NHL Rivals: One-on-one Matchups to Watch This Season

Rivalries are a part of all sports. Whether it be team against team or player against player, certain matchups are circled on sports fans’ calendars and awaited with great anticipation. Some player rivalries start from the beginning of their careers on draft day, with hockey analysts comparing two new players as they enter the league. Some rivalries are born out of actual on-ice animosity - be it from a big hit that may have lead to an injury, a move of finesse leading to embarrassment, or whatever the case may be. Here we will look at the most interesting, entertaining, and skillful one-on-one matchups heading into the 2020 NHL season. The league’s 103rd season will begin on October 2, 2019.

Sid the Kid vs Alex the Great

You had to know we were going to start with this one. Considered almost a forced rivalry sparked by media over 14 years ago, the Sidney Crosby vs Alexander Ovechkin argument has been followed and debated since the start of their rookie season in 2005-06. Although Ovechkin was drafted first-overall the year before, a league lock-out kept him from competing. Crosby was drafted first-overall the following year and thus began a rivalry between two first-overall draft picks playing their rookie season in the same year.

Both came out of the gate ready to show the world what they had. Touted as ‘the next Wayne Gretzky’, most eyes were on the Canadian-born Sidney Crosby. However, it was Ovechkin that topped Crosby in that first year, statistically. Ovechkin finished his rookie season with 108 points compared to Crosby’s 102. The first shot was fired as Ovechkin ultimately won the Calder trophy awarded to the rookie of the year - an award that Crosby missed his one and only chance to receive

As their careers went on, Crosby would eventually get his revenge. In 2009, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins met in the playoffs for the first time since the two players had been drafted. It was a round two series that would go the distance at seven games. The Pens would win game seven and eventually go on to win the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby had beaten Ovechkin in the race to the Cup.

The two teams would meet again in the second round of the 2016 playoffs. The Penguins came out on top once again, this time in six games. They would also end up finishing the season as Stanley Cup champions - this time with Crosby being awarded the Conn Smythe award as most valuable player of the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins

Source: PA Images

They met once again the second round the following year and much of the same occurred. Washington was defeated in seven games and the Penguins went on to win their second Stanley Cup in as many years. It wasn’t until the following season that the Washington Capitals finally bested the Pittsburgh Penguins in a best-of-seven series - again in the second round.

Ovechkin has come on stronger than ever since then, becoming a pillar of passion for the game. On his quest for the Cup, Ovi has won eight “Rocket” Richard trophies for most goals scored in a season, three Hart trophies for league MVP, and one Art Ross award for most points scored in a season. And then, in 2018, Alexander Ovechkin finally won his first Stanley Cup and was awarded the Conn Smythe award to go along with it.

Now 14 years later, the battle rages on as to who is considered the greater player. Crosby has three Stanley Cup championships, is a seven-time all-star, and has won three Pearson awards, two Hart trophies, two Conn Smythe awards, two “Rocket” Richard awards, and two Art Ross trophies. In 943 games played he has 1,216 points - five points more than Ovechkin who has 1,211. However, Ovechkin has scored 658 goals in his career thus far compared to Croby’s 446.

With injuries seemingly in the past and new rosters for both players to work with, it’s safe to say that these two players will forever be associated with one another, going well passed the 2020 season. As it stands, Washington has the slight edge from the oddsmakers with their odds to win the Stanley Cup listed at +1600. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit at +1700.

Team Stanley Cup 2020 Championship Winner Link
WSH Capitals +1600 Bet Now
PIT Penguins +1700 Bet Now

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Phil the Thrill vs Tyler Seguin

This is a rivalry constructed by everyone except the players themselves. On September 18, 2009, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent two first-round and one second-round draft picks to the Boston Bruins in exchange for a then 21-year-old Phil Kessel. In his first season with the Leafs, the young Kessel put up 55 points in 70 games and the sniper threw 297 shots on net. Not a bad deal. Then the 2010 entry draft came along. It was time to see what the Kessel trade REALLY cost the Leafs. The answer: Tyler Seguin. The Boston Bruins used the 2010 first-rounder they received in the trade to draft Seguin second-overall. The two players would be synonymous with each other for the next three years.

The first time the two players played against each other it was in Boston. And when Seguin scored against the Maple Leafs, the hometown crowd would loudly chant “Thank you, Kessel.” There was no way for the Leafs to foresee the player they would be missing out on in Seguin. But at the end of the day, the two players stacked up quite nicely against each other - both high shooting snipers with incredible puck control and speed.

Seguin spent three years with the Bruins and recorded 121 points in that time. During that same period (Kessel’s second, third, and fourth years with Toronto), Kessel tallied 198 points. He had the edge in the scoring race but a lot of fans saw Seguin as the young, up-and-coming talent you could build a team around, which is what Leafs’ fans were clamoring for for years at that point. He was seen as a franchise player where Kessel had still been mostly unproven.

The debate started to fade in 2013 when the Boston Bruins traded Seguin to the Dallas Stars. This meant that him and Kessel were now out of the same division and in different conferences altogether. They would be playing each other a lot less. By the end of last season, Tyler Seguin had recorded 262 goals, 323 assists, and 585 points in nine NHL seasons. He is a five-time all-star (and was even traded at an all-star game for Phil Kessel as a practical joke played by their peers), and won a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins. Phil Kessel’s current career numbers sit at 357 goals, 466 assists, and 823 points in 13 NHL seasons. He is a Masterton award winner, a three-time all-star, and has two Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The past few seasons Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel have hardly been mentioned in the same sentence. But then something interesting happened. On June 29 of this year, Phil Kessel was traded from the Penguins to the Arizona Coyotes which, in turn, brought him to the Western conference for the first time in his career. Come the start of the 2019-20 season, Kessel and Seguin may find themselves getting reacquainted and, as such, may find the conversation of who ended up being the bigger star open up anew.

Early betting odds have Phil Kessel and the Arizona Coyotes sitting with +3000 to win the Stanley Cup in 2020. Seguin and the Stars sit at +1700.

Team Stanley Cup 2020 Championship Winner Link
DAL Stars +1700 Bet Now
ARI Coyotes +3000 Bet Now

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Connor McDavid vs Jack Eichel

Much like Crosby/Ovechkin, the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel debate was sparked before either player was even in the NHL. McDavid had been a phenom during his junior hockey years and was being hailed as ‘the next Sidney Crosby’. For most, he was a sure-fire first-overall draft pick. But Eichel put up a fight and didn’t shy away from talking about his skill and on-ice prowess, claiming the argument that he could just as easily be drafted first-overall before McDavid. In 2015 it all became official: McDavid was drafted first-overall to the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel was snatched up at number-two by the Buffalo Sabres.

Being drafted to different conferences meant these two players wouldn’t go head-to-head as often as, say, Crosby and Ovechkin, but that’s what made it all the more interesting. McDavid and Eichel finally faced off against each other late in their first regular season on March 2, 2016. Connor McDavid scored a backhanded goal 20 seconds into the opening period and also scored the overtime winner, leading the Oilers to a 2-1 victory.

Connor McDavid - Edmonton Oilers

Source: PA Images

McDavid finished his first season with 16 goals, 32 assists, and 48 points. Eichel topped McDavid with 24 goals, 32 assists, and 56 points. However, McDavid was on pace for much more, scoring 12 points in his first 12 games before fracturing his clavicle in his 13th NHL game. He returned later in the season, playing 45 games in total. However, neither player won the Calder trophy for their first NHL season as Artemi Panarin won the honour as a dark horse in 2016.

Before the end of their entry-level contracts, both players signed new long-term and highly lucrative deals with the teams that drafted them. McDavid was first, signing a $100-million, eight year deal. Earning $12.5-million per season, he became (and still is) the highest paid player in the league. Not too far after, Eichel followed suit by also signing an eight-year deal. Eichel’s deal was worth $80-million; $10-million annually.

Over the last few seasons, things have cooled off a bit but this fact isn’t due to the players themselves as much as their respective teams have struggled. Bad roster changes and coaching at times have affected McDavid and Eichel from being in the headlines. But that could all be about to change. Both the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers have been busy in this year’s offseason - shedding dead weight and adjusting their head offices.

Oddsmakers have the Edmonton Oilers at +3500 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup. The Buffalo Sabres are currently listed at +5000.

Team Stanley Cup 2020 Championship Winner Link
EDM Oilers +3500 Bet Now
BUF Sabres +5000 Bet Now

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Auston Matthews vs Patrik Laine

Like Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine was expected to be drafted second-overall by most hockey analysts but he made it known that he believed he was just as good, if not better, than his competition Auston Matthews, and that he was the true number-one pick. And like Eichel, his words fell on deaf ears. In 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs would use their first-overall pick to select Auston Matthews and the Winnipeg Jets would follow-up by snagging Patrik Laine with their second-overall pick. It’s arguable that the competition level between a first- and second-overall pick had never been this close before (that is, until this year’s entry draft - possibly) and fans and analysts still follow these two with a watchful eye. This had all the same excitement that Crosby and Ovechkin had heading into their first season.

The two players were drafted to different conferences and that meant that they wouldn’t play against each other too often. This simply added to the mystique of their first year in the NHL. Matthews came out with a bang in his NHL debut scoring four goals in Toronto’s season opener. Clearly he won the debut challenge. But people wanted to see how Matthews and Laine would go head-to-head and they wouldn’t have to wait long. Just three games into the Leafs’ season (four for Winnipeg), Matthews and Laine would faceoff and it was all Laine. Laine scored a hat trick against the Leafs which included the game-winning goal in overtime. The bar was set.

Patrik Laine - Winnipeg Jets

Source: PA Images

By the end of that first season, Auston Matthews had 40 goals, 29 assists, and 69 points. He made it to the all-star game and ended up beating out Laine for the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. Laine finished his year just behind - 36 goals, 28 assists, and 64 points. He also appeared in that seasons all-star game alongside Matthews.

Since then, both have had incredible success. Both players have helped lead their respective franchises out of the league’s basement and helped turn them into consistent playoff contenders. The debate will always rage on but some are starting to believe that both teams got exactly what they needed and that their playing success would not have amounted to the same had they been drafted to opposite teams. Patrick Laine currently sits with 110 goals, 74 assists, and 184 points over his first three seasons. Matthews has amassed 111 goals, 94 assists, and 205 points - having the slight edge in the argument. Matthews has also appeared in a significantly less amount of games than Laine.

These two talented players will always be linked and the next phase is to see which of these men is the first to raise the Stanley Cup. Their skill sets are so strong and dynamic that it’s hard to choose who has the edge. Even in the latest iteration of EA Sports NHL 19, Matthews and Laine were both given an 89 overall rating.

The latest odds show the Toronto Maple Leafs as the sixth-overall favorite to win the Stanley Cup in the upcoming season with odds of +1500. The Winnipeg Jets find themselves with odds of +1700.

Team Stanley Cup 2020 Championship Winner Link
TOR Maple Leafs +1500 Bet Now
WPG Jets +1700 Bet Now

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Jack Hughes vs Kaapo Kakko

And now we’ve come to this. This season’s entry level draft showcased a ton of talent and the skill level between the first- and second-overall picks hadn’t been this close since Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. And like those two, it was the American versus the Fin.

We won’t know how these two players will perform in their rookie seasons but the slight edge has already been given to Hughes just by being selected at number one. However, when it comes to physicality, many believe that Kakko is far more prepared to step onto the ice at the NHL level than Hughes is.

Both players were also drafted to rebuilding teams. Jack Hughes was selected first-overall to the New Jersey Devils. Since the draft, the Devils have made many changes and Hughes will have a larger support system on the ice with him than originally predicted. Although Taylor Hall’s future is still uncertain, the drafting of Hughes may entice Hall to stay. That top line has the makings to be a dominant force. The Devils also brought in Norris award winning defenseman P.K. Subban and forward Wayne Simmonds. He will also be joining the 2017 first-overall draft pick Nico Hirschier.

Kakko won’t be carrying his team on his back either. Drafted by the New York Rangers, the team has made it clear since the draft that they are ready to compete for the Stanley Cup sooner rather than later. Kakko will be joining one of the biggest signings of this year’s off-season, Artemi Panarin, on the front line. He will also have a strong defensive core behind him in the recently signed Jacob Trouba and also Kevin Shattenkirk. Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, and Mika Zibanejad also round out a young, fast offensive core.

What’s most interesting is that these two players were drafted not only into the same conference, but also the same division. With both the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils in the Metropolitan division, Hughes and Kakko are set to face off against one another four times next season. The first of which will be on October 17.

The New Jersey Devils rank above the New York Rangers in the early odds making. They are listed as having a +2500 chance of raising the Stanley Cup next season. The New York Rangers are currently sitting just below at +3000.

Team Stanley Cup 2020 Championship Winner Link
NJ Devils +2500 Bet Now
NY Rangers +3000 Bet Now

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