Aho, Vasilevskiy among NHL.com picks for Central Division preseason team

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With the 2020-21 NHL season scheduled to start Jan. 13, fans are getting the chance to pick the top players in each of the four divisions through the 2020-21 NHL Preseason All-Division Team Fan Vote. Results will be announced Jan. 12 and 13.

Though the fans will have the ultimate say regarding the top players in the Scotia North Division, MassMutual East Division, Discover Central Division and Honda West Division, NHL.com writers have made their own picks using the same ballot the fans have.

Today, four NHL.com writers reveal their selections for the Central Division, which consists of the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. 

 

Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist 

Forward: Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Forward: Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Forward: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

The goalie pick was easy. Vasilevskiy is the top goalie in the NHL. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist each of the past three seasons and the winner in 2018-19. The defensemen were easy too. Josi is the reigning Norris Trophy winner. Hedman has been a Norris finalist four seasons in a row and won it in 2017-18. The forwards were harder because of the strong candidates I had to leave out, but Kane has accomplished so much in his NHL career and remains on top of his game. He scored 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists) last season, eighth in the NHL and most among anyone now in the Central. Huberdeau wasn’t far behind with 78 points (23 goals, 55 assists). Aho’s 38 goals were the most among anyone in this division. 

Video: Sebastian Aho places 29th on the top 50 players list

 

Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

Forward: Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Forward: Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Forward: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman: Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Defenseman: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Choosing two defensemen for this division was incredibly difficult, but the reason I opted for Jones is I believe he’s the most underrated player in the NHL. Few players can control a game at each end of the ice like Jones, and I believe that if he wanted solely to focus on his offensive game, he could be the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL. He plays the toughest minutes for the Blue Jackets every night. Five NHL defensemen last season averaged at least 20:00 per game at even strength (20:17 for Jones), and at least 2:00 per game on the power play (2:34) and on the penalty kill (2:25), and Josi was the only other one in the Central Division. Choosing the forwards wasn’t easy either. Leaving off Kane was a tough call, but Point (33 points; 14 goals, 19 assists) was outstanding during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is moving into his prime. Same for Aho. Barkov is an outstanding two-way player who I think will be closer this season to the player who scored 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) in 82 games in 2018-19 than the one who scored 62 (20 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games last season.

 

Tracey Myers, staff writer

Forward: Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Forward: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Forward: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

There were many defensemen to choose from, but I went with the youth movement in selecting Heiskanen. I’ve heard many a coach say it takes a few years for defensemen to mature and truly be ready for the NHL. Clearly no one said that to Heiskanen, who at 21 has the poise and presence of a veteran, was third on the Stars with 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 68 games last season and led them in ice time per game (23:46). But Heiskanen saved his best for the postseason, when he led NHL defensemen and was third among all skaters with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 27 games. Hedman, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as MVP of the playoffs, was an easy decision. Same goes for Vasilevskiy. Aho is so fun to watch, as is Point. As for Kane, every season I go in thinking, “OK, his production is going to start to diminish, right?” Every season he proves me wrong. Enough said.

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Patrick Kane

 

Rob Reese, fantasy editor

Forward: Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Forward: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Forward: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman: Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Defenseman: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

The selection that stands out here is Hamilton. Why did I choose him over a top defenseman like Hedman? Hamilton scored 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games last season before sustaining a lower-body injury Jan. 16 and missing the rest of the regular season. He was tied for second with Josi among NHL defensemen in goals at the time and on pace for an NHL career-high 70 points over an 82-game season. Hamilton’s trajectory continues to point upwards with young forwards Aho and Andrei Svechnikov progressing, and Carolina’s overall outlook in the division should make Hamilton a Norris Trophy finalist this season.

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