The 2023-24 NHL All-Intrigue roster: One name from each team to watch this season

Summer’s over and the NHL is almost back, which means it’s time for my annual All-Intrigue roster. As always, the criteria here is whatever I want it to be – these are the guys who I find interesting heading into the season, for whatever reason. Some of them will be obvious. (Spoiler alert: This Connor Bedard kid will be one to watch.) Others might be surprises.

The key rule is that each team can only be represented once, which is necessary to keep every slot from going to the endlessly fascinating Maple Leafs team that I know you all love reading about so much. We’re doing 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, plus a coach and GM, and I’ll include honorable mentions for each section to make sure every team gets a mention. And just to make things ever more complicated for myself, I’m adding one more rule: No repeats from last year. Sorry to all the Mackenzie Blackwood fans out there.


Connor Hellebuyck, Jets

Remember when the Jets were facing down a busy offseason, one that would see them have no choice but to make blockbuster trades around longtime pieces like Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele? We’re well into September and neither guy has been moved, and it seems like it will stay that way.

So now what? Hellebuyck’s been one of the best goalies of his generation, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and seems unlikely to get the big extension he’s been hoping for. With unrestricted free agency looming, he’s got a ton riding on this season. He’s always been a workhorse, and you wonder how hard the Jets will ride him if this is his last year in Winnipeg. Is he a midseason trade candidate? Maybe a deadline game-changer? Or just a guy facing down one of the biggest contract years in recent NHL history?

Devon Levi, Sabres

We all just kind of assumed that Kevyn Adams would go out and get some goaltending help this offseason. Maybe it would be an established star to hold down the job while Devon Levi was the understudy, or maybe it would just be a competent veteran to be the insurance policy. Neither happened, and with Craig Anderson retiring, an up-and-coming team’s position of weakness is in theory even worse.

That could be disastrous if Levi isn’t ready. But maybe he is ready, and can have the sort of impact rookie season that young goalies used to have back in the day. If so, then the Sabres could go from up-and-coming to legitimately scary. Or maybe all that progress goes down the drain because they can’t get a save, and the Red Wings and Senators blow past them instead. No pressure, kid.

Honorable mentions: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a reigning Vezina winner go into a season with less leaguewide buy-in than Linus Ullmark, who won roughly 85 games last year and doesn’t even seem to be anyone’s pick for the best goalie on his own team. The Devils are another team that was supposed to be goalie-hunting but seem ready to roll with what they have, which might mean we get to see if Akira Schmid is a genuine 1A on a contender or just the Swiss Steve Penney.

Can Erik Karlsson help the Penguins to one more Cup run? (Gene J. Puskar / The Associated Press)


Erik Karlsson, Penguins

Man, it feels weird to type that. But after one of the best offensive years of his or anyone else’s careers, Erik Karlsson is a Penguin, joining an old core that’s all-in on squeezing every ounce of championship juice out of the Crosby/Malkin era. Kyle Dubas made the big move, and didn’t have to pay all that much to do it. The question now is what exactly he’s buying – the Norris winner who was unstoppable even without much support in San Jose, or the 33-year-old who gets hurt a lot and still counts for $ 10 million against the cap. It’s both, of course, but the risk/reward calculation here is tricky. I’m also curious to see how the Penguins divide up the power play time between Karlsson and Kris Letang.

Victor Hedman, Lightning

We just talked about Karlsson being old. We don’t really talk about Victor Hedman that way, even though the two guys were born in the same year. Part of that is that Hedman was an absolute lock for so long, winning the Norris in 2018 and then finishing as a finalist in each of the next four years. That streak ended last season, when he was merely good instead of incredible. But just in case you forgot how much he means to this team, we saw a playoff round where the Lightning were the better team whenever he was in the lineup and got absolutely waxed in the one game he missed. “Future first-ballot Hall of Famer is important to a team’s chances” isn’t exactly a hot take, but if last year’s decline turns into a trend instead of a blip, one of the league’s most consistent contenders could take a big step back.

Aaron Ekblad, Panthers

He went into last year as a trendy Norris pick, but his play took a step back during the regular season. He wasn’t alone in Florida, where it took until the playoffs for things to click. This year is all about Aaron Ekblad getting back – to his place among the game’s elite, sure, but first just into the lineup. He’ll miss the first month or two and maybe more, which could leave the Panthers vulnerable to another slow start. How quickly he gets back, and how much of an impact he has when he does, could determine whether last year’s conference champs can be contenders again.

Mattias Ekholm, Oilers

Everyone seemed to love last season’s deadline deal, but I was quietly worried the Oilers would regret the opportunity cost of locking in a declining asset. Shockingly, it looks like everyone was right and I was wrong. Ekholm was a great fit in Edmonton, and with a full year to work with, he could end up being a key piece of a true Cup contender, even if the offensive studs will get more attention.

Colton Parayko, Blues

What happened to this guy? It was only a few years ago that he was supposed to be one of the more promising young defensemen in the game. Today, he’s apparently badly overpaid, a permanent fixture on the trade block, and a key reason for the Blues defensive struggles. He’s still saying all the right things, but with seven (!) years left on his contract, there can’t be many higher priorities in St. Louis than getting him right.

Jakob Chychrun, Senators

Most of the attention is focused on Ottawa’s core of young players who are locked up long-term, and rightly so. But don’t forget about Jakob Chychrun, last year’s big trade piece who didn’t end up having much impact. If he can get back to being an offensive force in his first full year outside Arizona, that could be the boost that puts the Senators into the playoffs… and sets him up for a nice extension of his own next summer.

Honorable mentions: The Ducks have plenty of young talent up front, but I’m not sure any of them will have a more important season than Jamie Drysdale’s return from injury. I still don’t completely understand how Vince Dunn was so good for Seattle last year, or whether I should expect it to be anything more than a one-year outlier.  And I’m going to be watching closely to see how Dmitri Orlov fits in for the Hurricanes, partly because he’s a very good player going to a great team, but also because a strong showing might mean Carolina can move another blueliner for scoring help.


Elias Pettersson, Canucks

Quinn Hughes might be the new captain, but Pettersson is the player to watch in Vancouver. With no extension in place, he heads into a contract year with plenty of pressure on both his bank account and his legacy. He was on a path to Hart-level stardom as a rookie, occasionally left you wanting more in the seasons that followed, and then looked fantastic last year. Can he keep it up? I don’t think that’s the right question. Instead, I’m with Drance and Dayal when they wonder if this is the year he stakes a claim to be among the very best players in the world.

Alex DeBrincat, Red Wings
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kings
Matt Duchene, Stars

We’ll group this trio of well-traveled forwards into a line, as three of the biggest offseason acquisitions will face varying degrees of pressure in their new homes. Alex DeBrincat was a bit of a bust in Ottawa, but some of that may have been shooting luck, so a return to 40-goal form in Detroit won’t be a shock if he clicks with someone like Dylan Larkin. Meanwhile, Pierre-Luc Dubois just turned 25, is already on his third team, and is running out of time to show that he’ll be anything beyond a solid, 60-point center who can anchor a second line. That’s a perfectly acceptable thing to be, but his new contract suggests the Kings are hoping for more.

Then there’s Matt Duchene. Unlike DuBois and DeBrincat, there’s no rich new contract clouding the picture here. The buyout was a surprise, and the resulting UFA contract with the Stars is about as low-risk as they come. The question is whether this signing ends up as a home run, or more like a line-drive single. A lot of the initial reaction seemed to lean toward the former, and I get it. But Duchene’s been all over the map in his career, almost always leaving his teams wanting more. Now that he’s on his fifth stop, it’s possible that the circumstances put a chip on his shoulder. If so, maybe the blue-chip prospect turned grizzled veteran can top 70 points for just the second time in 15 seasons.

Bo Horvat, Islanders

Speaking of new acquisitions with big new contracts, it’s fair to say Bo Horvat comes into his first full season in New York without a ton of momentum from last year’s second half. He wasn’t bad, but he never seemed to fully click with any of the linemates Lane Lambert tried. Ideally, you’d think Mathew Barzal will be the guy – he got hurt soon after Horvat arrived last year – but the Islander will want to see it. Until then, we’ll wonder which Horvat we’ll get: The one who was lighting it up for the Canucks in the first half, or the guy who got a contract that was too long and too much money.

Still happy, Islander fans? Cool, maybe skip this next name…

John Tavares, Maple Leafs

If you love a good narrative, the John Tavares era has been a frustrating one in Toronto. He’s always struggled to live up to his $11-million UFA deal and the team hasn’t won a thing, so the “childhood Leafs fan comes home to chase a championship” storyline hasn’t worked. But with just under a point-per-game of production and the team’s only series-winning moment, he also hadn’t been so bad that you could call him a Clarkson-esque bust. That hasn’t stopped some from trying to cast the Tavares signing as the Brendan Shanahan era’s original sin, the move that set the tone for a half-decade of overpaid underachievement. But it always feels like a bit of a stretch because the guy was still good enough to be a key piece of the core.

Until now. Maybe.

At 33 heading into the season, Tavares feels like a player at a tipping point. His 5-on-5 play has slipped, and there have been murmurs about moving him to the wing. With two years left on his deal, maybe this is the year his play falls off and Toronto fans turn on him. Maybe the hometown kid gets the redemption arc. Or maybe he just keeps on plodding along, threading the needle and defying the easy narratives.

Connor Bedard, Blackhawks

I know, really going out on a limb here. But Connor Bedard is a once-a-decade talent, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how good he can be, and how quickly. We’ve seen some excellent rookie seasons over the years, but not a truly dominant one since the Ovechkin/Crosby duo in 2005-06. (Remember, Connor McDavid missed half his rookie season to injury.) Since that first post-lockout season, no rookie has managed more than 85 points. With offense up in recent years, can Bedard get there? Could 100 points be in play? It sure seems like it.

Of course, not all No. 1 picks are created equal…

It’s too soon to call Juraj Slafkovsky a bust but he will be under the microscope this season. (Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

Juraj Slafkovský, Canadiens
Alexis Lafrenière, Rangers

Anytime a player is taken at the very top of the draft and then puts up pedestrian numbers as a rookie, other fan bases are going to notice. But we’ve seen guys start slow and then figure it out, including Joe Thornton, both Sedin twins, and Leon Draisaitl. Even the most optimistic Canadiens fan probably isn’t putting Juraj Slafkovský in that company, but the point is that it’s a little early to start breaking out the dreaded “bust” label. Arpon Basu took a detailed look at Slafkovský game film, and the results were mixed. In a Montreal market that’s embraced the rebuild, Arpon won’t be the only one watching closely this year.

Alexis Lafrenière is a different situation, three years into his pro career and on a contending team that needs production now. His meager bridge deal tells you all you need to know about expectations heading into this year, but it also leaves him with plenty of runway to overachieve. Remember, there was perpetual grumbling about how the Rangers’ youth were faring under Gerard Gallant. It’s not like Peter Laviolette is exactly a prospect whisperer, but if he can unlock Lafrenière and/or Kaapo Kakko, look out.

Jonathan Drouin, Avalanche

It never worked in Montreal, for a variety of reasons. Now the one-time can’t-miss prospect is onto a fresh start in Colorado, with drastically lowered expectations. Coming off a two-goal season, the range of plausible outcomes seems especially wide here. A return to 20-goal form or better on a contending team? Sure. Out of the league entirely by this time next year? Not unthinkable. I have no idea where this one goes, but I’m rooting for him.

Marco Rossi, Wild

Speaking of guys to root for, I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t want to see Marco Rossi finally start to live up to his draft hype. He hasn’t had much opportunity in Minnesota, largely due to health problems, and has just one point in 21 NHL games. He’s still just 22, which certainly isn’t old but is getting close to “not all that young anymore.” He doesn’t have to be a star anytime soon, but this feels like the year for him to at least be a full-time NHLer, if only so the Wild can finally see what they have here.

Ivan Barbashev, Golden Knights

He was a savvy deadline rental who played a key role in the Cup run, but it was still a surprise to see the Knights shove fan favorite Reilly Smith out the door to make room for Ivan Barbashev on the long-term payroll. If it doesn’t pay off, the Knights’ ruthless ways will be criticized. If it does, then other teams are going to be tempted to start copying them.

Honorable mentions: He was one of the under-the-radar signings of the offseason, but I’d love to see Max Pacioretty return from injury and make an impact with the Capitals. The Sharks are rebuilding and are going to be very bad, which means they’re doing the right thing by rolling the dice on cheap-ish reclamation projects like Filip Zadina. It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where Calgary’s Elias Lindholm is the single biggest UFA name on next year’s market, and that plotline gets even more interesting when you remember Craig Conroy’s vow about not letting stars walk without getting something in return.

Coach and GM

André Tourigny, Coyotes

You’ll never guess which coach I originally had in this spot. Hint: I wrote the first draft a week ago and this guy couldn’t even make it that far.

So OK, on to a coach who probably has the social skills to make it to training camp. I’m never quite sure what to make of the Coyotes, but last year had me wondering if Tourigny was secretly a very good coach hidden away on a rebuilding team. The rebuild coach is typically a thankless job, one that often ends when the team turns the corner and the organization gives you a pat on the back and sends you on your way in favor of a bigger name. But sometimes it can be something more, and I’ve been wondering if that could be happening for Tourigny in Arizona. Another year of overachieving might tip my scales.

Barry Trotz, Predators

Trotz is arguably the most important figure in Predators history, so his return as GM is a great story. Unless it’s not because he’s ultimately a head coach with zero meaningful front-office experience who’s stepping into a job that can take years if not decades to learn. But he’s a gutsy hire, a Predator at heart who understands the market and returns home with a Cup ring and the wisdom to do it right. Unless he’s just another hockey lifer getting a job because his popularity with a fan base will shield the franchise from criticism. He’s a fresh set of eyes who won’t be beholden to the old way of doing things. Or maybe he’ll just make a bunch of weird moves while raving about character.

Yeah, I have no idea. But I can’t wait to see how it works.

Honorable mentions: Unless Matvei Michkov makes a WWE-style surprise run-in, I’m not sure there’s anyone I’m interested in watching in Philadelphia this year more than rookie GM Danny Briere, who has his work cut out for him but so far seems like he might be up to the job. And since we lost our original Blue Jackets name, the obvious next option is the man who suddenly may have the hottest seat in the league, Jarmo Kekalainen, now facing an ugly mess of his own making in the Columbus room.

(Top photos of Alexis Lafrenière, Connor Hellebuyck and Victor Hedman: USA Today)

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