The start of the 2013-14 NHL season is less than a month away, and that means that sports bloggers and major networks are busy putting together their predictions for the 2013-14 campaign. As my friends and I are just about to start our NHL Fantasy Draft for the upcoming season I have a vested interest in figuring out who will be among the elite snipers this season. Of course, in the end, a variety of factors, most notably injuries, will play a huge part in the ultimate rankings. Still, I figured I'd do the crystal ball routine and try to divine which players are going to tickle the twine most often this season. Here are my picks for the top 10 goal scorers of 2013-14. Use this list for your fantasy draft at your own risk 🙂
10 - Corey Perry
This abrasive Duck had a sub-par season last year by his lofty standards, notching a meager 15 goals in 44 contests in last year's lockout-shortened season. However, he is just a couple of years removed from a 50 goal season that saw him take home both the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophies. After signing a huge contract in the off-season, Perry will have plenty to prove. Though I don't think he will challenge for the Richard this year he has a good shot at hitting 40+ goals. Good enough to eke into the top 10.
9 - James Neal
This pure Penguins sniper enjoys not only the enormous benefit of playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin, but also gets plenty of powerplay time with both Malkin and Sidney Crosby. With two sweet set-up men to feed him and one of the best releases in the game Neal should have no problem filling the net in 2013-14. He hit the 40 goal mark in 2011-12. Look for him to better that this year.
8 - Patrick Kane
If not for a craft Red Wing by the name of Pavel Datsyuk, this silky smooth winger would undoubtedly hold the title as the most talented stickhandler in the league. His pure skill with the puck is dazzling - just watch a compilation of his best shootout goals. Not only can he beat players one on one with his sick mitts, but he has a heck of a release. These two weapons should allow him to easily crack the top 10 in both goals and points this year.
7 - Jeff Carter
He's got speed, size and a great shot. What more could you ask for in a pure goal scorer? A pure goal scorer is what Carter is. One only need look at his stat line from last year - 26 goals and 7 assists - to know that this guy is always thinking shoot first. With what many are considering an outside shot to make Canada's 2014 Olympic squad in Sochi Carter will be extra motivated to showcase his scoring ability. Look for him to score 40+ in 2013-14.
6 - Phil Kessel
Year after year this guy puts up great numbers, yet somehow he never gets his due. In my opinion he is one of the purest shooters in the game, and his wicked speed, combined with his lethal shot, make him a nightmare to defend again. His torching of Zdeno Chara in last year's playoffs should only give him more confidence going into the 2013-14 season. Providing the renegotiation of his contract doesn't become a big distraction for him during the season I look for him to put up a career best in goals this year.
5 - Sidney Crosby
I think that five players could hit the 50 goal mark this season, and Sidney Crosby has proven before he is capable of that feat. If Crosby can manage to play close to 82 games this season I think he scores 50 goals no problem. Of course, health is the big concern for Sid, who has been struggling with concussion issues over the past few years. I'm going to take a risk and predict that Crosby will play at least 75 games this year. I also think he will defer to winger Chris Kunitz less this year and shoot the puck more. Between all those factors I think the top five in goal scoring is a reasonable assumption.
4 - John Tavares
I think this year will be a coming out party for John Tavares. That's not to say that the former #1 overall draft pick has been anything less than stellar over his first four seasons with the Islanders, but I think this year he will join the ranks of the game's true elite, elevating his status to superstardom. His hockey IQ is off the chart, and he has that uncanny ability that all goalscorers share, arriving at the net a split second before the puck does, resulting in a lot of easy goals. Look for him to join both the 50 goal and 100 point clubs this season.
3 - Evgeni Malkin
This hulking Russian superstar is the closest approximation to Mario Lemieux I've seen since The Magnificent One hung up his skates for the final time. His combination of power and finesse make him all but impossible to stop when he is at the top of his game. His fortune in playing with some of the NHL's best players only makes it more likely that he will fill the net this season. Though he is not a pure goal scorer like others on this list, Malkin has a nose for the net, and unlike Crosby, his first instinct isn't always to pass the puck. A 50 goal season, another Art Ross and a Hart are all within his grasp this year.
2 - Alex Ovechkin
There may be those that doubt that Alex Ovechkin is back to best, but I am not one of them. Ovechkin wasn't comfortable during the latter part of coach Bruce Boudreau's tenure, and he absolutely wilted under the iron fist of Dale Hunter. It took him a little while to get comfortable with Adam Oates, but once he found his groove he was the best player in the game, dominating in all the ways that he did during his first four years in the game. He led the league in goals over the lockout-shortened season, but I don't see him quite hitting the top over the 82 game haul. If his luck holds out and his wrecking ball style of play doesn't result in injury he should easily reach 50 and maybe even have a crack at 60 goals this season.
1 - Steven Stamkos
The purest shooter the game has seen since the heyday of Brett Hull, Stamkos has established himself as the game's best goal scorer over the past four seasons. He scored 60 in the last full season, and just entering his prime at age 23 he is fully capable of matching or exceeding that total this year. Whether he plays with Martin St. Louis or this year's #2 overall draft pick - Jonathan Drouin - he'll have a highly skilled set-up man feeding him the puck. That said, Stamkos doesn't only rely on his wicked one-timer. He is one of the fastest skaters in the game and is fully capable of taking the puck to the net himself. He is mine, and probably just about every other hockey pundit's pick to take home the Rocket Richard Trophy this year.