Rask, Ovechkin among NHL.com picks for East 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 East Division, which consists of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

 
Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Forward: Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Forward: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Forward: Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
Defenseman: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Defenseman: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Goalie: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

I’m going to start by defending my goalie pick because I know that eyes are going to go there first. Though I contemplated going with Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, I think Rask is going to have the kind of Vezina Trophy-caliber season that he had in 2019-20 (26-8-6, 2.12 GAA, .929 save percentage) and that he’s still capable of — because he will want to prove himself and because the Bruins will need it with a potentially suspect, and young, defenseman group. I think Eichel and forward Taylor Hall are going to be formidable as linemates, and though I considered Hall here, I’m putting my money on Eichel, who is entering his prime after a season when he got early mentions to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Panarin should be self-explanatory, and Barzal is (despite not being under contract yet) going to soar, in my mind. My defensemen are older stalwarts, Carlson and Letang, in whom I have complete faith in a season that could have its ups and downs.

 

[RELATED: North Division preseason picks]

 

William Douglas, staff writer

Forward: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Forward: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Forward: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Defenseman: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Defenseman: Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers
Goalie: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Why Provorov? I was tempted to pick Carlson or even go with a bounce-back season from P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, but I think Provorov will put all his tantalizing talents together in his fifth NHL season. He showed flashes of what he’s capable of offensively last season, tying for 10th in goals among defensemen (13). He tied for eighth in the NHL in average time on ice (24:51). Picking Ovechkin was a no-brainer. I’m looking forward to seeing what Ovechkin, who has scored 706 NHL goals and is on a quest to break Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record (894), does in the offensive system being installed by new Capitals coach Peter Laviolette. Eichel is determined to push the Sabres into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his game will benefit from the addition of Hall. I struggled between selecting Pastrnak and Panarin, but Pastrnak’s 48 goals last season were too much to ignore.

Video: Top plays of the Postseason: Ivan Provorov

 

Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Forward: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Forward: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Forward: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Defenseman: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Defenseman: Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Goalie: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

It’s funny Amalie was concerned about selecting Rask as her goalie, because William and I agree with her. Maybe in a year or two we’ll be talking about Hart or one of the other younger goalies (Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers, Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders, Mackenzie Blackwood of the Devils, Ilya Samsonov of the Capitals), but Rask is a proven commodity entering this season. I also went with proven commodities at forward with Crosby and Ovechkin. Although Crosby missed some time with injuries last season, he averaged 1.15 points per game. Ovechkin is 35 but showed no signs of slowing down last season when he tied Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals. At defenseman, it will be McAvoy’s time to shine in Boston after Zdeno Chara (Washington) and Torey Krug (St. Louis Blues) left as unrestricted free agents. And I think Carlson will thrive even more in Laviolette’s system, which encourages defensemen to be aggressive offensively, after he led NHL defensemen with a career-high 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists) in 69 games last season.

 

Mike Morreale, staff writer

Forward: Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Forward: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Forward: Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
Defenseman: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Defenseman: Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
Goalie: Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

I believe this forward group speaks for itself, even if doesn’t include an Ovechkin, Pastrnak, or Crosby. Barzal, to me, is one of the most electrifying forwards in the division, and his game is evolving under the tutelage of Islanders coach Barry Trotz. Amalie added Panarin to her forward selections, and though he’s a good choice, I decided to change things up and choose his linemate, Zibanejad, who scored 41 goals in 57 games last season. Bergeron is 35 but remains one of the best two-way centers in the game, something I truly admire. Carlson is a common choice for obvious reasons, but with so many new pieces in place in Buffalo, I’m betting on Dahlin to break out in his third NHL season with more than 10 goals and at least 50 points. Hart is a no-brainer for me in goal; he’s the best young goalie in the NHL and plays on a team that will challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Video: Top 10 Mathew Barzal plays from 2019-20

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