128 points to claim the Presidents' Trophy. But then came the playoffs, when the Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.

They've struggled this season, sitting four points out of the second wild card in the East. There's still plenty of time to get into playoff position, but they'll need to be much better in 2020.

 

10. Another year, another milestone

Ovechkin has scored 24 goals in 40 games this season, putting him on pace to reach 700 for his NHL career in 2020, which would move him into eighth place all-time in the NHL. In the process, Ovechkin, who has 682 NHL goals, would pass legends Teemu Selanne (684), Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694).

Oh, and he's 34 years old.

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