Welcome to the latest edition of my power rankings, and this one might just be the hardest to sort out.
Before we begin, I’d like to offer a quick congratulations to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans for their victory in the Super Bowl last night. Well deserved, guys.
As far as the NHL goes, however, this week has been the craziest of the season by far. Five teams saw their schedules interrupted due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and several others saw games pushed back as a result. The NHL likely won’t cancel any games but, as we progress to later in the season and if these outbreaks continue at that point, will a few ill-timed positive tests force the league’s hand? Perhaps, but that’s a bridge that can be crossed when we get to it.
For now, however, it’s time for more discussion about how the league is shaking out with the first month out of the way. This time, however, instead of providing a brief update on how the week went for the teams and certain players, I want to spend each segment talking about a player on each team who has been instrumental in getting teams to where they are, or at least make a team worth watching. Some are the usual stars that have guided teams to success before, while others come as answered prayers for teams struggling to fill positions.
Which player has given your favorite team reason to celebrate this season? Where does your favorite team stack up compared to last week? Will the state of Florida get close to another world championship? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to February 7.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): Masterton Trophy winner Steven Stamkos has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? After a core injury sidelined him for all but one game in Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup run last year, Stamkos has notched 10 points to start the season as the Lightning gear up for a repeat.
2. Boston Bruins (+5): Could you tell the Bruins missed David Pastrnak to start the season? The team was already winning games but, with the superstar right winger potting five goals and eight points in just four games, they’ve really started to hit their stride.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): A rough last season for Marc-Andre Fleury prompted the Knights to trade and extend Robin Lehner as a failsafe. The moves might have done more to motivate Fleury, as he’s put together a strong .944 save percentage and 1.25 GAA as he tries to earn more playing time.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (Even): There might have been some substance behind the Auston Matthews for Rocket Richard Trophy preseason hype. Matthews became the first player to hit 10 goals this season, including a seven-game scoring streak.
5. Montreal Canadiens (-3): There are a lot of names to choose from in the early-season surprise of Montreal, but I decided to go with Josh Anderson. After a poor final season in Columbus and the giant contract Marc Bergevin handed out to him in the offseason, Anderson has lived up to the billing so far with eight goals in 12 games (for context, he scored only once in his final season in Columbus).
6. Washington Capitals (-1): While the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were forced on hiatus due to the COVID-19 protocol, Nicklas Backstrom told the NHL at large not to forget about him. A longtime stalwart on Washington’s top line, Backstrom’s put together a quality season with 17 points in 12 games, a mark that ties for 5th in the league in scoring.
7. Colorado Avalanche (-1): Colorado’s current shutdown gives the Avalanche time to recover, and Philipp Grubauer certainly has earned a bit of rest. Playing in all but two games so far this season, Grubauer is putting up career numbers with a .934 save percentage and 1.67 GAA.
8. Winnipeg Jets (+5): It’s hard to believe the Jets are playing at a high level with Patrik Laine gone and Connor Hellebuyck struggling to find his rhythm, but performances from the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers should keep them trending in the right direction. One of the more underrated players in the NHL today, Ehler’s has gone +9 and scored 12 points in 11 games as he is currently on pace for his fifth straight 20-goal season.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (Even): Andrei Svechnikov and Petr Mrazek were both tempting options, but I have to appreciate the resurgence of Vincent Trocheck. His last goal against Columbus was tainted by a missed offsides call, but it currently has Trocheck tied with Svechnikov for the team lead with six goals.
10. St. Louis Blues (-2): Prior to this season, Jordan Kyrou had scored a total of five goals and 12 points in pieces of the last two years. In only twelve games this season, Kyrou has matched both totals as he cements himself as a full-time NHL player.
11. Dallas Stars (-1): Joe Pavelski would have been an easy choice for this spot, but attention should be shifting to rookie netminder Jake Oettinger sooner rather than later. Oettinger has performed incredibly well in four appearances by going 2-0-1 with a .915 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, and more playing time could be on the way if Anton Khudobin sticks in Rick Bowness’s doghouse.
12. Philadelphia Flyers (-1): There was once a time when James van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch for Alain Vigneault and a potential choice to head to Seattle in the summer. Not the case anymore, as JVR stands with 18 points (4th in the league) and has gelled quickly with fellow first-rounders Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets (+6): It may feel like cheating to select both Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic here, but it feels right to include both of them. Coming over in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, the former Jets have gotten off to good starts with their new team, with Laine scoring three goals in as many games and Roslovic scoring six points in as many games.
14. Florida Panthers (+1): It should be a lot harder for Chris Driedger to find playing time behind $10 million man Sergei Bobrovsky, but he’s earned it. An AHL veteran of 139 games, Driedger is looking to have his second strong NHL campaign with a .937 save percentage and 1.97 GAA.
15. Minnesota Wild (-1): Kirill Kaprizov has gotten all the early-season hype on the Wild, but don’t diminish the value of someone like Joel Eriksson Ek. Prior to Minnesota’s shutdown, Eriksson Ek was seizing the top center role with five goals, nine points, and a +8 in eleven games.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): With the rash of injuries on Pittsburgh’s blueline to start the season, the emergence of rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph feels like a godsend. The centerpiece of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Arizona, Joseph has shined in his seven-game tryout with five points and a team-leading +5.
17. Calgary Flames (-5): The Flames have been up and down throughout the season, but there are no regrets about the decision to move Elias Lindholm to center. With twelve points in eleven games so far, it’s fair to question if Lindholm has supplanted Sean Monahan as the top center in Calgary going forward.
18. Edmonton Oilers (+3): Picking Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl here is cheating, so let’s look down the lineup and go for an unsung hero in Darnell Nurse. Stepping up for the Oilers defense in the absence of Oscar Klefbom, the hard-working Nurse has been rewarded with 4 goals, ten points, and a +5.
19. Arizona Coyotes (+5): When talking about the most underrated players in the NHL, it may be time to add Conor Garland into that discussion. Riding a four-game point streak, Garland has scored four goals and 12 points as the Coyotes try to stay competitive in the West.
20. New York Islanders (Even): Recent struggles from Semyon Varlamov have knocked him out of the spotlight temporarily, allowing Mathew Barzal to take center stage in Long Island once again. One of the more notable RFA holdouts this offseason, Barzal has justified wanting a bigger payday with 11 points in 10 games.
21. Nashville Predators (-4): He won’t score five points every night, but the Predators will need more similar offensive efforts from Filip Forsberg to get back into contention. Including Thursday’s strong outing, Forsberg has doubled the second-highest goal scorer on the Preds with six goals.
22. New Jersey Devils (Even): The shutdown for the Devils could disrupt the momentum the Devils’ younger stars have gained, including former top prospect Ty Smith. Before the shutdown, Smith had scored eight points to tie Jack Hughes and Miles Wood for team league while making a case as a sneaky Calder Trophy pick for best rookie.
23. New York Rangers (+4): It’s relieving when a big-ticket free agent plays as advertised for a new team, and that’s exactly what the Rangers got with Artemi Panarin. With nine points in his last four games, Panarin has pushed his point totals to 15 in only 10 games.
24. Chicago Blackhawks (+4): Who saw Kevin Lankinen coming to start the year? Seizing the starting goaltender role in Chicago from Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia, Lankinen has become a strong Calder Trophy candidate with a .928 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.
25. Los Angeles Kings (-2): Former captain Dustin Brown may be in the twilight of his career at 36, but he’s still managed to produce early in the season. Tied for the team lead with four goals and earning a team-leading +3 so far, Brown is doing what he can to keep the young Kings from bottoming out.
26. Vancouver Canucks (-8): No team has endured the roller coaster the Canucks have been stuck on for the first month of the season, but Brock Boeser is ensuring they at least have one reliable offensive option. Tied for second in the league with nine goals, Boeser’s been one of the few consistent bright spots the Canucks have had this season.
27. San Jose Sharks (-2): It’s hard not to feel bad for Logan Couture, who became captain of the Sharks in a period of transition for the team that has seen a lot of struggle. With four points in the last four games and eight total this season, Couture is continuing to settle in as a consistent veteran presence.
28. Buffalo Sabres (-2): Since hitting rock bottom with a league-worst -41 two years ago, Rasmus Ristolainen has had to fight off trade rumors and the dreaded ‘overrated’ label. He’s done his part to keep the Sabres competitive this season with six points and tying for the team lead with a +2.
29. Anaheim Ducks (Even): The Ducks desperately need an offensive driver to go with their elite goaltender in John Gibson, and Maxime Comtois looks like he has the most potential to do just that. Leading the team with five goals, the Ducks would be smart to elevate Comtois into the top-six to maximize his scoring potential.
30. Detroit Red Wings (Even): It was a little difficult finding somebody to put here for Detroit, but Sunday’s victory over Florida provided an answer in Givani Smith. Scoring four points despite only appearing in around half of Detroit’s games, Smith is making a good case to stick around and be a key contributor as the Wings continue their rebuild.
31. Ottawa Senators (Even): It appears that Tim Stutzle is taking the necessary adjustments towards NHL success. After scoring only once in his first five games, the third overall pick has bounced back with three goals and five points in his last four.