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January 16, 2013
NHL Preview
Top 10 Projected Point Leaders

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider

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Every season we at Hockey Prospectus use the VUKOTA system to help predict the league's top scorers. While there are a slew of familiar faces among the projected leaders, a new name tops the list this season, one of eight coming out of the Eastern Conference.

One face you won't see? Sidney Crosby. Though currently healthy, with only 63 games over the past two seasons, the VUKOTA system was reluctant to project any more than 29 games played for Sid the Kid. After missing half of 2010-11 and three quarters of 2011-12 with post-concussion issues, you can see why the system is skittish. Per game production won't be an issue however, as VUKOTA projects Crosby for 31 points, which is actually quite good. On a points-per-game level, Crosby is ranked fourth (1.09), behind only Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux.

Here are the top 10 projected scoring leaders for the 2013 NHL season, and their predicted goal totals for the 48-game campaign:

1. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning, 54 points

Stamkos has finished in the top five in scoring the past three seasons, including second place last season. This could be the season he finally wins an Art Ross to complement his two Rocket Richard Trophies. Not an especially disciplined or defensive-minded player, the Lightning assign the 23-year-old only the most advantageous ice time at even strength, for which they were rewarded with the most even-strength goals by a single player in 20 years -- a third Rocket Richard Trophy could also be on its way.

2. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins, 53 points

If there's any fear that Malkin can't follow up an amazing season in which he won the Hart Trophy and his second Art Ross Trophy while recording his third 100-point season, let them be dismissed by the KHL fans who voted for him in droves during his monster season with 62 points in 36 games during his lockout stay in Russia. In Pittsburgh, Malkin has excellent chemistry with linemate James Neal, and like Stamkos, is assigned the type of offensive zone shifts against secondary opponents that can fully unleash such an incredible offensive weapon.

3. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers, 49 points

Giroux is a complete two-way player whose offensive talents are reaching their zenith. Last season, Giroux led the league in assists per game during the regular season and then had a terrific postseason with 17 points and a league-leading eight goals in just 10 postseason games. Giroux has reportedly recovered from his shoulder/neck injury, scoring 19 points in nine games for the Berlin Polar Bears. Depending on who replaces Jaromir Jagr (now in Dallas) on his wing, he could be in for a monster season.

4. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders, 45 points

All of the 22-year-old Tavares' offensive statistics are on the rise: goals, assists, shots, everything. Even without linemate P.A. Parenteau, 2009's first overall selection is poised for a breakout season either this season or next. Tavares has been playing in Switzerland, where he has scored 42 points in 28 games, won the Spengler Cup and was even bitten by an opposing player -- we didn't know Mike Tyson played hockey.

5. Jordan Eberle, RW, Edmonton Oilers, 43 points

At first it may seem surprising that the 22-year-old Eberle is projected to be the Western Conference's leading scorer, but he's absolutely tearing up the AHL, winning the player of the month twice in a row and scoring 51 points in 34 games, including a hat trick in less than three minutes. Furthermore, Edmonton now has just the type of talent that can maximize Eberle's full offensive potential -- like last season's linemate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Though they were used quite carefully against select opponents in the offensive zone last season, Eberle is actually a capable defensive player, even if he's a not particularly physical. The only warning is that last season's scoring totals were boosted by a hot power play and high shooting percentages -- his 34 goals came on just 180 shots.

6. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings, 43 points

After last season's Stanley Cup and his incredibly consistent and highly disciplined play over the past five seasons, we're finally prepared to go out on a limb and state that Kopitar is the game's greatest Slovenian player. A complete two-way player much like Giroux, the 25-year-old pivot has played all 82 games in four of the past five seasons, but will likely miss that target this season due to a minor knee injury sustained in Sweden.

7. Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs, 42 points

Kessel finally found some chemistry with the right linemate last season, Joffrey Lupul, helping him not only post his career high in goals (37), but also finding his playmaking skill, as well (45 assists). Unfortunately, Kessel has been idle during the lockout, probably spending his time watching tapes of Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton -- the young players Boston selected with the draft picks Toronto was willing to exchange for its talented winger.

8. Jason Spezza, C, Ottawa Senators, 40 points

Finding some great chemistry with linemate Milan Michalek and Norris-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, Spezza scored 34 goals for the third time, matching his career high, and finished fourth overall in league scoring. At 29, Spezza is practically the old man of this list, but has proven his offensive talents over the years, currently sitting sixth among players with points per game. Spezza has been playing in Switzerland, where he scored 30 points in 28 games, and won the Spengler Cup.

9. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals, 39 points

Once considered one of the world's two greatest hockey players, Ovechkin earned two Hart Trophies, two Rocket Richard Trophies and one Art Ross while scoring at least 100 points in four of his first five seasons. Though his shooting percentage has remained roughly the same, unfortunately his shot totals, which were once as high as 528, dropped down to 303 last season -- the first time that he hasn't led the league. Worse yet, after three straight seasons with at least 53 assists, Ovechkin earned barely half that with just 27. However, Ovechkin is far too talented to remain outside the scoring race, and with his 40 points in 31 KHL games and (hopefully) the end of the coaching upheaval in Washington, all the signs are pointing to a rebound season.

10. Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes, 38 points

Staal scored 100 points in 2005-06, the season the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, leading the postseason in scoring, too. Last season, he scored exactly 70 points for the third time since then, which is amazingly his career low since that magnificent season -- a particularly impressive feat for such a consistent two-way player who rarely gets to play alongside the same talent as those listed above. Thankfully, that will change this season with the acquisition of Alexander Semin (from Washington), and with his brother Jordan (from Pittsburgh) shouldering some of his defensive responsibilities.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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