By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The 2019-20 fantasy season was a bit of a downer because it ended so abruptly. Ultimately, there was no way to properly crown a winner, but hope springs eternal with the thought of a new season. We don't know when next season will start, but the league has been adamant and confident that there will be one.
Whether you're defending your league title with an asterisk or going on a revenge tour, here are some way-too-early bold predictions for the upcoming season.
The Art Ross winner will average at least 1.65 points per game
Scoring is up across the league, but just how efficient can the league's top scorer get? Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross in 2019 with 128 points (1.56 P/GP) and Leon Draisaitl took the title this past season with 110 points (1.55 P/GP), but the record for best P/GP in the cap era (min. 40 GP) actually belongs to Sidney Crosby, who scored 66 points in just 41 games (1.61) in the 2010-11 season. Only one player has managed to eclipse 1.61 P/GP over the past 20 seasons (Mario Lemieux in 2000-01), and it's about time we got another. The top candidates right now are Leon Draisaitl, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, and Nathan MacKinnon, but I'll also throw in the possibility of monster seasons from Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel, as well as dark-horse candidates in Evgeni Malkin and Elias Pettersson.
No goalie will win 30 games
Last season, I predicted that no goalie would play over 60 games, and it actually happened — the first time ever in the cap era. But it didn't happen for the reason I predicted, as four goalies would've hypothetically played more than 60 games (Connor Hellebuyck, Carey Price, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Frederik Andersen) had there been a full season, though only eight goalies would've been on pace for 30 wins, the lowest number in five seasons. Facing the possibility of a condensed or shortened schedule next year, having two capable goaltenders will be a requirement for success for teams that don't have a workhorse like Connor Hellebuyck or Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That means fewer starts for starters and more starts for backups (or 1B's), but the same number of wins to go around. The play in fantasy will be to remain patient on goalies during the draft and discount the starters who have a capable backup behind them or to simply grab both of those team's goalies, if possible.
Five defensemen will lead their team in scoring
It seems logical considering how defensemen are expected to play these days. In the past, we assumed only terrible teams would have scoring leaders who were defensemen (shout out to Penguins legend Dick Tarnstrom), but that's no longer the case. The Capitals and Predators both had blueliners finish atop their scoring lists last season, and excusing their respective early playoff exits, both are still considered to be very good teams. The emergence of Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar last season only reaffirmed the notion that offense doesn't always have to come from the forwards, though Hughes has a more realistic chance of leading his team in scoring next season. Other candidates include John Carlson, Roman Josi, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Zach Werenski, and perhaps an outside chance for Ryan Suter and Thomas Chabot.
Someone will score 60 goals
Even with 48 goals in 68 games, Alex Ovechkin would've finished with 57 had he played all 82 games last season. It's the closest we've gotten since Steven Stamkos did it in the 2011-12 campaign, though Ovechkin was on pace for 66 in the following lockout-shortened season. With power plays getting better and the talent level getting higher, it's bound to happen at some point, and if I make this bold prediction every year, I figure it will at least bump up my winning percentage a bit. Ovechkin is the obvious favorite with his unstoppable one-timer, but also consider Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, David Pastrnak, and Nathan MacKinnon as strong candidates.
Alexis Lafreniere will finish top 15 in scoring
This isn't as wild as you might think. Not only does Lafreniere have elite talent, but he's also stepping into a half-decent team that already has elite talent at forward (Artemi Panarin). To even have the possibility of cracking the top 15, Lafreniere would have to play at a point-per-game pace, and only five rookies have done that in the cap era (minimum 40 games played): Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and, most recently, Mathew Barzal. The Rangers finished fifth in GF/GP and seventh in power-play efficiency last season, so Lafreniere is stepping into a good situation on a team that emphasizes speed and offense. The left side already has Panarin and Chris Kreider, but there's no doubt that the Rangers have a space reserved for Lafreniere, and they will give him plenty of ice time. Philadelphia's Morgan Frost, Ottawa's Joshua Norris, and Toronto's Nick Robertson are the other marquee rookies who are expected to make splashy debuts and vie for the Calder Trophy next season.
Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier will combine for over 130 points
They combined for just 21 goals last season, but it's about time these two franchise centers took the next step for the Devils. For both, it's simply a matter of when, not if. Hischier is already New Jersey's top center and a 60-point season isn't out of the question if he can stay healthy, and Hughes was one of the league's unluckiest players last season. Among forwards who played at least 500 minutes, Hughes' difference of 10.42 between expected goals (xG) and actual goals scored at even strength was the fifth-highest in the league, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both players also had shooting percentages that were well below the league average, with Hughes at a 4.3 shooting percentage and Hischier at an 8.1. Considering their talent level, those percentages should rise, or at least regress to the mean.