The NHL is returning to an 82-game regular season for 2021-22, which can only mean one thing: More games equals more ice time for the league's biggest stars, which means more points. It's simple math.

Regardless of their final point totals, these five players will certainly feature on every highlight reel as the top contenders in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.

 

5. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

2020-21 stats: 42 games played, 17 goals, 41 assists, 18 power-play points

Panarin had a monster year in 2020-21. With 58 points in 42 contests, he was on pace to score 113 points in 82 games. Despite missing 14 games, he finished tied for 13th in league scoring and trailed only Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in points per game for the second straight season.

What makes Panarin's case even more compelling is that he isn't backed by a plethora of star power. McDavid has Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon has Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, and Nikita Kucherov has Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. Panarin may play with a former 40-goal scorer in Mika Zibanejad and the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox, but there's a reason he was a Hart Trophy finalist in 2019-20 - the same season he tied David Pastrnak for third in scoring.

Panarin, 29, has led the Rangers in points in two consecutive campaigns and holds the reins of a young squad facing heightened expectations. Expect the Breadman to thrive under new head coach Gerard Gallant, who helped the misfit Golden Knights reach unexpected heights.

 

4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

2020-21 stats: 48 games played, 20 goals, 45 assists, 25 power-play points

An angry MacKinnon is a scary MacKinnon. After leading the Avalanche with 15 points in 10 playoff games, the 26-year-old ended the year royally ticked off thanks to a third straight second-round exit. In his own words, MacKinnon is entering his ninth NHL campaign and hasn't "won shit."

The intense star is clearly motivated and looks primed to unleash his wrath on the Central Division. He has 212 points in 216 career games against his current Central opponents.

MacKinnon ranked fourth with 1.35 points per game last season and averaged the same production in 2019-20. His 65 points in 48 contests translated to a 111-point pace across 82 games, and he remained the most crucial component of the Avalanche's power play. After finishing third in power-play points in 2020-21, he should continue to feast on a division that featured three of the league's 10 worst penalty-killing units last season in the Blues, Blackhawks, and Predators.

A Hart Trophy finalist in three of the last four seasons, MacKinnon seems poised to guide the defending Presidents' Trophy winners to a big year.