7 Canadian storylines to follow throughout the NHL season

The dawn of a new NHL season is upon us, and it will be a memorable one — regardless of which team hoists the Stanley Cup — given the paralyzing impact of the global pandemic.

On the ice, the players themselves will author the story of a campaign that will no doubt be talked about for decades to come.

With that in mind, here are some burning questions concerning the Canadian teams before the puck drops on Wednesday:

Will Canada fall in love with Vancouver defenceman Schmidt?

Traditionally, the hockey world is not fond of big personalities and players who speak their minds.

Enter Nate Schmidt. The gregarious blue-liner is fresh off three years with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Canadian hockey fans will get to know him intimately over the next four months via their televisions, smart phones and laptops.

Paired with Alex Edler, Schmidt likes to talk — a lot.

“As a hockey player, you dream of being on the big stage and this is it,” Schmidt told Vancouver reporters after the Golden Knights dealt him for a third-round draft pick. “Don’t tell anybody they pay me to have fun every day.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo ranks the all-Canadian division:

For the first time, all 7 Canadian teams will be in one division. Rob Pizzo predicts which four will make the playoffs. 5:47 

Is Jumbo Joe the Maple Leafs’ missing ingredient?

Joe Thornton is a future Hockey Hall of Famer making the league minimum of $700,000 US, and is set to play his 23rd NHL season. At age 41, he’s clearly in the twilight of his career.

But don’t assume Thornton is only in Toronto for his leadership skills.

Through training camp, Thornton has been skating alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line. The old guy badly wants to win his first Stanley Cup.

He’ll no doubt hold the young guns accountable for their work ethic and attention to detail.

Will Laine shine in what could be his last season as a Jet?

The Patrik Laine trade rumours became more than just rumours this off-season when agent Mike List said parting ways would be beneficial for both the Jets and his client.

Problem is, trades will be hard to come by with quarantine rules surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic making in-season deals between Canadian and American teams near impossible. And the chance of the Jets trading Laine to a Canadian opponent is pretty well non-existent.

A pending restricted free agent, Laine’s best bet is to go on an offensive tear to increase his value, wherever he ends up playing next season.

A Maurice Richard Trophy, as the NHL’s leading goal scorer, is a distinct possibility for the 22-year-old sniper.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a brewing dilemma in how to deal with the Patrik Laine trade rumours. (John Woods/Canadian Press/File)

Can Suzuki, Kotkaniemi build on bubble brilliance?

With a nightly curfew now in effect due to the pandemic, Montrealers might be more zeroed in on their beloved hockey team than ever before during this shortened season (if that’s even possible).

Giving Canadiens fans reason to dream, Kotkaniemi, 20, and Suzuki, 21, are two young centremen with the promise of joining the NHL’s elite up the middle.

In the Toronto bubble, Suzuki tied Jonathan Drouin for the team lead in post-season scoring with seven points in 10 games. Kotkaniemi collected four goals.

“We want to be important players for this franchise moving forward,” Suzuki told reporters via Zoom. “And we’ve talked about building our game towards winning a Stanley Cup.”

Canadiens centre Nick Suzuki, stretching during the first team practice in Brossard, Que. on Monday, hopes to build off a successful post-season. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

What does an improved McDavid bring to the Oilers?

He’s already a superstar, but McDavid is determined to up his game.

Sure, he’s coming off a campaign in which he amassed 97 points in just 64 regular-season appearances. But the Oilers fell to Chicago in the Stanley Cup qualifiers, and McDavid’s defensive game was called into question.

This year, the Edmonton captain vows to pay more attention to detail in his own end, win more faceoffs and fine tune his shot.

“This is a smart man’s league,” said McDavid, 23. “You’re never going to beat a guy the same way twice.”

WATCH | Evaluating NHL’s goaltending carousel:

Rob Pizzo catches you up on the significant changes between the pipes this season. 2:43

Have the Flames finally found a replacement for Kiprusoff?

When the fabulous Finn, Miika Kiprusoff, retired in 2013, the Flames embarked on what has felt like an endless search for the next franchise goaltender. Every summer, Calgary fans pray the new guy would claim the blue paint.

Change was the only constant.

Nearly eight years later, 30-year-old Jacob Markstrom has arrived on scene. The Flames landed the former Vancouver Canucks goalie on the first day of free agency with a six-year contract worth $36 million.

“I’m really looking forward to having him on our side,” captain Mark Giordano told reporters via video conference. “There’s a lot of firepower in our division. There’s a lot of offensive guys who can put the puck in the net.”

Will the Senators blossom before our eyes?

There’s no questioning the fact the rebuilding Sens will swallow some tough lessons this season courtesy of the likes of Connor McDavid, Elias Pettersson and Auston Matthews.

But is there a better way for Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Tim Stuetzle to develop than to play, and sometimes fail, under the intense spotlight of the NHL’s all-Canadian North Division?

“It really is like old school hockey when it comes to inner-division play,” Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith said via video conference. “It’s going to come down to, obviously, talent and ability, but also come down to will and which team wants to play the hardest every night.”



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