MacKinnon, Lehner among NHL.com picks for West 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 West Division, which consists of the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights.

 
Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

Forward: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Forward: Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Forward: Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Defenseman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Defenseman: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Goalie: Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

MacKinnon is the best player in the NHL, so that was an easy pick. But I’m also a huge fan of two-way forwards, the ones a coach can rely on to get the job done regardless of the puck’s location. O’Reilly and Stone fit the bill. In fact, they finished first and second in voting for the 2019 Selke Trophy, awarded to the top defensive forward in the NHL, and O’Reilly was a finalist again last season. Each scored at least 60 points in 2019-20 and could do so again this season, even if it’s limited to 56 games. Ekman-Larsson may not receive much fanfare, but he is a two-time NHL all-star, the Coyotes captain, can play in all situations and possesses an ability to contribute offensively. Makar averaged 0.88 points per game as a 21-year-old defenseman last season and is going to get better for the Avalanche, a legit contender to win the Stanley Cup. And Lehner has found a home in Vegas, where he supplanted one of the all-time greats, Marc-Andre Fleury, as the No. 1 goalie for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and then signed a five-year contract Oct. 3.

Video: Top 10 Nathan MacKinnon plays from 2019-20

 

Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Forward: Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild
Forward: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Forward: Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Defenseman: Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Defenseman: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Goalie: Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

MacKinnon is a lock considering he was fifth in the NHL in scoring last season with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games, had the highest points-per-game average of his NHL career (1.35), and led the NHL in shots on goal (318). MacKinnon’s linemate, Rantanen, was also deserving, being tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for 12th in the NHL in points per game (1.08) during the past three seasons combined, and Makar led NHL rookies in points per game last season. Lehner ranks third among NHL goalies in save percentage during the past two seasons combined (.925; minimum 80 games) and will play behind a stronger Golden Knights defense after they signed defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Fiala averaged more than one point per game (30 points in 28 games) from Jan. 1, 2020, to the end of last season and is a dynamic playmaker who can take another step forward potentially playing on the same line with Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild’s top prospect. Karlsson, who leads active NHL defensemen in points per game (0.82; minimum 75 games), could return to his elite form after nearly 11 months off to recover from a groin injury and broken thumb.

 

Dan Rosen, senior writer

Forward: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Forward: Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Forward: Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Defenseman: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Defenseman: Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights
Goalie: Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

We’re in agreement on MacKinnon, Makar and Lehner so far. Those are the easy and, quite frankly, obvious choices. MacKinnon will win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and Makar the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman, and Lehner will be in the mix for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie this season. I agree with Brian on O’Reilly and Stone too, for the same exact reasons in fact. They’re dominant at each end of the rink. But I’m alone with Theodore and, to be honest, I’m a bit surprised. He was brilliant in the playoffs last season, scoring 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 20 games. He averaged 1.87 points per 60 minutes, second among defensemen who advanced beyond the first round behind Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars (1.94). Theodore will get slightly overlooked because of Pietrangelo’s arrival, but he showed last season, when he scored 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists) in 71 games, that at age 25 he’s on an upward trajectory. He’ll keep going up and be a dominant, 23-minute-per-game defenseman for the Golden Knights.

Video: Shea Theodore lands on Top 20 Defensemen list

 

David Satriano, staff writer

Forward: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Forward: Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Forward: Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Defenseman: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Defenseman: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Goalie: Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes

The reasons for selecting MacKinnon, O’Reilly and Stone were covered by my colleagues. But where we differed was with the defensemen and goalie. Makar, who won the Calder Trophy voted as the top rookie in the NHL last season, was a unanimous choice, but for the second defenseman, I chose Burns. He is due for a bounce-back season after scoring 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) with a minus-22 rating in 70 games last season, his worst offensive numbers in a full season since 2011-12 (37 points; 11 goals, 26 assists). He scored at least 60 points in each of the previous five seasons before last season and has been a Norris finalist three times in five seasons. Although everyone else chose Lehner, expect Kuemper to again fly under the radar in an extremely tough division. Among NHL goalies who played at least 25 games last season, Kuemper was third with a .928 save percentage and tied for second with Anton Khudobin of the Stars with a 2.22 goals-against average. In fact, during the past two seasons, Kuemper’s 2.29 GAA is second behind Ben Bishop of the Stars (2.23) and his .926 save percentage is tied for second with Khudobin among goalies who played at least 50 games (Bishop, .927). Kuemper helped the Coyotes advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and put up those numbers playing in the Pacific Division, which included four other teams that made the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season: the Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

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