NHL superstar poll: Must-see players, best road restaurants, rule changes

Sports

HENDERSON, Nev. — With training camps opening up this week, and a preseason game in [checks notes] Australia on Friday, the NHL is close to being back in action. This summer was an eventful one, with a new franchise icon in Chicago in Connor Bedard, a handful of key players signed to new teams or traded — including the reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson — and the usual flurry of off-ice activity for players (and the Stanley Cup).

ESPN’s Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski caught up with dozens of star players at the NHL Player Media Tour near Las Vegas last week, and asked all the pertinent questions: What team or player are they most excited to watch? Which current or former teammate will one day make a great coach or GM? What’s their go-to restaurant on the road? And what rule change would they enact if they could pick only one?

How to watch the 2023-24 NHL season on ESPN networks — including 100 exclusive games and the out-of-market package (over 1,050 games).

What team or player are you most excited to watch this season?

Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers: I’m excited to see what Boston does after their season last year, how they follow that one up.

Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks: I have to go with Toronto Maple Leafs. Noah Gregor, who’s my good buddy, just signed a PTO there but I’m confident that he’s going to sign [a contract] there. And Dylan Gambrell, who I used to play with, is on that team too. I grew up in Toronto so I’m always kind of keeping in the loop with what Toronto’s doing. I’m kind of surrounded by it. I talked to my cousins today, and they won’t stop talking about Toronto. I’m like, I’m right here. I play for the Sharks. I don’t give an eff’ about Toronto, whatever. But I’m kind of sucked into it. I grew up a Leaf fan, but it was easy moving on. I was just so happy to be in the NHL and so honored to be with the Sharks. As soon as I got drafted, I just forgot about the blue and white. It’s all about the teal.

Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets: I would say probably Chicago, just with Bedard coming in and so much hype around his game. I have not seen his shot live. Of course I’ve seen it many times on TV and social media. He’s a young guy and you definitely don’t want to be the guy that takes the new young prospect lightly and he makes you look silly, so we’ll have to be ready for him. Certainly every level he’s been at, he’s produced. Plus, they’re in our division, so we’ll play him a lot. So it’d be cool to play them.

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings: Pittsburgh Penguins. Like, the 13-year-old me would be thrilled with Erik Karlsson joining [Kris] Letang, [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby. That’s pretty cool. I’m excited to watch them.

Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres: I’m kind of interested to see how Detroit is this year. I feel like they made some really good additions to their team and I think they’re going to be pretty good. So just kind of curious to see what they do.

Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers: Obviously I think the Pittsburgh move was pretty crazy. You don’t see a Norris Trophy winner get traded that often after winning it. So I think that’ll be interesting to see how that works. Obviously that’s a proven team that’s won before and added another tremendous player, so that’s an interesting one to watch.

Troy Terry, Anaheim Ducks: I love watching the Avalanche. Just being in Colorado [during the offseason], I train with a lot of them and have gotten to know a lot of them. Like, Logan O’Connor is my next door neighbor and I’m very close with him, so I always root for [Colorado].

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: I think our division’s going to be loaded this year. I really do. You’ve got the young teams, right? So Buffalo is intriguing. They took a big step last year with a young core. Jersey’s got the young core that they’re trying to work with. It’s cool to see.

Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars: Some teams in the East are kind of fun to watch, the younger teams like Buffalo or Ottawa or New Jersey or Detroit. Everyone’s saying it’s all of their years, so I’m anxious to see what they’re going to do about it.

Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche: I’m drawn to where there’s some personal connections. Alex Newhook got traded to Montreal so I’m excited to see how he does and how their team is over there. I’ve got a couple close friends on Buffalo so I always like watching them and seeing how my buddies are doing.


What’s your favorite off-day activity?

Ferraro: I honestly think going camping. My girlfriend Mckenna [Olson] inspired me to get a Toyota 4Runner. Then I started looking at videos and I’m like, “They actually look pretty sick when you mod them up.” Then I started digging deeper. People have campers on top. They build this whole rig that’s just suited for living in the woods and living outdoors in the desert, whatever. So I’m like, you know what? This is all pretty cool. So I slowly got into it. I also saw Brent Burns used to have a rooftop camper. So I asked him questions about it too, and now I love it. That’s awesome. It’s like I’m really happy about it. It’s really easy. I just pick up and go. I feel like this season, if I have a day off, the night before, I might just cruise out to Big Sur or something, just make a trip out of it.

Matt Boldy, Minnesota Wild: I’d say golf in the summer. But in the winter, I’d say sitting on my couch and watching TV. Right now I’m watching “Suits.”

Larkin: On the couch. I’m like the worst binge watcher; I’ll watch an entire [TV show] season in a day. I just did “Outlander,” which was pretty good.

Thompson: During the winter, I love watching movies. Big movie watcher. Just throw on a movie, chill, just kind of relax. [This summer], I watched “Oppenheimer.” Didn’t watch “Barbie.” I thought “Oppenheimer” was good. Long movie, kind of slow at the start, but I liked it. Kind of interesting too, the history of it.

Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning: Spending time with family. Classic answer, right? We bought a boat, so we go on the boat and chill. Got a couple Jet Skis. All about family time on the water.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: I like anything outdoors. Hiking, kayaking, fishing. Lake kayaking. I don’t mess with the ocean too much. [Laughs] I really enjoy that. It’s a good way for me to stay active, but I love being in nature, be on the water and things like that, so if I get an opportunity to do that, it’s great.

Seth Jarvis, Carolina Hurricanes: Golf, or sleep. Depends on the day. Probably sleep first. For golf, the course we play the most in Raleigh is called Old Chatham. I’m probably not welcome back there as much anymore; usually tear it up pretty good. It’s a fun one.

Terry: I should say being with my family. So, being with my family. [Laughs] I also love to golf though. That’s my big hobby. We play Pelican Hill a lot in Orange County.

Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights: I like to just relax, sleep in. Maybe get some treatment. Sit outside. Take the dog for a walk. Try and do nothing. Maybe take a sauna. Have a couple of nice meals. Sit by a pool.

Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals: Go to the dog park or go on a bit of a hike with the dog. There’s some great trails in Virginia where we live so that’s always good to clear your mind.

Matty Beniers, Seattle Kraken: I like to just relax. I’ve got a roommate, so we go to movies every once in a while and have dinners. And I like being around the guys. Just going to hang out at someone’s house, hang out with someone’s kids. I don’t mind having fun with them.

McAvoy: We’re in the fall right now, so most days are just lazy, hanging around Boston. But I will say we already have a plan in place to go do the apple picking thing. We’ve got a farm picked out, me and my wife. We’re going to do it. Doesn’t everybody do that in the fall? So I will say apple picking, because it’s better than me saying I’m just going to sit on the couch.

Robertson: I’m just big into playing video games and doing stuff around the house. Hopefully the day off is a Sunday and you can just watch football all day. Or I’ll go see my mom and dad, they live in Dallas too.

Matthew Tkachuk: My off days in Florida are probably a lot different … well, I know they’re a lot different than mine in Calgary. Either go out on the water, hang out by the pool, sometimes golf. I think the thing that I do that is definitely not like Calgary the most is hang out by the pool and get a lot of sun. It’s not bad. But I’m still watching hockey every night though.


Is there one restaurant you absolutely have to hit on the road every year?

Ferraro: One of my favorites that I’m going to in Vegas: Delilah at the Encore. I really, really like that restaurant and it has live jazz music. That’s really cool.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators: Nusr-Et in New York. It’s the “Salt Bae” guy. And Carbone’s is always a good option.

Boldy: We went to a sushi place in Pittsburgh this year that was really, really good. [Marc-Andre] Fleury brought us there and that was probably some of the best sushi I’ve had. [QUESTION: Do they pull the fish directly out of the rivers?] Hey, whatever they’re doing, it works.

Crosby: I like New York. We go to Quality Italian a lot there. Good place. It’s a heavy meal. You need a morning skate after that one.

Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens: Nobu in Malibu is probably my favorite, it just being on the water. I’ve been there once and I missed the trip [to Los Angeles] last year, so I’ve got to get back there this year.

Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets: I like Maple & Ash [in Chicago]. Me and Erik Gudbranson, we like going there every year. That’s definitely our favorite.

Nazem Kadri, Calgary Flames: There’s a new steakhouse in Dallas called Monarch. It’s really nice. It’s up on the 60th floor; it’s beautiful.

Trouba: I love Blue Water Cafe in Vancouver. It’s a seafood spot. It’s not every time, but if I can go there, I go for sure.

Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes: I went to a really good place in Seattle. Oh, cool. I think it’s called The Pink Door. They have Italian food but really good steak too. It was unbelievable.

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs: There’s a brunch place in Winnipeg called Clementine Cafe. It’s really good, so if the schedule works out I always try to make a pit stop there.


Which (current or former) teammate will make the best coach or GM one day?

Ferraro: I think that I’m going to have to go with [former teammate] Andrew Cogliano. That guy is dialed in, so I think he would be a really good GM. You can’t even talk to that guy on a game day. He’s so dialed in. Wouldn’t miss a day. The guy grinds. He’s a beast.

Brady Tkachuk: Claude Giroux would be a great GM. Just a very smart person. I think he just knows a lot about the game and would be a great person leading the charge.

Morrissey: Well, I would probably say Mark Scheifele. He just loves the game so much, has a passion for the game, especially on the coaching side. I think he loves the intricacies of improving his own game, which would translate really well for him. Helping with skill development, coaching kids or even top players. He coaches me all the time.

Thompson: I think Kyle Okposo would make a great GM. Very smart hockey mind. He’s kind got that business side to him too, so I think he would be a good GM.

Terry: Ryan Strome. He’s very on top of everything hockey-related. The way his brain works and all that, I think he’s GM material.

Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks: My brother [Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Caleb Jones], to be honest. He loves everything about being a GM. He’s been talking about [pursuing that] for a while now.

Beniers: Jaden Schwartz. He’s a good person, he’s very aware of everyone [and their] feelings and situations, and I think that’s really important. I think he’s a smart guy, and he’d be pretty strategic and do well.

Trouba: I don’t think we have a slam-dunk coach. But Adam Fox would be a pretty good GM. And I would be his assistant GM.

Byram: Andrew Cogliano would be a great GM. He’s been a great leader and mentor in our locker room to a lot of guys, and he’s helped me out a lot in my career with injuries and different stuff. I’ve learned a lot from him.

Tavares: Luke Schenn. His passion for the game is incredible. One of his nicknames is “Scoops” because he just always has the insight and the intel, a good pulse on things around the league. Obviously he’s a Stanley Cup champion. He’s been through a lot in his career, seen a lot, played for a lot of coaches and players, different organizations. When he came to Toronto last year, we’d sit beside each other on the plane and talk about that stuff; you can see he’d be built for management.

Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks: Kyle Burroughs. He’s a fun guy, loves hockey. He could be an assistant coach or head coach who’d just love breaking down the video and just being around the rink, feeling like he’s part of the team being with the boys. Or Luke Schenn. The guy just loves hockey.


If you could add a rule to the NHL, what would it be?

Morrissey: If you score on the power play, the power play doesn’t end, so you get the full two minutes. As a guy that’s on the power play, I wouldn’t mind having it be the full two minutes regardless. So that might be a selfish answer.

Crosby: I don’t want to add this or subtract it [as a rule].. I just want to see it: Bringing the red line back. Would just love to see how that would affect the game. You knew when it was there, there’s a ton of trapping and all that sort of thing, but it would just be a totally different game today. I think it would force you to have to make a few more passes. I just would love to see the combination of the way we play now combined with bringing the red line back, compared to what it would’ve looked like when it was first there.

Jarvis: I don’t know if it’s a rule, but [being able to] interview the refs after games. If you could implement that, I’d like to see it. That would be fun.

Gaudreau: Get rid of the shootouts. Just do three-on-three [overtime] until someone scores.

Tavares: In the offensive zone [on faceoffs], the offensive player has the advantage and gets to go down second. I don’t always think it’s an advantage to go down second. I would like to think that the offensive player should be able to choose if you go down first or second. I know [from] going against Patrice Bergeron that he definitely wanted to be down first [Laughs] So, it’s funny what you see as an advantage and what you think is an advantage, and the offensive player should get to choose.

McAvoy: I’ve seen USA Hockey actually fool around with this, and it’s that you can’t ice the puck anymore on the power play. If you’re not able to ice the puck, then you’re forcing guys to try and make plays, try and lob it perfectly. I think it would make it really difficult.

Eichel: Longer overtime. It would make teams utilize more players and allow more guys the opportunity to play in overtime. And I think it’s just such an exciting time for the fans. I know as a fan of hockey, when I see games going into overtime, I automatically tune into them because I want to watch the three-on-three. So I think it’d be great for the fans.

Keller: No dress code on game days. We do that, not for every game. It would be cool to do it for every game. You go casual. You can mix in suits. You can kind of go with whatever you’re feeling to show your personality.

Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators: Probably get rid of the back-to-backs. [Laughs] You just can’t play [as well] in a back-to-back.

Thompson: I’d probably get rid of the no-goal for kicks. I’d love it if you could kick in a puck. I think that should be a goal. If you have the ability to redirect a pass with your skate or kick it in, I think that’s a skill. I think that’s not an easy thing to do. So, I think that should be a goal for sure. You can kick it anywhere on the ice, except for in the net. So I think it should be a goal. Especially the fact that a lot of times the [defense] ties you up in front of the net and the only thing you can use are your feet.

Trouba: Eliminate the salary cap.

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