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Things to Watch in the 2020-21 NHL Season

The NHL will drop the puck on the 2020-21 NHL season on Jan. 13. For hockey fans, that day can’t come soon enough. This season will look a bit different, with a shorter schedule and realigned divisions taking the headlines.

To help sort through what will undoubtedly be a whirlwind year, we’ve highlighted some of the top stories to keep an eye on.

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Future Hall of Famers to Miss Extended Time

Henrik Lundqvist signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals this offseason. Unfortunately, he may never get the chance to don a Caps sweater.

On Monday, Lundqvist announced on Twitter he would undergo open-heart surgery and miss the upcoming season. The 38-year-old netminder ranks sixth on the all-time wins list with 459.

Signing with Washington seemed like Lundqvist’s last chance to be a starter on a Stanley Cup-caliber team. He had spent the entirety of his 15-year NHL career with the New York Rangers before signing in Washington.

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Another startling piece of NHL news broke Tuesday when the Chicago Blackhawks announced captain Jonathan Toews would be out indefinitely. In a statement, Toews said he has been “experiencing symptoms which have left (him) feeling drained and lethargic.” Neither Toews nor the Blackhawks elaborated on his condition, but there is no timetable for his return.

Chicago was already dealing with injuries to young forwards Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander. With Toews also out, the Blackhawks are headed towards a bottom-of-the-standings finish.

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Rookies You Should Know

The Rangers are expected to debut 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière when the season begins. The playmaking winger from the QMJHL signed his entry-level contract on Oct. 12.

Lafrenière scored 35 goals and added 77 assists in 52 games while playing for Rimouski Océanic last season.

Lafrenière’s Rangers teammate, Igor Shesterkin, is the betting favorite at online sportsbooks to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. Shesterkin is the heir apparent to Lundqvist, and the Rangers opted to let Lundqvist go to give Shesterkin a starting gig. The 25-year-old netminder was a fourth-round pick in 2014 and posted a 10-2-0 record in 2019-20.

Moving to Minnesota, the wait is over for Wild fans, as winger Kirill Kaprizov has finally signed his entry-level deal. Kaprizov was a fifth-round pick in 2015, but GM changes and contract difficulties delayed his arrival in the U.S.

Expectations are high for Kaprizov after his strong performances at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. He was widely regarded as the best non-NHLer in the league before his arrival.

Expansion Draft Preparations

When the league announced its season schedule, one of the first dates everyone looked at was the date of the Seattle expansion draft. The Kraken will begin competing in the 2021-22 NHL season and have already circled July 21 on their calendars. The expansion draft will be held two days before the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

Seattle will select one player from each team (excluding the Vegas Golden Knights) to fill out its roster. Teams have the option to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalkeeper OR eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goalkeeper.

Seattle will be required to select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. At least 20 of the selected players must be under contract for 2021-22.

Teams must submit their protected player lists by July 17.