Every season, Hockey Prospectus uses the VUKOTA projection system to help predict the league's top playmakers. And it's no surprise who came out on top in the projections for 2013-14, as it's a player who has found himself among the league leaders just about every season he's played in the NHL.
Pittsburgh's incomparable Sidney Crosby has a seven-assist lead on second-place Claude Giroux, who is separated from 10th place on our list by just eight assists. Philadelphia's Giroux is one of six others who come from the Eastern Conference, while just three of the top 10 are from the West.
Who will ultimately lead the league in assists by season's end? Two key factors are power-play production and hot shooting percentages for teammates. To neutralize the latter's effect on our projections, one new statistic aiding our evaluation this season is "setups," which is defined as any pass that results in a shot (we refer to this stat as "passes" in the Prospectus book). Until it is officially recorded, we're using an estimate that's based on primary assists and shooting percentages.
Here are the top 10 projected assist leaders for the 2013-14 NHL season, along with their predicted assist totals.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins, 63 assists
Shockingly, the 26-year-old Crosby has never led the league in assists. He finished second in 2006-07, 2008-09 and last season, when his 41 assists in 36 games came up short by just two helpers. Crosby is one of only seven active players to register 70 assists in a season, and one of only four to do it twice. In all, he's third in assists since the 2005 lockout with 427.
The key to Crosby's success will be staying healthy. Having managed to play in just 99 of the 212 games over the past three seasons, VUKOTA projects the superstar will play just 67 in 2013-14. Fortunately, 67 games, even when flanked by relatively average top-six forwards Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, should actually be more than enough for Sid the Kid to finish the season on top.