Watch out for these 5 NHL players in 2024
By Zach Payne, Sports Editor
As the calendar flips over to 2024, the NHL season is right around the halfway mark. However, it is also a good time to take stock of what teams and which players found the most success over the last calendar year, and to project what will happen in the next year.
Evaluating using a calendar year rather than a season is a good way to track consistency from season to season. It is also just another way to set a clear sample size for evaluation purposes as well.
So with that being said, here are five players who are set to find the most success in 2024:
Having just played his 600th career game, the best player in the sport is already closing in on 1000 career points. He needs just 97 points to reach the milestone, and given his resume, the odds are that he will get there in 2024. McDavid has also been scoring like a madman as of late and is reviving the Oilers’ playoff hopes nearly single-handedly. Since Nov. 20, McDavid has played in 19 games and has scored a ridiculous 39 points. As a result, Edmonton’s 14-5-0 record over that time is relatively unsurprising. Should the Oilers ascension continue, McDavid will ensure that they threaten any team they face in the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the best teams in the league this season. A huge part of that is the elite production they have gotten out of their best players. However, none have been as impressive this season as Quinn Hughes. The star defenceman is scoring at an absurd 101-point pace and has been involved in not just the Norris trophy discussion for best defender, but the Hart trophy discussion for league MVP. Hughes has established himself as one of the best offensive defencemen in the league, and the best part is that he’s only 24 years old. Which means in theory, he’s still going to keep getting better as he enters his prime.
In pursuit of greatness, Washington Capitals superstar and captain Alexander Ovechkin hit a bit of a snag in late 2023. To open the 2023-24 season, he had just seven goals in 34 games. Far from the elite goal-scoring paces he has been known for in his career. However, he also was at a career-low 5.9 shooting percentage, far from his 12.8 per cent clip for the rest of his career. That is bound to improve at least by a few percentage points over the rest of the 2023-24 season and into the 2024-25 season. With some regression back to the mean, Ovechkin will no doubt see his scoring production spike. As it stands, Ovechkin sits just 64 goals behind Wayne Gretzky for the most all-time, he should be able to put at least a decent dent in that gap by the end of 2024.
The rookie phenom has exceeded even some of the loftier expectations for his rookie campaign. Bedard is currently on pace for 32 goals and 38 assists. A 70-point pace would be fairly impressive on its own, but it’s made more impressive when considering the quality of the Chicago Blackhawks roster around him. Chicago is currently sitting near the bottom of the standings, and one of the only other quality forwards on the roster, Taylor Hall, suffered a knee injury that ended his season just 10 games in. Bedard is arguably the only player on the roster that is in the long-term plans. So with the production he’s had so far, imagine what will happen when the Hawks surround him with more talent heading into the 2024-25 season. As one of the most hyped prospects since the turn of the century, Bedard continues to display the audacious talent that has convinced people he will be one of two or three best players in the league.
Another rookie who is having a very good rookie year, though with much less attention being given to him, is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ third overall pick from this past draft, Adam Fantilli. The former University of Michigan star is enjoying a rookie campaign that has him playing at a very respectable 50-point pace. While not quite as impressive as Connor Bedard (few players are), Fantilli is showing a ton of promise as a 19-year-old in the NHL. Not many players his age even threaten to make the league, let alone make as profound of an impact. Fantilli projects to be one of the league’s brightest young stars, who should see a more traditional spike in production in his sophomore season. With players such as Johnny Gaudreau already on the Columbus roster, plus more to come over the offseason, Fantilli is in a great position to expand on his rookie campaign in the 2024-25 season.