We are (almost) officially done with the first month of the NHL season.
At this stage, we can figure out who’s for real and who pulled the wool over our eyes in December. Which teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspiration, and who should focus on the top prospects for this year’s draft. While contenders will fluctuate throughout the season, the picture on who they might be becomes a lot clearer now, especially in a shortened season like this one.
With this in mind, how do the teams stack up at this moment? Did anyone emerge from last week, or has your favorite team evened out? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to January 31.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (+1): It took a little while, but the Lightning have earned the top spot of these rankings for the first time this season. The usual suspects of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been instrumental so far in the team’s success.
2. Montreal Canadiens (+3): The Canadiens have easily been the most fun team to watch this season. The young talent has come along quickly, the metrics support their rise to being a top team, and there’s reason to believe the best is yet to come.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (-2): A tough-luck shootout loss to St. Louis and a COVID-19 outbreak push Vegas out of the top spot, but a post-quarantine hot streak like Dallas or Carolina’s should push them back up there. One word of advice: Marc-Andre Fleury (.951 save percentage and 1 GAA) has earned more playing time.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (Even): 5-2-1 in one-goal games, a 43.33% power play success rate (second in the league behind Washington), and their top stars playing as advertised have been key to Toronto’s hot start. The only sticking point I have with the Leafs is what happens if one or more of their stars goes on a slump?
5. Washington Capitals (+3): A 6-3 comeback win against the Islanders on Thursday followed by a gutsy overtime decision over Boston is enough to push the Capitals into a top-five spot. In the absence of Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek (5-0-2 record and .918 save percentage) has turned a lot of heads with increased playing time.
6. Colorado Avalanche (-3): My preseason selection to win the Stanley Cup, the Avalanche have still struggled with consistency early on in the year. Potentially losing the likes of Nathan MacKinnon or Devon Toews for a while due to injury does not help matters.
7. Boston Bruins (Even): Being top-five on both the power play (5th at 34.62%) and the penalty kill (third at 90%) will lead to any team being successful. With David Pastrnak restoring the Perfection Line, the Bruins should be able to effectively end any scoring issues that plagued them at the start of the season.
8. St. Louis Blues (+1): The rise of Jordan Kyrou has been something to behold. After being a resident of Craig Berube’s doghouse last season, Kyrou has broken out to start the season, tying Brayden Schenn with 10 points in nine games.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (+4): The Hurricanes came back from quarantine in a big way, firing off three straight victories against both of last year’s Stanley Cup Final participants. Vincent Trocheck, who scored two goals and the shootout winner in the series against Dallas, reminded everybody about just who the Hurricanes traded for last year.
10. Dallas Stars (-4): The offensive production will have to tail off at some point, but 3.83 goals per game (second in the league behind Montreal) is definitely not a mark to scoff at. Joe Pavelski (five goals and 10 points) and Denis Gurianov (three goals and seven points) will be counted on to keep the goals coming.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (Even): Just when the Flyers were starting to scare me, they fire off four straight victories against the Devils and the Islanders. Consistency is still something they have to find, but James van Riemsdyk (five goals and 13 points) has been a big part of the positive results.
12. Calgary Flames (+2): Handing Montreal its first regulation loss is a good sign for a Flames team that needed to show something against a top team. Jacob Markstrom (.929 save percentage and 2.18 GAA) is looking like the long-awaited Miikka Kiprusoff replacement Calgary fans have been looking for.
13. Winnipeg Jets (+2): Perennially-underrated Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, 11 points, +8) has stepped up with the permanent absence of Patrik Laine. The only questions are when will Pierre-Luc Dubois be expected to play, and can the defense and penalty killers help Connor Hellebuyck out.
14. Minnesota Wild (-4): The series against Colorado showed that while the Wild still have a ways to go towards legitimacy, they aren’t as far off as I thought they were to start the year. Kirill Kaprizov has continued his strong start, but the emergences of Jordan Greenway (10 points and +8) and Joel Eriksson Ek (five goals and nine points) definitely help matters.
15. Florida Panthers (+6): The Panthers have yet to face the class of their division yet, but good teams find ways to win the games they’re supposed to. If anyone told you Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe would be leading the team with five goals apiece at the start of the year, your next question should be if they managed to build a time machine.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): It’s a testament to Sidney Crosby and Co. that the Penguins haven’t bottomed out yet, what with all the defensive injuries and goaltenders struggling to make saves when they have to. They’re strictly in the middle for now, but that can change in an instant.
17. Nashville Predators (Even): Put the Predators in the same boat as the Penguins, as a fringe team at risk of freefall down the rankings. They’ve managed to stay afloat for now, but 2.38 goals per game (fifth-worst in the league), a league-worst 63.64% penalty kill, and paying $16 million for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen to not score a single goal yet could do them in sooner rather than later.
18. Vancouver Canucks (+8): Yes, it was against the Senators and Jets, but a four-game winning streak was just what the Canucks needed to get back into the hunt. If they can get this week’s performances from Brock Boeser (four goals in the last two games) and Thatcher Demko (1 GAA and .971 save percentage in his three starts) throughout the season, the Canucks could shoot up the rankings quickly.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): The offense has been anemic to this point and drama has unfolded in the wake of the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, and yet the Blue Jackets still managed to pick up points in seven straight games. It’s difficult to find a more hard-working team in hockey.
20. New York Islanders (-8): The big dropper in the rankings this week, the Islanders have seen things unravel the past few games. An absolute implosion against Washington highlighted (or lowlighted) an 0-3-2 skid and a 2.11 goals per game mark, good for the 3rd-lowest mark in the league.
21. Edmonton Oilers (-1): Let me get this straight: the Oilers have the league’s two top point-getters in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (22 and 21 points, respectively), and they still can’t manage to get over .500 in point percentage? If one or both seek trades out of Alberta, you heard it here first.
22. New Jersey Devils (-4): Tough break for the young Devils this week, losing three of their last four games. The good news is that the Devils may have found a strong new line in Miles Wood, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian after they dominated Buffalo in Sunday’s victory.
23. Los Angeles Kings (+2): Anze Kopitar’s twelve points are a promising sign, and they’ve put together some impressive performances against top divisional rivals. It might not be enough to get into the playoffs, but they could surprise people once the divisions return to normal.
24. Arizona Coyotes (-2): The Coyotes have allowed two goals or less in four straight games, and the two games they lost out of those were by 1-0 scores. A fine depiction of goaltending no longer being enough to bail out bad offenses.
25. San Jose Sharks (-1): Allowing 3.88 goals per game (good for second-worst in the league behind Ottawa) is a sign that the Sharks might just be as bad as last year’s trainwreck season indicated. Erik Karlsson (three points and -8 in eight games) might already have the worst contract in the NHL.
26. Buffalo Sabres (+1): Stars like Jack Eichel (11 points), Victor Olofsson (4 goals and 10 points), and Taylor Hall (nine points) have been doing their part to keep the Sabres competitive. That said, the consistency just hasn’t been there for Buffalo to make any noise.
27. New York Rangers (-4): It’s time to just admit an inconvenient truth: the Rangers’ defense is horrible. Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller (9 points and +8 between them) point to a brighter future, but the recently-waived Tony DeAngelo and uninspiring play from the likes of Jacob Trouba, Brendan Smith, and Jack Johnson have and will ensure the Blueshirts miss the playoffs again.
28. Chicago Blackhawks (+2): Patrick Kane (10 points) has been his usual dominant self, and Kevin Lankinen (.937 save percentage and 1.97 GAA) is shaping up to be one of the big surprises of 2021. In a lost year for the injury-ravaged Blackhawks, that’s all they could have hoped for.
29. Anaheim Ducks (Even): Why do the Ducks choose to torture John Gibson like they do? Even if Gibson channels prime Brodeur, the Ducks’ league-worst offense would still keep him on the loser column.
30. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Well, at least the Red Wings had no expectations to begin with. Despite being the better goaltender, Thomas Greiss is still looking for his first win in a Red Wings jersey.
31. Ottawa Senators (-3): They haven’t picked up a single point in two weeks. Allowing one more goal per game than San Jose and having the league’s worst goal differential at -22, the Senators’ season will likely be done early.
The NFL is approaching the final month of the regular season, and it culminates with arguably one of the most exciting days of the year: Black Monday.
Black Monday is usually the day after the conclusion of the season where underperforming head coaches and general managers are given the axe. From there, teams will begin the search to fill the job openings, which could take months as most candidates would be in the playoffs. While teams like the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts have already fired their coaches, they will not be the last.
Here, I will discuss some potential openings that either have already opened up or could be up for grabs this offseason. There will be one candidate that I expect each team will hire, and another logical choice that would make sense. There will be some overlap between the two categories, but this is to show that there are multiple approaches to how a team can find their new coaches.
So which jobs are going to open come Black Monday? Who will be taking those positions? Let’s find out.
Who they will hire: Sean Payton, former New Orleans Saints head coach
Who they should hire: Shane Waldron, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator
While every team will do their due diligence when it comes to Payton, the Cardinals are one of the very few teams that have a reasonable pitch. The Cardinals are one of the few teams on this list who have a set franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, as well as have the necessary compensation to give the Saints what they want for the rights to bring Payton into their organization. For a team that’s been struggling to sustain any sort of long-term relevance, landing Payton would give the Cardinals some level of menace again.
If the Cardinals swing and miss on Payton, however, they aren’t completely out of options. Waldron would be an underrated option for many teams this offseason, and this season with Seattle has boosted his stock dramatically. While Waldron does have two great receiver in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf at his disposal, his scheme has been responsible for resurrecting the career of Geno Smith, as well as allow for strong performances from a rookie running back and two rookie offensive tackles. The running game and offensive line are two problems for Arizona’s offense, so having someone like Waldron would be helpful in helping those areas grow. If the Cardinals also fire GM Steve Keim, they could do a lot worse than going for a candidate from a mode of organizational stability like Seattle. It’s an interesting organizational fit, but it could be just what Arizona’s looking for.
Who they will hire: Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
While Steve Wilks has done fine in the interim for new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule, I find it hard to believe David Tepper won’t use any resources he has to find a capable head coach. I don’t think Carolina’s current situation will warrant an elite option, so Tepper will have to do his homework. With the Panthers keeping Brian Burns and other defensive pieces at the trade deadline, that could indicate the Panthers look for a rebuild centered around a strong defense. There wouldn’t be many stronger options than Frazier, who has taken the Bills defense and turned it into the top-5 unit over the past couple of seasons. While his first coaching run in Minnesota was forgettable, Frazier has learned plenty of lessons in the past decade. He’s ready to be back in the mix.
However, an interesting part of the Panthers’ coaching search will be Matt Corral, a third-round rookie who would likely be starting if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending foot injury in the preseason. I think he’s solid enough to warrant the Panthers holding off until 2024 to start a quarterback search, so an offensive-minded head coach would make sense. Why not place Corral’s development in the care of someone who’s watched the best quarterback in the league? Bieniemy has helped Andy Reid steer the ship in Kansas City for the past few seasons, but he’s never been able to land a coaching job for a supposed multitude of reasons. After this season, however, with Bieniemy’s offense leading the league in passing yards despite losing Tyreek Hill, the excuses are starting to wear thin. Bieniemy will get more interviews this time around, and Carolina could do much worse than being the team that finally gives him his chance.
Who they will hire: Ejiro Evero, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Evero
The Broncos have easily been the NFL’s biggest disappointment this season. The Russell Wilson-Nathaniel Hackett duo that was supposed to guide Denver to the postseason has been an objective disaster. There have been multiple games this season that the Broncos have let slip through their fingers as a result of offensive ineptitude, and that result should be completely unacceptable. Hackett will almost certainly be one-and-done, but Wilson’s new extension means the Broncos will be stuck to him for the foreseeable future. If reports are to be believed and Denver’s situation will scare top candidates away, that leaves them in an unenviable position.
The good news for the Broncos is that their best option might already be in the building. While the offense has been putrid, Evero’s defense has been superb, headlined by a passing defense that has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the NFL. The defensive success will see Evero get some calls for interviews and, with Denver likely missing the postseason, other teams can begin the process with him immediately. With that said, it would be smart for the Broncos to promote Evero and give him the chance to rebuild the team. Whether his new coordinators comes from within (Broncos running back coach Tyrone Wheatley and defensive backs coach Christian Parker would be good choices) or outside of the organization (Evero is part of the Sean McVay coaching tree), he deserves the chance to get this team off the ground.
Who they will hire: Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Gannon
The Texans have been an outright disaster up to this point, and there’s a strong chance they will have the first overall pick in the 2023 Draft. While that pick will be used on a quarterback (most likely Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud), the problems in the organization extend far beyond that. With the Texans firing Jack Easterby earlier this season, they have the chance to free themselves entirely of the Patriots influence and start fresh. That would likely spell the end of GM Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith, both of whom have frankly done little to justify keeping their jobs.
Meanwhile, a finalist for the Texans’ job last season is shining in Philadelphia. Gannon’s defense has been lights out for the 11-1 Eagles this season, and they are at or near the top of the league in many different areas. They are second to only San Francisco in yards per game, seventh in points per game, and first in both passing yards per game and QBR. For a team that invested heavily on defense in the draft last season, especially in the secondary with Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre, those are numbers worth paying attention to. There may not be much in Houston at the moment, but Gannon and whoever Houston hires at GM will have at least some time to work with to turn things around.
Who they will hire: DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Ryans
Another opening with a clearly logical candidate! Firing Frank Reich was a fair choice for the Colts, but hiring Jeff Saturday came completely out of left field. The past few weeks have proven the confusion was correct, especially the blowout loss the Colts suffered against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The experiment seemed destined to struggle from the start, and Saturday will likely be headed back to the ESPN booth in the offseason. While GM Chris Ballard’s job is certainly in danger, he has to know that he needs a clear plan to stick around. That not only includes at quarterback, which has been a revolving door since the retirement of Andrew Luck, but he needs a home run hire at coach.
While some Colts fans would clamor for a bright offensive coordinator to help their new quarterback, the defense has shown that they miss linebacker Shaquille Leonard and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Ryans would instantly bring back the fire on the defensive side of the ball, and the success of former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in New York should only help his successor’s case. Ryans’s defense is leading the league in yards per game, rushing yards per game, and points per game. With the Niners now on third-string quarterback Brock Purdy, the impetus for a deep playoff run rests on the defense. If they can succeed, Ryans will vault to the top of many teams’ lists, which is exactly why Ballard (or whoever replaces him as GM) should target him.
Los Angeles Chargers
Who they will hire: Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Sean Payton, former New Orleans Saints head coach
Brandon Staley’s defense has once again completely struggled to stop opposing offenses, and the Chargers have once again completely fallen below expectations. With far and away the most apathetic fanbase in the league and needing to make good on the window of Justin Herbert’s rookie deal, the Chargers have no choice but to be aggressive if they start a coaching search. Payton stands out as the obvious choice, between his Southern California roots, desire to work with a franchise quarterback, and his long track record of success. It’s been widely reported that Payton and the Chargers would be a perfect marriage, and continued struggles will only give the team even more reason to pursue it.
Still, there’s a chance that the Chargers don’t want to pay the asking price the Saints will be asking, but multiple failures with first-time head coaches should have them looking for experience. Look no further than Quinn in that case, as the former Atlanta Falcons coach has turned the Cowboys defense from a turnstile to one of the league’s most fearsome units. Quinn’s watch has turned Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs into household names, while also getting the best out other players. While Quinn will have to show an offensive plan to maximize Herbert’s abilities, the idea of a quick turnaround on defense should be more than appealing to the Chargers.
New Orleans Saints
Who they will hire: Shane Steichen, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator
Who they should hire: Steichen
When Sean Payton moved on from the Saints, Dennis Allen justified taking his place with a strong season. Unfortunately, that result has not taken place this season, as the Saints have struggled to gain any sort of traction. A large part of this problem has been at the quarterback position, where neither Jameis Winston or Andy Dalton has done anything of note. It hasn’t been helped by Michael Thomas’s foot injury and movement on the offensive line, but first-round pick Chris Olave has been enjoying a quality rookie season. If the Saints do have a new franchise receiver on their hands, they need to make good on this, and neither Winston or Dalton have proven they can accomplish that.
What the Saints need is a proven quarterback whisperer who can work with younger players. Steichen should immediately jump to the top of the list in that regard. He worked wonders with Justin Herbert during his rookie season in 2020, and he’s now enjoying similar success with a potential MVP candidate in Jalen Hurts this season. The Saints don’t have their first-round pick this season, so they will have to work with somebody like a Hendon Hooker or Anthony Richardson who will be a project. The good news is that Herbert and Hurts were both projected similarly, and both are amongst the top young quarterbacks in the league. That’s good news for a potential pairing between the Saints and Steichen.
The 2023 NHL Draft is shaping up to be a special one.
After an odd draft last season that saw two Slovakian prospects (Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec) go with the first two picks over projected top choice Shane Wright, the 2023 draft will present a choice of three elite talents at the top, with projected number one selection Connor Bedard already being hailed as a generational talent. There are plenty of other projectable NHL stars in this group, and how they continue throughout the season could make teams gun-shy about trading premium selections this year.
While this class isn’t perfect and shouldn’t be expected to match 2003’s overall quality, this still has the potential to be the best rookie crop since 2015 (the McDavid-Eichel year, for the curious). There is still plenty of season to go through, but I’ve decided to project a mock draft in order to give out a general lay of the land and introduce some prospects that are worth a mention.
With that said, the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the clock.
1. Columbus Blue Jackets-Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL): We spent all season wondering who Columbus’s top center would be, but their struggles could lead to their answer being Bedard. While he isn’t the perfect prospect like McDavid was considered to be, very few players are as offensively gifted as Bedard is. Legit 50-goal potential right here.
2. Anaheim Ducks-Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA): Fantilli is playing the Jack Eichel role: an elite talent that certain teams could favor. Not only is Fantilli leading the NCAA with 23 points so far, but his combination of size, skating, and offensive ability is going to make him a bona fide top center in the NHL. Look for him to be stapled to a line with Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry next year.
3. San Jose Sharks-Matvei Michkov, F, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL): While Russian prospects continue to struggle due to political issues and Michkov’s contract will mean the earliest he can arrive in North America is 2026, San Jose strikes me as a team willing to wait on him while they sort themselves out. Michkov is easily the most talented Russian prospect since the days of Ovechkin and Malkin, combining highlight-reel plays with a consistency you rarely see from draft-age players.
4. Arizona Coyotes-Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro HK (SHL): Carlsson is nowhere close to as flashy as the three players above him, but the fact he’s mentioned in the same breath as them speaks to his ability. Consider him a polished version of a top-five pick from this year in Cutter Gauthier: a big forward who has the skill, strength, and hockey IQ to play anywhere in the lineup.
5. Detroit Red Wings-Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan): Detroit has been the go-to destination for Sweden-playing prospects, so why change that now? Detroit has started to pick up some scorers, so picking up a strong two-way pivot who can make plays in Dvorsky to distribute the puck makes a lot of sense for Steve Yzerman. He’s lost a bit of ground on the top prospects of this class, but Dvorsky should still be a comfortable top-10 selection.
6. Chicago Blackhawks-Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL): The Blackhawks haven’t been bad enough to enter Connor Bedard territory, but they’ll be in good position to pick up arguably the next best prospect from western Canada. Combining quality offensive production with the defensive awareness you would hope to find in a center, Yager has the makings of a top-six center for the next decade.
7. Montreal Canadiens-Zach Benson, F, Winnipeg (WHL): With how much of a difference Martin St. Louis has made with Cole Caufield since arriving in Montreal, the prospect of a similar player in Benson joining the ranks is enticing. While not blessed with Caufield’s goal-scoring acumen, Benson’s playmaking and hockey IQ should make him a natural fit.
8. Philadelphia Flyers-Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL): John Tortorella’s system requires players to be willing to make plays in their own zone, which is why Ritchie would be a great fit. Not only does he have the defensive awareness and faceoff skill that will make him a coaching favorite, but his playmaking and offensive productivity should make him a fan favorite as well.
9. Vancouver Canucks-Will Smith, C, U.S. NTDP: Smith has been a steady riser on draft boards all season long, with his most recent performance being a tournament-leading nine points at the Five Nations Tournament. With Vancouver potentially losing Bo Horvat in the near future, Smith will make for a reliable plan for a top-six center.
10. Ottawa Senators-Matthew Wood, F, University of Connecticut (NCAA): Another riser up draft boards, Wood’s combination of size and skill should make him a convincing target for an Ottawa team that has had no problem combing the NCAA for prospects. While he can use his six-foot-three frame better, that’s something that can be coached with time and experience; what can’t be taught is his devastating offensive skill that makes him a threat to score every time he hits the ice.
11. Buffalo Sabres-Eduard Sale, F, HC Kometa Brno (Czech): This feels a little too low for Sale, which speaks to the quality of this draft class at the forward positions. Sale’s skating and passing are among the best the class has to offer, which should make him a natural fit on a Buffalo team that looks to have some quality goal-scorers.
12. Nashville Predators-Oliver Moore, C, U.S. NTDP: The NTDP is very well-represented in this first round, as their gold-winning performance at the Five Nations Tournament opened some eyes on them. While Moore may not have the elite talent that some of his contemporaries may have, he stands out as one of the safer selections in that group. Draft him and enjoy landing a middle-six forward in two or three years.
13. St. Louis Blues-Colby Barlow, F, Owen Sound (OHL): Another relatively safe NHL projection, Barlow plays the two-way style that the Blues like to see out of their players. He’s a middle-six forward, but has the potential for more if his speed, shot, and penalty-killing acumen at least mostly translate well at the NHL level.
14. Seattle Kraken-Ryan Leonard, F, U.S. NTDP: I was debating giving the Kraken the first defenseman in this draft, but all of Leonard’s reports have me thinking they go with the energy player instead. Leonard is yet another safe bet for the NHL (notice a pattern yet?) due to his shot and competitive style of play.
15. New York Islanders-Ethan Gauthier, F, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): The Islanders can still use all of the scoring they can get, so why not get someone who can do that AND play the defensive-minded style the team is known for? Gauthier plays hard in all three zones and can impact the game in a variety of ways, regardless of whether the puck is on his stick or not.
16. Washington Capitals-Andrew Cristall, F, Kelowna (OHL): The Capitals have to presume that the player they select here will be for the post-Ovechkin era, so any skill they can get here will be a worthwhile investment. Despite his small stature (five-foot-ten), Cristall can make numerous plays on and off the puck, making him a perfect linemate for someone like Evgeny Kuznetsov in a few years.
17. Edmonton Oilers-Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yasterby (MHL): It took until the second half of the first round for the first defenseman to come off the board, which should tell you how tepid this class is on the back end. While Gulyayev isn’t the rugged stay-at-home defenseman Edmonton needs right now, his Quinn Hughes-esque offensive game from the point should make him a good choice to replace Tyson Barrie in a few years.
18. New York Rangers-Kasper Halttunen, F, HIFK (Liiga): The Rangers have built themselves a quality team, but they are a little lacking on the right side. Halttunen has been inconsistent so far this season, but he has the makings of an NHL-caliber power forward.
19. Chicago Blackhawks (from Tampa Bay)-Gabe Perreault, F, U.S. NTDP: While he doesn’t get the recognition of linemates Smith and Leonard, Perreault’s game is more than enough to stand out on its own. His patience and intelligence make him a quality playmaker from the wing, and he would be a great fit with Yager if Chicago ties the two together.
20. Los Angeles Kings-Quentin Musty, F, Sudbury (OHL): Musty may not have turned out as the elite prospect everyone was hoping he’d turn out to be, but his game is more than worthy of a first-round selection. He’s a power forward with some skill to his game, which is something LA needs with Dustin Brown now retired.
21. New Jersey Devils-Cameron Allen, D, Guelph (OHL): With the Devils already being blessed with a cavalcade of impressive young forwards, they can continue to build on the defensive side. While Allen doesn’t have the game-to-game consistency down yet, he’s a strong two-way defenseman who can control play in the attacking and defensive zones.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins-Riley Heidt, C, Prince George (WHL): Heidt may seem like a forgotten man amongst a stacked WHL crop, but he’s already got plenty of NHL-ready tools at his disposal. His skills at the faceoff dot, skating ability, and playmaking should excite the Penguins, who traditionally have a good sense on how to develop talent.
23. Minnesota Wild-Gavin Brindley, C, University of Michigan (NCAA): The Wild have needed center depth for some time now, so adding a dominant freshman in Brindley makes sense for them. His skating and approach to the game should outweigh his five-foot-nine stature, but where he ends up on draft night will depend on whether teams see him as a center or a wing.
24. Winnipeg Jets-Jayden Perron, F, Chicago (USHL): If I were creating my 2023 draft sleepers list already, Perron would absolutely be the marquee name there. While some scouts are worried about his size (five-foot-nine) and low floor, Perron possesses all the high-end skill needed to make an impact. His time at the University of North Dakota next season will be interesting to watch.
25. Calgary Flames-Koehn Ziemmer, F, Prince George (WHL): Not only is Ziemmer leading Prince George with 16 goals and 33 points, but he’s only second in the entire WHL to Connor Bedard in both categories. While he certainly doesn’t have Bedard’s superstar potential, those are the kinds of numbers you’d like to see in a potential second-like winger.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs-Caden Price, D, Kelowna (OHL): Price’s scouting reports read similarly to Kevin Korchinski’s, and the latter’s rise up draft boards last year bodes very well for the former’s chances to land here. His two-way game and playmaking ability from the point certainly help his NHL projection, and he can easily slide into an NHL team’s top four within the next few years.
27. Montreal Canadiens (from Florida)-Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha (USHL): With Carey Price’s future still in question, Montreal’s lack of a future franchise goaltender in their system, and with a high draft pick already in their pocket, the Canadiens decide to take the plunge on a goalie here. Hrabal’s six-foot-six frame and athleticism make him a prototype goalie to today’s game, and his calm and confident approach should help his development.
28. Colorado Avalanche-Danny Nelson, C, U.S. NTDP: Make it five for the NTDP, as the Avalanche decide to go for another power forward to replace Nazem Kadri in the near future. He’s probably a step behind his teammates in terms of quality and potential, but his ceiling is as a Brock Nelson-type second-line center. Teams could certainly use that in their lineups.
29. New York Rangers (from Dallas)-Etienne Morin, D, Moncton (QMJHL): Just like Perron, Morin would absolutely be on my sleepers list if I made it today. Morin has absolutely burst onto the scene in his draft year, leading all QMJHL defensemen with seven goals and third with 20 points. He’ll be a fringe first-round contender with this current trajectory.
30. Boston Bruins-Hunter Brzustewicz, D, Kitchener (OHL): One of the more intelligent two-way defensemen available, Brzustewicz can help his team as a playmaker from the point and defending the rush at his own end. He has some skills similar to Charlie McAvoy, and the Bruins would love to turn Brzustewicz into a similar player at the NHL level.
31. Vegas Golden Knights-Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL): There are very few prospect-team fits that make more sense than Danielson to Vegas. Outside of the obvious Brandon connection to GM Kelly McCrimmon, Danielson effectively plays the two-way style that Vegas has always looked for in their players.
32. Carolina Hurricanes-Otto Stenberg, C, Frolunda HC (SHL): While Stenberg’s projection as a center isn’t a lock, Carolina should have no issues with taking him here. Another dynamic forward that always looks to get involved with the play, Stenberg is as dynamic with the puck on his stick as it gets.
With the first month of the NHL season almost over, we can finally get a fair assessment of how the hockey landscape looks.
During the first few weeks, these rankings have had to be organized and re-organized due to the endless amount of storylines coming early into the season. Some teams have worked to exceed expectations, while others have fallen well short of them. Teams are establishing themselves as Stanley Cup contenders, while others are searching for Connor Bedard highlights already. Whatever the case may be, the shifts we’ve seen already in how strong each team really is are remarkable.
For this week, given it is Halloween, I wanted to have a little fun and figure out what the “scariest” part of each team is. Whether that implies scary good or scary bad is subjective, although these rankings will probably be a fair indication of what to expect. Regardless, every team has some aspect that deserves to be examined closely, as it is something to either build off of or work to fix moving forward.
How scary is each NHL team? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded from October 30.
1. Boston Bruins (15): The scary part with the Bruins is simple. Their 4.22 goals per game is far and away the best mark in the league, and Brad Marchand just returned to the lineup. Yikes.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (3): The Hurricanes might not even need Max Pacioretty with how scary good the second line has been. Andrei Svechnikov is emerging as a legitimate superstar, Martin Necas is having a breakout year, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been an analytics darling early on.
3. Calgary Flames (7): Despite having the league’s toughest strength of schedule, the Flames have impressed with a 5-2 start. Given that they’ve defeated potential playoff foes like Edmonton, Vegas, and Colorado early, Calgary has some impressive momentum on their side.
4. Vegas Golden Knights (16): Not only does Vegas have the best record in the West, but they’ve done it with dominating defense and goaltending. Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have given the Knights the highest combined save percentage in the league, and they’ve only given up a league-low 1.7 goals per game (for context, the next highest mark is Dallas and Boston at 2.33).
5. Colorado Avalanche (1): While the Avalanche haven’t been as dominant as expected in their Cup defense, they’re also currently missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and leading scorer Valeri Nichushkin. When those two come back, the chance for Colorado to go on a rampage increases dramatically.
6. Florida Panthers (4): Matthew Tkachuk has been as advertised, but the defensive depth has been tested with Aaron Ekblad out with an injury. Brandon Montour and Gustav Forsling have a combined 14 points and +10 differential; the rest of the defensive corps has a combined five points and +4 differential (Josh Mahura has +8, for context)
7. Edmonton Oilers (5): The Oilers may have a Jack Campbell problem and a Stuart Skinner solution. While the prized free agent Campbell has struggled so far this season (.888 save percentage and 3.89 GAA), his supposed understudy has provided Edmonton with much-needed stability in net (.955 and 1.59)
8. New York Rangers (9): Stars like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have continued to play well, but the Rangers have inconsistent metrics and some bad losses to the likes of San Jose and Columbus on their ledger. This team may very well be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that’s an aspect that must change sooner rather than later.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (2): While the Lightning have started to win some games, the metrics still have them as one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. Which version of the Lightning is real: the one that started 1-3, or the one who has currently won four of its last five?
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (10): Losing to the Alberta teams is one thing, but losing to Seattle and Vancouver? These are teams that the Penguins should be beating, so this current losing streak has to be cause for some alarm.
11. Dallas Stars (17): Will the Stars be willing to say goodbye to a long-time leader this offseason? Between Jamie Benn’s poor production (three assists and -2 differential), Stars owner Tom Gagliardi publicly calling him out this offseason, and his potential replacement in Mason Marchment doing well (four goals and seven points), the captain is looking like a sleeper buyout candidate.
12. Minnesota Wild (8): Just when everyone was starting to write his obituary, Marc-Andre Fleury has risen from the dead. After a rough start, Fleury has come alive in the past week, winning all three of his starts and recording an impressive .927 save percentage and 1.95 GAA.
13. New Jersey Devils (24): Jesper Bratt’s next contract meeting is going to be a scary one for the Devils. Currently at fifth in the league with 15 points (ahead of the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, and Sidney Crosby), Bratt will likely be looking for an extension well above the $5.45 million bridge contract he signed this offseason.
14. Toronto Maple Leafs (6): Auston Matthews has been snakebitten thus far, and the Leafs just got swept on a West Coast road trip. It’s probably a case of defensive injuries and bad puck luck, but have the Leafs and their fans ever been known for patience? Sheldon Keefe and Kyle Dubas are in very real danger.
15. Washington Capitals (13): The Capitals were already missing Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, and now the injury list includes T.J. Oshie and John Carlson. There seems to always be a team that can’t play up to its potential due to serious injuries; is Washington playing that role this year?
16. Winnipeg Jets (25): The Jets have started to look better, and Connor Hellebuyck may have regained his form. Just this week alone, the Vezina-caliber goaltender recorded a 2-0-1 record with a .949 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.
17. Buffalo Sabres (27): It took four years to get there, but Rasmus Dahlin is finally playing up to his top overall pick status. His five goals and ten points are only second among defensemen to San Jose’s Erik Karlsson (six and eleven), and Dahlin’s +7 differential well surpasses Karlsson’s -2. He’s effectively on Norris Trophy watch.
18. Ottawa Senators (20): While the Senators are starting to find their form, the potentially season-ending injury to Josh Norris makes them worryingly thin at center. Expect them to be in on the likes of Bo Horvat, Jonathan Toews, and any other center that finds themselves on the rumor mill between now and the deadline.
19. St. Louis Blues (11): Similar to Dallas, the Blues may also be willing to part with their captain next summer. With extensions handed out to Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, Ryan O’Reilly may be finding himself as the odd man out; if he can’t shake off a rough October (one point and -10 differential), there’s a real possibility St. Louis lets him walk in free agency.
20. Detroit Red Wings (19): Good news: Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Larkin are both at ten points already, and Ville Husso looks good in net. Bad news: no other Red Wing has more than five points, and defending Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider only has one across eight games.
21. Los Angeles Kings (14): While Gabriel Vilardi’s breakout has been noteworthy, the Kings won’t return to the playoffs if the goaltending doesn’t improve. After finishing with a .901 save percentage last season, Los Angeles currently has a league-worst .868 mark this season.
22. Nashville Predators (12): After defeating the Sharks twice in Prague, the Predators have only won one of their last seven games since returning to North America. The culprit has been easy to spot; their 2.44 goals per game is only better than San Jose and Anaheim.
23. New York Islanders (21): The Islanders are low for now, but they have the potential to make a big leap soon. They’re currently fourth in goals for, sixth in goals against, and they’ve had some nice wins over Colorado, Carolina, and the Rangers lately. Keep an eye on them as a potential sleeper team moving forward.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (31): In terms of scary, Gritty and the fear of John Tortorella chewing someone out in a press conference comes to mind. Good news is that the latter hasn’t had to happen yet, with the likes of Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, and Carter Hart having bounceback years.
25. Seattle Kraken (26): While I disagree with usage of Shane Wright and don’t think Martin Jones can lead a team to the playoffs anymore, Seattle’s offense has looked much improved this season. After mustering only 2.6 goals per game in their inaugural season, they’ve managed to put up a more respectable 3.3 goals per game this season.
26. Montreal Canadiens (28): Martin St. Louis has had the Canadiens playing at least closer to their potential since getting behind the bench, and nowhere has that impact been more profound than with Cole Caufield. Currently tied for second with seven goals (Connor McDavid has nine), Caufield looks like a Rocket Richard Trophy candidate for now and the future.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (30): The Blackhawks have been extremely inconsistent so far, going from a four-game winning streak to dropping their last three. It feels like only a matter of time until at least one of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews gets traded, and Chicago would firmly put themselves in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes if that’s the case.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (22): So much for the renewed optimism in Columbus. Despite Johnny Gaudreau playing as advertised, the Blue Jackets go into a series against the Avalanche in Finland after getting blown out in their last three games, including giving up six goals to Arizona.
29. Vancouver Canucks (18): After losing their first seven games, the Canucks have scored their first two wins of the season, including a blowout victory over Pittsburgh. That said, the team still misses the likes of Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko’s start (.874 save percentage and 4.05 GAA) leaves a lot to be desired.
30. Anaheim Ducks (23): Anaheim’s defense is starting to approach lost cause territory. John Klingberg has been one of the more disappointing free agents this season, Jamie Drysdale will likely lose a season of development with a shoulder injury, and only Columbus and Arizona have given up more than Anaheim’s 4.22 goals against per game.
31. San Jose Sharks (29): Mike Grier may have avoided trouble by not extending Timo Meier this offseason. After scoring a career-high 35 goals and 76 points last season, Meier has been ice cold to start this campaign, only scoring once in 11 games.
32. Arizona Coyotes (32): It appears the Coyotes’ fate will be left to the polls in November, as their proposed arena project is likely going to a public referendum. If any problems arise between now and then, what happens next?
With the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks officially kicking off the NHL season in Prague on Friday, the preseason is officially almost over.
Every team is going to have some level of expectation headed into the year. The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning have lost key contributors, but they will both look to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Florida Panthers were the President’s Trophy winner last season, but they will be hoping that new acquisition Matthew Tkachuk will take them to the next level. Teams that missed the playoffs last year like the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, and Columbus Blue Jackets all made high-profile moves this offseason, but will it be enough to knock some of their competitors out of the playoff hunt?
Meanwhile, other teams will face a fair amount of questions coming into the year. The bottom four teams are in varying stages of their rebuilds, but all are expected to be on Connor Bedard watch all season long. The Vegas Golden Knights lost some key pieces due to their cap woes, and another disappointing campaign could see another summer of bloody transformation. The Boston Bruins are dealing with significant losses on the injury front; will that cost them going forward?
1. Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche lost several key pieces to their Cup run (Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Darcy Kuemper), and injuries to the likes of Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin could pose problems in the early going. This team still has some of the best talent available, however, and the defending champs deserve the top spot until further notice.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning: Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh became cap casualties, but this is still a deep team led by all-world talent and a capable power structure. They are still firmly on dynasty watch until a team is capable of consistently bringing them down.
3. Carolina Hurricanes: Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty (when the latter is healthy) will add recognizable talent to a team that’s been quietly building itself up over the past few seasons. They are now where Colorado was: a team more than capable of winning the Cup, but another disappointing postseason could raise some red flags.
4. Florida Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk is the type of player that Florida lacked in their postseason run last year, and the Panthers committed heavily to him in the blockbuster trade. The aggression in the front office could cost them in the near-future, but none of that will matter if the Panthers finally get one on their in-state rival and win a Cup of their own.
5. Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers made it all the way to the Western Conference Final last season, and they brought in Jack Campbell to hopefully give them some stability in net. Last season’s finish cannot be the exception in the McDavid-Draisaitl era: it should be the new standard.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs: This roster has a ton of talent on it, but Toronto’s gamble on a Matt Murray-Ilya Samsonov goaltending tandem will be the tipping point on their season. Ownership has been patient with the Dubas-Keefe regime despite continued postseason struggles, but how long can that reasonably last?
7. Calgary Flames: It’s rare to see a team that lose its two top players be this high on any rankings list, but the Flames did a great job acquiring the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and Mackenzie Weegar to give the team a facelift. They got a lot of career years last season; can Calgary build on that?
8. Minnesota Wild: Despite the cap crunch that cost the Wild Kevin Fiala, there’s still a lot to like in Minnesota. Kirill Kaprizov proved he was worth his large extension last season, the depth and young players should provide some excitement, and the goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and (Sports Nerd favorite) Filip Gustavsson is a sleeper for the Jennings Trophy.
9. New York Rangers: The Rangers did make it to the Eastern Conference Final, but they relied heavily on Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin to make it that far. If Vincent Trocheck jells with his new team quickly and/or some of the younger players take the next step up in their development, they can ensure that they can make it back to that level and beyond.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins: While we can debate the long-term merits of the Penguins keeping Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang for one final crack at glory, it essentially guarantees the Penguins will remain at least competitive. They were one win away from knocking out the Rangers with their third-string goaltender. so better health could be the difference for them.
11. St. Louis Blues: The Blues locking up Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou long-term were some of the best moves of the offseason, but they’ll still be hoping to rely on internal replacements for the pieces they lost. The key question: are we going to see the Jordan Binnington who lost his starting job in the regular season, or the one who regained it in the playoffs?
12. Nashville Predators: The Predators re-signing Filip Forsberg was a huge victory, while bringing in Nino Niederreiter and Ryan McDonagh suggests that they can see a playoff contender with this group. They’ll need some help to get there, but Nashville might not be ready to go quietly just yet.
13. Washington Capitals: These next few teams are all interchangeable due to their similar outlooks: good enough to make the playoffs, but not a guarantee to make it there. Alex Ovechkin’s still hunting Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record and Darcy Kuemper should be an improvement in net, but injuries to leaders like Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson won’t help them.
14. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings’ strong showing against the Oilers in the playoffs helped their long-term outlook, and adding Kevin Fiala and a healthy Drew Doughty should help them out immensely. They need the prospects to start taking the next steps, and the goaltending can’t let up after a better-than-expected campaign.
15. Vegas Golden Knights: Despite losing Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov, the Knights still have more than enough talent to push them over the top and remain competitive. That said, they have a Robin Lehner-sized question mark in net, and the front office’s devil-may-care attitude with asset management could be their downfall just as easily as it could be their saving grace.
16. Boston Bruins: Boston being in a deep division, dealing with injuries to key players, and getting older in the offseason are some major red flags to keep in mind to their potential. Keep an eye on them in the early going; how they weather the early storms could be indicative of their ultimate fate.
17. Dallas Stars: The Stars’ offseason is still incomplete until they can finally bring back Jason Robertson. If he gets signed, Dallas is a firm middle-of-the-road team; if they have to deal him, they will drop dramatically.
18. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks locked up their core by re-signing JT Miller, made a couple of underrated moves by signing Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko, and have a front office that knows how to win games. Still, the defense is a massive work in progress outside of Quinn Hughes, and Bruce Boudreau’s playoff record…leaves a little bit to be desired.
19. Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings already had a promising young core in the works, and they bolstered it with several veteran free agents this offseason. There are very few teams in greater position to make the jump to the playoffs this season, which would be huge for a young team trying to find its way.
20. Ottawa Senators: The Senators looked to be in position to return to the playoffs by adding Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux to create a devastating top six, but Cam Talbot’s injury means the Senators will have uncertainty in net again to start the season. With the defense already a question mark, they have the potential to make the playoffs or fall apart based on their early record.
21. New York Islanders: The Islanders had a lot of thing go wrong last season, but they did nothing to fix what has long been a mediocre offense. It doesn’t matter how good the defense or goaltending is if the Islanders don’t have any consistent scoring threats, so they need something to break their way on that end of the ice.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus shocked the hockey world by landing Johnny Gaudreau, and he and Patrik Laine will create one of the more exciting duos on the ice. That said, there are still some questions as far as center and defensive depth are concerned, so those will have to be addressed for the Blue Jackets to make any significant noise.
23. Anaheim Ducks: Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish lead an exciting group of players, and adding free agents like Ryan Strome and John Klingberg can only help their chances to make noise in a wide-open Pacific Division. They’ll need a bounce-back campaign from John Gibson, however, to live up to the potential they have.
24. New Jersey Devils: Adding Ondrej Palat and Vitek Vanecek to a younger team will help in a deep Metropolitan Division, and Jack Hughes has all the potential to become one of the league’s superstars. The problem is that they’re in a deep division and conference, which might lower their ceiling below what it could and should be.
25. Winnipeg Jets: While Connor Hellebuyck and a strong offense could keep the Jets competitive, the drama surrounding this team has reached a fever pitch. This is a pivotal season for a team once considered a Cup contender, and a bad year on the ice could create irreparable damage off of it.
26. Seattle Kraken: An interesting one-two punch of Matty Beniers and Shane Wright should set the Kraken up for years at center, while Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand should give them some much-needed punch. They’re certainly a more traditional expansion experience compared to Vegas, but that might not be a bad thing.
27. Buffalo Sabres: There’s a lot of young talent in Buffalo right now, which should put them in nice position for the future. However, goaltending and the fact that the teams near them in the Atlantic got better likely means another year without a postseason.
28. Montreal Canadiens: You can essentially copy-paste Buffalo’s statement here. I like the young talent pool and coaching they have, but they don’t have the defense and goaltending to make much noise compared to their counterparts.
29. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks traded Brent Burns, but they’re still locked in to some awful contracts and can’t seem to commit to a rebuild just yet. The David Quinn-Mike Grier regime has their work cut out for them, and this will not be a quick fix.
30. Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on their roster for now, but once one or both are traded out? This has potential to be the worst team in the league.
31. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers chose to bring in Tony DeAngelo and Nicolas Deslauriers over Johnny Gaudreau, have already lost to Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis to injury, and the roster has clear signs of a lack of direction in its construction. I feel bad for Carter Hart, who could be the scapegoat for John Tortorella’s postgame press conference…honesty, shall we say?
32. Arizona Coyotes: What can we say about the Coyotes? They are the team most built to tank, but is that a good idea with a long-term relationship with Tempe still hanging in the balance?
With preseason hockey starting up tonight, the NHL is officially back in action.
After another whirlwind offseason filled with big free-agent signing and blockbuster trades, the teams are now in training camp and preseason in order to do the final bit of leg work before the regular season. Each team is going to come in with at least some level of expectation, and most already know who or what it will take to reach those marks.
But what about the unknown quantities? They are arguably just as important, if not more so, than the superstars in the league in terms of how each team does. It could be the new acquisition expected to make an early impact. It could be the young player getting his first crack at the NHL level. It could be the player expected to step up in the wake of departures and injuries. Whatever the case may be, the success of each team hinges on these players and how they perform.
So who’s going to be the X-factor for each team this season? Let’s find out.
Anaheim: Trevor Zegras made the leap to the NHL last season, and the Ducks are hoping that Mason McTavish can have similar success this time around. McTavish is coming off an amazing run at the World Junior Championships this summer with 17 points, and he’ll be expected to produce offensively as a third-line center and on the power play.
Arizona: Clayton Keller had a career-high in goals with 28 before a broken leg at the end of March shut him down for the season. Even with the goal of the Coyotes being to tank for Connor Bedard, they’ll be hoping that Keller can not only return healthy, but continue to provide some scoring touch to a team that needs everything.
Boston: Second-line center was a massive hole for the Bruins this past season, so they brought back David Krejci from his sabbatical in the Czech Republic for one last run at glory. That will be easier said than done; injuries to key contributors like Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy means they will need Krejci to hit the ground running until they return.
Buffalo: While Owen Power will be the rookie that everyone has their eye on, Buffalo fans have reason to believe that Jack Quinn and J.J. Peterka can be equally successful. Buffalo’s first two selections of the 2020 Draft, Quinn (8th overall) and Peterka (34th overall) led their AHL affiliate in scoring (68 points for Peterka, 61 points for Quinn), and it’s possible both will play on the same NHL line and develop together alongside one of the Sabres’ promising young centers.
Calgary: While Jonathan Huberdeau will essentially replace Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri may have the more difficult task of replacing Matthew Tkachuk. There’s serious risk with Kadri’s deal (over 30 years old, coming off of a career season, power forwards tend to decline faster in the NHL), but replicating the success he had with Colorado last year will be crucial for Calgary to continue posing a threat at the top of the Pacific.
Carolina: Father Time hasn’t completely caught up to Brent Burns yet, and the Hurricanes are hoping the 37-year-old defenseman can play a key role towards fulfilling their Cup aspirations. Between being on the top defensive pair with Jaccob Slavin and replacing Tony DeAngelo on the power play, Burns should expect another season of heavy ice time.
Chicago: If there’s any team that can use support from its prospects, it’s the Blackhawks, and no prospect comes with a higher ceiling right now than Lukas Reichel. Reichel was a point-per-game player for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford (57 points in 56 games), and being potentially locked onto a line with at least one of Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane should give a clear indication of whether he’ll be part of their long-term plans.
Colorado: Colorado won the Stanley Cup with Darcy Kuemper, and now Alexandar Georgiev gets his chance to do the same. Now out of the shadows of Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin in New York, Georgiev likely doesn’t have to be elite, but he must be better than his career 2.94 GAA and .908 save percentage in order for the Avalanche to retain their title.
Columbus: Columbus will have plenty of options for who will center Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, but the best option might end up being Jack Roslovic. A Columbus native, Roslovic scored a career-best 22 goals and 45 points, both numbers he could potentially exceed if he impresses enough to win the role of number one center.
Dallas: It’s likely Dallas will replace the departing John Klingberg’s production by committee, giving Thomas Harley the opportunity to stand out in his first full NHL season. With new coach Pete DeBoer being a fan of offensive-minded defensemen like Harley, he should see an increase in ice time and improve on what was a down year (four points in 34 games).
Detroit: While Ben Chiarot wasn’t the biggest acquisition Detroit had this offseason, his impact comes from beyond stuffing the stat sheet. Detroit’s defense and penalty kill were horrible (31st and 32nd last season, respectively), so Chiarot’s responsibility as Moritz Seider’s new defensive partner will be to set the tone and help create a new defensive identity for the young Red Wings.
Edmonton: Very few free agent signings will be under the microscope as quickly or as often as Jack Campbell will be. Signed from Toronto, the Oilers are hoping Campbell (31-9-6, 2.64 GAA, .914 save percentage) can be the upgrade in net they need to take the next step up in the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl era.
Florida: It took a lot to get him, but the Panthers and GM Bill Zito are hoping that Matthew Tkachuk is the final piece they need to bring a talented roster over the hump. While Tkachuk’s impact will be felt in the regular season (104 points last year), his real impact will come from his physical style of play, especially when it comes to the rigors of the postseason.
Los Angeles: It was a surprise for Quinton Byfield to struggle as he did (ten points, -7 in 40 games), but that could be a sign that the Kings will improve drastically if he plays to his potential. Byfield has put in the work this offseason, hopefully improving on his faceoffs and skating to prove himself as a legitimate NHL center.
Minnesota: Minnesota’s cap situation requires entry-level players to step up, and Marco Rossi is in that position this season. Tied for the scoring lead in Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa (53 points in 63 games), Rossi will have a chance to crack into what is an underrated group of centers in the State of Hockey.
Montreal: While special consideration goes to new captain Nick Suzuki learning French fast enough to appease the Quebec media, Jake Allen gets the nod here. With Carey Price likely not playing this season, Allen will be in position to get most of the starts in Montreal again, with the hope that he improves on a career-worst 3.30 GAA.
Nashville: The Predators need depth scoring to make it anywhere past the First Round, so players like Philip Tomasino will be looked at considerably. Despite playing only eleven and a half minutes per game, Tomasino stuck around the NHL roster and put together an impressive rookie campaign, finishing with 14 points in his last 28 games.
New Jersey: The Devils need their prospect core to push their young roster over the top, and top prospect Alexander Holtz will be one of the first candidates to get a crack at it. Scoring 51 points in 52 games in Utica (New Jersey’s AHL affiliate), Holtz has a chance to prove he belongs on a line with either Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, which would make him a dark horse to win the Calder Trophy.
New York Islanders: The Islanders have been let down by poor offensive numbers for a little while, so players like Oliver Wahlstrom need to do their job. Despite a low shooting percentage, Wahlstrom still potted 13 goals last season, and playing on a line with Mathew Barzal should help give him some opportunities.
New York Rangers: While Alexis Lafreniere will be playing right wing for the first time in his career, it will open more opportunities for the former top overall pick. One of the Rangers’ impact players in the postseason (nine points in 20 games), Lafreniere will now be rewarded with playing on New York’s top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, which should open more opportunities for him.
Ottawa: Using six goaltenders in the last two seasons is not something Ottawa wants to keep doing, and they’re hoping that Cam Talbot stops the carousel in net. While getting a little older at 35 years old, Talbot should provide the stability that Ottawa needs while they develop a future option like Mads Sogaard.
Philadelphia: Philadelphia’s power play was the worst in the league last year at 12.6 percent, so bringing a proven power play quarterback in Tony DeAngelo made at least some sense. With 20 points on the man advantage last year, Philadelphia will hope they can get that production on the ice while avoiding any clashes with new coach John Tortorella off of it.
Pittsburgh: Injuries robbed Tristan Jarry of getting his postseason revenge, but he more than locked down the top goaltender spot in the regular season. Among goaltenders that played at least 30 games, Jarry finished sixth last season in both GAA (2.42) and save percentage (.919).
San Jose: The Sharks offense has been tepid for the last three seasons (30th in the league with 2.58 goals per game), so younger players like William Eklund will be given looks to boost those numbers. With four assists in the Sharks’ first nine games last season, new coach David Quinn will hope to see some progress in the preseason in order to give Eklund some confidence.
Seattle: There’s a fantastic reason why Matty Beniers is one of the favorites to win the Calder Trophy this season. With nine points in his first ten games and earning a spot on Seattle’s top line, Beniers could easily lead the Kraken in points in his rookie year.
St. Louis: With Ville Husso off to Detroit, Jordan Binnington is back as the clear-cut starter for the Blues. The question for St. Louis is what version of Binnington they’ll get: the one who lost his starting job in the regular season (3.13 GAA, .901 save percentage), or the one who regained it in the playoffs (1.72 GAA, .949 save percentage)?
Tampa Bay: Ondrej Palat was a cap casualty in Tampa Bay this season, so they now need players to step up in his absence. With the potential to be on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Hagel may get a fair opportunity to prove why the Lightning traded for him at the deadline last season.
Toronto: In order for Toronto to break their postseason losing streak, they must rely on the goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. Neither goaltender had a GAA below 3 or a save percentage above .900 last season, so at least one of them will have to improve dramatically in order to keep Toronto from having to score their way out of trouble.
Vancouver: The first half struggles of Elias Pettersson last year likely came from his training camp holdout, but it was enough to keep Vancouver out of the playoff race. With potentially two new linemates in Ilya Mikheyev and KHL import Andrei Kuzmenko, Pettersson will need to get his chemistry right away to keep Vancouver in the hunt.
Vegas: With Robin Lehner on the shelf for the season, Logan Thompson will effectively be chucked to the wolves in his rookie season. Thompson put together strong numbers in a limited sample size (2.68 GAA and .914 save percentage in 19 games), and that will have to translate to a full season if Vegas wants to return to the postseason.
Washington: Washington will have to replace the production of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to start the season, so the signing of Dylan Strome made perfect sense. Scoring a career-high 22 goals last season with Chicago, Strome will be tasked with keeping the Capitals afloat while Backstrom heals up.
Winnipeg: This is looking like a transition season for the Jets, and young players like Cole Perfetti will be instrumental in helping Winnipeg decide which direction to take. Scoring seven points in 18 games before injuries ended his season, the Jets will be looking at Perfetti to step up and claim a role in the top-six forward group.
First of all, congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche and their fans on their Stanley Cup victory. This was the season many (myself included) felt the team had to prove something, and they succeeded. Well done.
However, now is not the time to rest on any laurels. Not even a month after a Stanley Cup Champion has been crowned, the league focuses its attention on the NHL Draft. While a lot of people will be looking towards 2023 with the likes of Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, and Adam Fantilli in the mix, that doesn’t mean the 2022 class has to be a throwaway.
Much like every other league, the NHL Draft offers teams to build up their prospect systems and monitor their development before deciding what role each prospect will have in their organization. While some players may have a difficult time adjusting, others just need the opportunity to show what they can do at the next level.
The current NHL landscape is dotted with late-round gems such as Kirill Kaprizov, Mark Stone, Joe Pavelski, Connor Hellebuyck, and Frederik Andersen. Some of the best players the league has ever seen like Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Luc Robitaille had to wait a long time on draft day to finally hear their name called. While it’s uncertain if any of these players will reach those levels, they all have skills that should make them more valued than what their draft placement might indicate.
Let’s see who’s going to make some lucky NHL GM look like a genius.
David Goyette, C, Sudbury (OHL): Now this might require an explanation. Compared to some of the other names on this list, Goyette is relatively high on some boards. How does he count as a sleeper? It probably has to do with the fact that some pundits have questions about how well his game will translate to the NHL level, especially given his size (5’10”, 175 lbs).
I’m someone who believes that Goyette not only has what it takes to make it in the NHL, but also has the tools it takes to be successful. He’s one of the fastest and best-skating players in the draft, which should set him apart from other fringe first-round talents. While he could stand to diversify his offensive game beyond the rush, he has the creativity and willingness to get better on that front. A couple years in the OHL, plus an extra season or two of development in the AHL, should help Goyette bulk up and develop his game. His ceiling is probably that of a second-line wing, which is a nice value for the back half of the first round.
Noah Warren, RD, Gatineau (QMJHL): Another prospect ranked higher than others here, Warren’s primary issue is that he lacks the flash that some of his contemporaries have. With plenty of right-side defensemen in the same tier as Warren (Ryan Chesley, Tristan Luneau, Sam Rinzel, Seamus Casey, and Mattias Havelid,) Warren’s lack of consistent offensive pop could get him lost in the shuffle.
So what does Warren have that stands out? The answer is simple; Warren has the best combination of size and skating at his position. While his skating has some room for improvement, you won’t find many young defensemen that are 6’5″ and move the way Warren does on the ice. That speed helps him out on the defensive end, as Warren isn’t afraid to cut off lanes, work opposing rushers to the boards, and deliver crushing hits. He’s the type of player I can see enjoying an Alec Martinez-esque career in the NHL, working as a top-four defenseman who can chip in enough offensively to complement his defensive and penalty killing acumen.
Reid Schaefer, F, Seattle (WHL): The last of the high-end sleepers, Schaefer picked a great year to have a breakout season. After a couple of mediocre years split between the WHL and AJHL, Schaefer exploded with a 32-goal, 58-point season this time around. That performance carried over the WHL playoffs, which only helped Schaefer’s case as one of this season’s biggest risers.
Schaefer’s frame (6’3″, 215 lbs) and skill set scream power forward. His finishing ability on the offensive end allows him to be a threat both in transition and on set plays in front of the net. Meanwhile, his size also allows him to be a strong defender, causing havoc on the boards and keeping opposing forwards away from the slot. His skating and passing are still works in progress, but there’s reason to believe he can improve. He can thrive as either an all-around top-six wing or a checking line power forward with some scoring touch, depending on how the rest of his game develops.
Cedrick Guindon, C, Owen Sound (OHL): Now we get to the guys who will be drafted later, and let’s start with arguably my favorite sleeper in the class. Guindon’s small stature (5’10”, 163 lbs) will scare some teams away, and he might not come across as dynamic as Goyette or any other small forwards ranked higher than him. This could cause him to slide to the fourth or possibly the fifth round, which I think would be a mistake.
Guindon is one of the best pure skaters in the class, allowing him to play with pace at both ends of the ice. His ability to break out in transition and never give up on a play is what coaching staffs and scouts love. He can stand to improve his shot, but a 30-goal season this year could indicate that it’s getting better already. Most teams profile Guindon as a bottom-six forward who specializes in killing penalties, but I think he has the opportunity to be more. I see a two-way center who can become a middle-six fixture for years, as soon as the playmaking ability and consistency matches his speed.
Martin Johnsen, F, Farjestad BK (SHL): There are very few Norwegian players who have made it to the NHL, and the only notable one of that group is Mats Zuccarello. This year, however, there is a crop of Norwegian prospects who have likely caught the eyes of at least a few NHL scouts, with Johnsen leading the way.
After dominating in his home country, Johnsen was brought to Sweden to play in Farjestad’s youth program. Johnsen played so well against players in his age group that he was brought along to play with the big club; while he didn’t record a point, the fact he was able to reach that level so quickly is astonishing. That dominance wasn’t limited to just Norway and Sweden; at the Under-18 World Junior Championships, Johnsen broke the tournament scoring record with 14 points in only five games. While he isn’t blessed with size or any elite traits, what Johnsen does have on others is how he thinks the game. He allows the play to come to him instead of forcing himself into bad positions, which is incredibly valuable for teams who like to win the possession battles. He’ll be around until the later rounds, but where he ultimately goes will likely be a round or two lower than where I would have him.
Alex Bump, F, Omaha (USHL): While the NCAA doesn’t carry the same level of prestige for NHL prospects as the Canadian Hockey League does, that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Some of the best players from today (Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Jack Eichel) and all time (Martin St. Louis, Brian Leetch, Rod Brind’Amour) all got their starts playing college hockey. One of the latest products of that system could be Bump, a 2023 commit to St. Louis’s alma mater at the University of Vermont.
Playing most of last season for Prior Lake High School in Minnesota, Bump was the best player on the ice for virtually every game. His offensive ability includes driving the play and creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates, and it was on display often. Eventually, Bump would get called up to play better competition in the USHL, and he didn’t look out of place at all. His defensive game isn’t quite on the same level as the offense, but his speed and stick handling give him at least a viable foundation to develop on that front. To me, Bump is a third-round pick with serious potential to make a difference in the NHL in a few years, but others might be shied away from that range due to his status as a bit of a long-term project.
Connor Kurth, F, Dubuque (USHL): Another college prospect, Kurth is the first overage prospect in this group after being passed over in his first season of eligibility. A large part of this was due to Kurth’s skating and conditioning, both of which probably tanked his stock. With that disappointment, Kurth responded by decimating the USHL the following season.
He doubled his goal scoring from 15 to 35, tied for the team league with fellow prospect Stephen Halliday. While there are still deficiencies in Kurth’s overall game, the fact he was able to work on his weaknesses shows that he has the willingness to develop. That will go nicely at the University of Minnesota, where Kurth has committed to for this upcoming season. Kurth stands out as someone who will be a priority undrafted free agent coming out of college in a few years, but with his production and the University of Minnesota’s track record of churning out talent, I wouldn’t be opposed to spending a late-round pick on him and be able to monitor his development without the risk of competing for him when his time in college is over.
Josh Davies, F, Swift Current (WHL)/Samuel Savoie, F, Gatineau (QMJHL): I decided to group both of these prospects together because they are essentially the same type of player. While both are smaller forwards that don’t provide too much offense, they are players that both coaching staffs and analytics love.
When it comes to both of them, think Brad Marchand without the same level of scoring touch. They are both some of the faster players you’ll find in this class, and both are absolute nightmares to play against. While Savoie is more adept at staying out of the penalty box than Davies is, having players like them who will step up and cause problems for the opponent’s stars are important for any team to have. If they can build off of their attributes, both have futures as bottom-six fixtures. Davies and Savoie aren’t the types of players teams will be looking to lean on offensively, but they’re the players that help those teams win championships, and that’s what important to understand.
Liam Steele, RD, Chilliwack (BCHL): Don’t look now, but Great Britain is starting to come along with their hockey program. While their own league is still coming together, players are starting to emerge as the UK hopes to produce their first full-time NHLer since Owen Nolan retired in 2010. While Arizona’s Liam Kirk has the potential to do that, don’t be surprised if Steele isn’t too far behind.
Captaining Stanstead College in Quebec, Steele was able to produce at a point-per-game pace and show enough skill to not only be tendered to play for the Chilliwack Chiefs this upcoming season, but earn a scholarship to Cornell in 2023. Even more impressive is that Steele has a similar size-speed combination to Warren, with his skating complementing his 6’6″ frame. While he has been shown to dominate lesser competition, this season and his first year at Cornell will be pivotal in his development. I think he has all the tools to be a successful player, and a mid-to-late round pick would make him the low-risk, high-reward gamble that makes a scout look like a genius.
Jake Furlong, LD/RD, Halifax (QMJHL): It’s rare to see someone have the physical transformation that Furlong has had over the past year, growing four inches and gaining almost forty pounds in order to play against bigger forwards. Not only had Furlong been up to that challenge, but he’s been so successful that it should force teams to re-evaluate where his ceiling is.
Furlong has become a proven minute-muncher, often going against quality opposition and being able to stand his ground in his own zone. His hockey IQ and positioning are some of the best in this class, being able to create turnovers and then starting the breakout from the neutral zone or his own end. While he doesn’t have the same offensive capabilities of other defensemen in this class, his production indicates that it can come along. Those skills, along with his versatility to play both sides on defense, should give Furlong a home as a top-four defenseman who can contribute in a variety of situations.
Tyson Jugnauth, LD, West Kelowna (BCHL): Sure, the BCHL isn’t on the same level as the OHL, WHL, or QMJHL. It’s still been a place for talent to develop, as players like Brett Hull, Carey Price, and Scott Gomez have all called the BCHL home at some point. When you take home the award for the league’s best defenseman, that warrants some attention. If you haven’t heard of Jugnauth yet, you will soon enough.
While the consistency still needs to get there, Jugnauth still managed to be second amongst all BCHL defensemen in points with 50. There’s clear skill on the back end here, and Jugnauth’s creativity and vision allow him to drive play from the point. It won’t remind anybody of Erik Karlsson in his prime, but getting a defenseman like Jugnauth who can chip in offensively and be a potential power play quarterback in the middle rounds is a great find. He’s committed to the University of Wisconsin for this upcoming season, so American audiences will get a closer look at what he can bring to the table.
Rastislav Elias, G, Green Bay (USHL): There was once a time when Elias was considered a top goaltending prospect in this year’s class. After a rough maiden season in North America with a poor Green Bay squad, some of that enthusiasm has dampened to the point where Elias may not even be drafted. However, the same goaltender from about a year ago still exists.
While Elias had a rough acclimation to the North American game, it seems he started to pick his game up towards the end. His final five games saw him put up a .914 save percentage, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve. Add a silver medal in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and being named the best goaltender in the tournament should also indicate there’s a solid framework. In a weak goaltender class this season, prospects like Elias may not fall as hard as people think, and I imagine a team still trying to find an option for the future could look at him as a solution. Keep his name in mind as the draft starts winding down.
This could end up creating some serious havoc on draft night, as there are plenty of Russian prospects still in the country that could see their draft stock crater. While Russian-born players playing in North America like Pavel Mintyukov will likely be unaffected, what about others? Danila Yurov, Gleb Trikozov, and Ivan Miroshnichenko would all be likely first-round picks in a normal world. However, the uncertainty and real-world implications could cause these prospects to slip nearly an entire round lower than normal. While teams would be right to be scared away, any team willing to take a chance could end up getting a first-round prospect at a serious discount. There is definite risk attached to everybody, but the rewards have to balance that out at some point.
In hindsight, it was the only move they could have made.
On May 16, the Vegas Golden Knights officially fired head coach Peter DeBoer after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign that saw the NHL’s 31st franchise miss the playoffs for the first time in their history.
While injuries certainly were part of the issue plaguing the team, there were a few reasons that pointed to DeBoer’s downfall. The post-All Star break saw the team struggle and fall from first in the Pacific Division to out of the postseason entirely, including a crucial stretch that saw the team win only once in their final six games. There were also thinly-veiled jabs thrown at starting goaltender Robin Lehner in this stretch, despite Lehner playing injured and even considering season-ending surgery. After the team missed the playoffs, GM Kelly McCrimmon pointed out that management would meet with DeBoer to discuss the future of the team. While details on such a meeting are minimal at the time of this article, DeBoer’s firing is likely an indication that the team sought a new direction.
While the ultimate reason behind DeBoer’s firing is unclear, something that may have played a role in the decision was the glut of candidates that the Knights now have available.
While the Knights will be looking for their third coach in just five seasons, this will be their first real coaching search; the team announced DeBoer’s hiring at the same time as the firing of inaugural coach Gerard Gallant. They will also be competing with the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, and the Winnipeg Jets for their candidates, and that list doesn’t include any other team who may seek a change in direction after a disappointing postseason run. While Vegas faces a serious cap crunch for next season, most of their current core is still locked up for the foreseeable future, so any roster reconfiguration might not damage the chance of a potential Stanley Cup run too badly. This is a team and ownership group that clearly want to win now, which should attract some attention.
In no particular order, these are the six candidates who I would vouch for to take the job:
Barry Trotz, former New York Islanders head coach: Let’s get the obvious name out of the way first, shall we?
Trotz was a name no one was anticipating to lose his job, even after this season ended. The Islanders had injury issues like Vegas did, but also had to contend with a staggering 13-game road trip to start the year while preparing to open the new UBS Arena. Despite all of these issues, the Islanders still finished the season with a top-10 defense, a threshold that the team has crossed in all four years of Trotz’s tenure. This includes a top-ranked defense in the 2018-19 season, which is relevant because of the team’s Jennings Trophy-winning starting goaltender that year: Robin Lehner.
Outside of Lehner potentially vouching for the coach that oversaw his career year, there are other reasons the Knights should be circling Trotz. He has the championship pedigree from winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 which, ironically enough, came against Vegas. He will install a defense-first system that should assist a team like Vegas that doesn’t have a de facto starting goaltender. While he won’t be able to bring top assistant Lane Lambert, who took Trotz’s place as coach of the Islanders, there should be plenty of potential assistant coaches that can help fix what’s been an inconsistent offense and special teams unit.
With how aggressive Vegas has been in the past with their personnel decisions, it would make sense for McCrimmon and owner Bill Foley to send their best possible offer to the top coaching candidate on the market.
Claude Julien, Team Canada and former Boston Bruins head coach: I’m not typically a fan of hiring retreads, but Julien’s mentality and credentials would make him worth a look.
Julien’s NHL career has seen him serve as a head coach to the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, two prestigious franchises in high-profile hockey markets. While his tenure in Montreal was hit-or-miss, his time in Boston was a success. The Bruins made it out of the First Round five of seven times the team made it to the postseason, including being Stanley Cup Champions in 2011 and Eastern Conference Champions in 2013. He would also win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach in the 2008-09 season.
Julien, much like Trotz, would implement a defensive-minded system that has allowed his teams to succeed in both the regular season and the playoffs. More importantly, however, is his current connection to Team Canada. In Canada’s current run at the World Championships, Vegas is represented by Logan Thompson, Nic Roy, and Zach Whitecloud, so they will have experience playing in Julien’s system. If Team Canada is successful and the Vegas contingent enjoy playing under Julien, that could go a long way towards putting him in good position to land the Knights job.
There will be plenty of former NHL head coaches that will be seeking a return behind the bench. If Vegas can’t land Trotz, Julien would be an excellent backup plan.
Jim Montgomery, St. Louis Blues assistant coach: Even among coaches with NHL experience, Montgomery’s addition here may come across as a bit unorthodox.
Since beginning his head coaching career in 2010, Montgomery has had major success at every level he’s been in. He won championships with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010 and 2012, as well as with the University of Denver Pioneers in 2017. That success would see the Dallas Stars select him as their head coach for the 2018-19 season. That year, the Stars would make it to the playoffs with the second-best defense in the league, advancing to the Second Round before being bounced by eventual champion St. Louis in a double-overtime Game 7. Midway through the next season, however, Montgomery was fired for “unprofessional conduct” that was later revealed to be alcohol abuse. Despite being coached in the interim by Rick Bowness, the Stars would once again have the second-best defense in the league and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, indicating that Montgomery’s style of play has a track record of postseason success.
Since then, Montgomery has started to rebuild his reputation with the St. Louis Blues, working under one of the NHL’s best coaches in Craig Berube. While any team that wants Montgomery will have to ensure that his personal demons have been conquered, he also stands as one of the more interesting propositions amongst all of the coaching candidates. Despite his short track record at the NHL level, the results have shown a strong defensive-minded coach who earns the trust of his players. That’s the kind of mentality a team like Vegas could use to push them over the hump.
Montgomery would be a calculated risk, that much is certain. However, he could be the risk that pays huge dividends for the Knights.
Derek Lalonde, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach: Now, we get into the candidates who have never held an NHL head coaching job before. What better way to start than the top lieutenant of the two-time defending champions?
While Lalonde has never been an NHL head coach, he’s had success at nearly every level he’s been a coach in. In previous stops in the USHL and ECHL, he won the award for best coach in both leagues. After a short stint in the AHL, Lalonde was hired by Steve Yzerman to serve as an assistant to Jon Cooper for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning would win the President’s Trophy in his first season under Cooper and, more importantly, would win the Stanley Cup in the next two seasons. It bodes well for Lalonde’s chances to land a spot at the NHL level.
While Detroit would be an obvious landing spot due to his connection with Yzerman, there’s reason for Vegas to throw their hat in the ring. Lalonde’s experience in Tampa gives him experience with superstar-laden teams that are suffering from cap issues, which describes the Knights to a T right now. Bonus points would come if Lalonde could lure a potential assistant in Benoit Groulx, the current head coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse who has overseen the development of many young players on the Lightning right now.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to zig while the rest of the league zags. In a coaching world that favors those with experience, Vegas hiring Lalonde would be a breath of fresh air that the franchise needs right now.
Spencer Carbery, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach: Well, the Knights are built like the NHL equivalent of the Los Angeles Rams. Why not try and find their Sean McVay?
Carbery, who will only be 40 years old by the time next season begins, is already establishing himself as a name on the rise. He hit the ground running with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, building them up in his five years there and winning their coach of the year award in 2014. Even more impressive was his turnaround of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, taking them from one of the league’s bottom-feeders to one of its elite. It culminated in a coach of the year award in 2019 and a first-place finish for Hershey in 2021. This season, Toronto brought him up to breathe life into what was a middling power-play unit, and the results have been superb as Toronto put together the league’s best power play.
That last anecdote should be what draws Vegas’s attention over to Carbery. In DeBoer’s two full seasons as head coach in Vegas, the power play finished bottom-ten on both occasions. It looked far too predictable, the players seemed to lose confidence on the man advantage, and the team would go for long stretches without a power play goal. With the amount of offensive talent this team has, that should be considered unacceptable. Bringing in Carbery, who has experience working on the power play with some of the best offensive players in the league, should certainly see improvement in that area in order to not put so much pressure on defense and goaltending.
We’ve seen before in the sports world that hiring a young coach before his market value hits a premium pays off sometimes. Why shouldn’t Vegas embrace that mentality with Carbery?
Mike Vellucci, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach: Want a veteran coach without wading through the endless supply of retreads? Vellucci is your candidate of choice.
Vellucci served thirteen years as the head coach of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, most notably winning the league championship and Coach of the Year honors in 2007. After a stint as assistant GM in the Carolina Hurricanes organization, he would return behind the bench in 2017 for the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s AHL affiliate. He would eventually win the Calder Cup and the Coach of the Year award in the 2018-19 season against Vegas’s then-affiliate Chicago Wolves. Pittsburgh would call him up to serve on Mike Sullivan’s staff the following season, working with the forwards and penalty kill unit. This season saw a marked improvement on the latter, going from a bottom-five unit in 2020-21 to the third-best penalty kill this year. That kind of turnaround will get noticed by the league, especially with Vegas.
In 2020-21, Vegas had the league’s best penalty kill, but the team saw that statistic drop below the top twenty this year. While injuries to key penalty killers played a role in that drop, Vegas firing DeBoer likely indicates that management doesn’t plan to accept that as an excuse in any facet. Vellucci was also responsible for the development of current Knight Nic Roy, who might be an advocate for his former coach to take the role in Vegas.
Vellucci’s success at the AHL and NHL levels should appeal to plenty of teams who want an outside-of-the-box candidate. He’ll be on Vegas’s radar in some capacity.
The 2022 NFL Draft came to an end yesterday, and all 32 NFL teams came away with a brand-new crop of rookies to develop.
There were many different storylines that came about throughout the draft. The Round 1 run of the top receiver prospects may have forced teams like the Cardinals and Eagles to take a different approach and trade for big-name receivers. The quarterback class this year was severely undervalued, resulting in teams getting great values on potential future starters. The pre-draft process saw talents with raw athleticism once again be drafted higher than they should have been, while more established talents saw their stocks fall. Now, with all 262 picks made official, we can start evaluating the classes each team got.
Let me preface by saying that these early grades are by no means a be-all, end-all for how a team performed over the last few days. The real impact of these classes won’t truly be felt until a few seasons down the line, but that doesn’t make these rankings obsolete. These rankings are based more on how adequately each team filled their own needs, whether the team got the best talent available at the time of their selections, and whether each team’s pick or trade is in-line with their short and long-term plans.
With that said, let’s begin.
1. Baltimore Ravens (A+): Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton (1-14), Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum (1-25), Michigan EDGE David Ojabo (2-45), Connecticut DT Travis Jones (3-76), Minnesota OT Daniel Faalele (4-110), Alabama CB Jalyn Armour-Davis (4-119), Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar (4-128), Penn State P Jordan Stout (4-130), Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely (4-139), Houston CB Damarion Williams (4-141), Missouri RB Tyler Badie (6-196)
By trading an ill-fitting receiver in Hollywood Brown to Arizona, the Ravens were able to come away with two first-round picks. Hamilton is a consistent and versatile playmaker who should only add to arguably the best secondary in football, while Linderbaum has All-Pro potential at the center position. Ojabo’s torn Achilles and rawness as a prospect dropped him down, but reuniting with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and high school teammate Odafe Oweh should make the transition a bit smoother for him when he returns. Jones was a borderline first-round talent in my opinion, and he strikes me as someone who can be the next great Ravens defensive tackle. Day 3 was also great, with the Ravens either landing potential future starters (Faalele and Armour-Davis), tight ends who fit the offense (Kolar and Likely), or depth at important positions (Williams and Badie). The Ravens had a great balance of quantity and quality, and this should be a draft Baltimore fans remember for a long time.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (A+): Georgia DT Jordan Davis (1-13), Nebraska C Cam Jurgens (2-51), Georgia LB Nakobe Dean (3-83), Kansas LB Kyron Johnson (6-181), SMU TE Grant Calcaterra (6-198)
Part of the Eagles’ high grade comes from acquiring and extending WR A.J. Brown, who gives Jalen Hurts a legitimate WR1 to throw to. A three-headed receiving monster of Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert should have fans excited. The picks the Eagles did make were equally as good, starting with Davis. While his tape mostly shows a potentially-elite run stuffer, his athletic profile indicates he can be an every-down defensive mauler. Jurgens was a slight reach, but his favorable comparisons to longtime center Jason Kelce make him a natural choice for the heir apparent. Dean was one of my favorite picks of the draft, getting a first-round value out of a third-round pick. The medical issues are cause for concern, but the Eagles have lacked a playmaker out of the linebacker position for too long to let Dean slide by any more. Johnson should be a reserve linebacker and core special teamer, while Calcaterra will be a good red-zone complement to Goedert. Not only that, but Philadelphia’s undrafted free agent haul came loaded with draft-worthy prospects like Carson Strong, Josh Jobe, and Mario Goodrich. Howie Roseman did a great job this draft, and his performance might have gotten him back in some Eagles fans’ good graces.
3. New York Jets (A): Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (1-4), Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (1-10), Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson II (1-26), Iowa State RB Breece Hall (2-36), Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert (3-101), Louisiana T Max Mitchell (4-111), Texas A&M EDGE Michael Clemons (4-117)
For the first time in what feels like an eternity for Jets fans, they have a draft class worth celebrating. They lucked out by getting both the class’s top corner and receiver in Gardner and Wilson, respectively, then trading back into the first round to select a falling top-15 talent in Johnson. With their three big needs addressed, the team went with a luxury pick next and traded up to land the class’s top running back in Hall. While trading up for a running back seemed like an odd decision, there’s no denying Hall’s explosive playmaking ability and elite athletic profile. Ruckert also seemed odd after the Jets picked up C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency, but he should still be someone worth the development time. Bonus points could be rewarded if offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can turn Ruckert into his new version of Kyle Jusczyzk, as the former has flashed similar ball skills to the league’s premier H-back. Mitchell and Clemons should be solid backups at worst, and viable starting options at best. I’m genuinely intrigued by the vision that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have for this Jets squad; here’s hoping that ownership has the patience to see it through.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (A): Washington CB Trent McDuffie (1-21), Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis (1-30), Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore (2-54), Cincinnati S Bryan Cook (2-62), Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal (3-103), Fayetteville State CB Joshua Williams (4-135), Kentucky OT Darian Kinnard (5-145), Washington State CB Jaylen Watson (7-243), Rutgers RB Isaih Pacheco (7-251), Marshall S Nazeeh Johnson (7-259)
Sensing that they won’t be winning too many shootout-style games against their AFC West rivals, the Chiefs made an effort in this draft to bolster their defense on all levels. McDuffie is on the smaller side, but his production and awareness have always been great. He should be a good replacement for Charvarius Ward, and it helps that the Chiefs have done a great job of unearthing talent in the secondary. I’m not as high on Karlaftis as many other pundits, as his sack production was lacking for a first-round talent. His presence moves Chris Jones back to his natural position on the inside, but I have to wonder if Karlaftis would benefit from a similar move at the next level. Cook and Chenal will both earn key roles as designated run-stoppers early, while Williams and Watson should be versatile reserves for the secondary. Moore will be hard-pressed to replace Tyreek Hill on offense, but his presence means that Patrick Mahomes has another big-play threat the chuck the ball downfield to. Kinnard and Pacheco have the chance to be quality depth pieces on offense, as well. For the Chiefs to retain the AFC West crown, they had to prepare for offenses that got stronger in the offseason; this draft may have helped them accomplish that objective.
5. Seattle Seahawks (A-): Mississippi State OT Charles Cross (1-9), Minnesota EDGE Boye Mafe (2-40), Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III (2-41), Washington State OT Abraham Lucas (3-72), Cincinnati CB Coby Bryant (4-109), UTSA CB Tariq Woolen (5-153), Ohio State EDGE Tyreke Smith (5-158), Rutgers WR Bo Melton (7-229), Lenoir-Rhyne WR Dareke Young (7-233)
Seattle certainly had an idea of what their needs were, as their strategy consisted of doubling up on multiple positions. Cross will be Seattle’s starting left tackle from Day 1, and there’s a chance that the underrated Lucas grabs the other starting spot early. Mafe and Smith should add some explosion and energy to a pass-rushing group that could certainly use it. Walker’s selection was interesting with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny still on the roster, but his versatility and the injury issues of the veterans should allow him to carve out a valuable role quickly. Bryant and Woolen were both highly valuable Day 3 adds, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one of them develop into a starting-caliber player. Melton is a candidate to be Tyler Lockett’s heir apparent, while Young is a worthy flier. The only knock I have here is that Seattle didn’t replace Russell Wilson or Bobby Wagner. Don’t be surprised if the Baker Mayfield chatter ramps up again.
6. New York Giants (A-): Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (1-5), Alabama OT Evan Neal (1-7), Kentucky WR Wan’Dale Robinson (2-43), North Carolina G Joshua Ezeudu (3-67), LSU CB Cordale Flott (3-81), San Diego State TE Daniel Bellinger (4-112), Iowa S Dane Belton (4-114), Indiana LB Micah McFadden (4-146), Arizona State DT D.J. Davidson (5-147), North Carolina G Marcus McKethan (5-173), Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers (6-182)
It’s easy to call the Giants a draft winner based solely off of their Day 1 selections. Thibodeaux has arguably the highest ceiling of any prospect in the class, and should give the Giants their first impact pass-rusher since Jason Pierre-Paul. Neal was widely considered the best offensive tackle in the class, and now he slides back into a right tackle position that he dominated in Tuscaloosa. Don’t be surprised if Neal and Andrew Thomas are among the league’s elite tackle duos in a year or two’s time. Day 2 is where things get dicey, as Robinson, Ezeudu, and Flott were all drafted likely a round higher than expected. However, all three fill needs in the Giants’ roster, so I’m more lenient to give the Daboll-Schoen regime the benefit of the doubt. Besides, their Day 3 selections saw serious values in Bellinger, Belton, McFadden, and Beavers fall their way, so that balances things out a bit. How the Giants did will likely depend on how those Day 2 pick develop, but Thibodeaux and Neal alone should make this a class worth monitoring.
7. Indianapolis Colts (A-): Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce (2-53), Virginia TE Jelani Woods (3-73), Central Michigan OT Bernhard Raimann (3-77), Maryland S Nick Cross (3-96), Missouri State DT Eric Johnson (5-159), Youngstown State TE Andrew Ogletree (6-192), Cincinnati DT Curtis Brooks (6-216), Yale S Rodney Thomas II (7-239)
After the Carson Wentz deal blew up in the Colts’ faces, GM Chris Ballard was going to have to deliver on this draft to make up for losing a first-round pick. I would say he accomplished that goal with his Day 2 picks. Pierce is another big-bodied receiver that the Colts seem to like, while Woods will slide in to recently-retired Jack Doyle’s spot in the lineup. Raimann was borderline first-round value for a third-round pick, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts at left tackle right away. Cross was another great pick who can play alongside free agent pickup Rodney McLeod and the returning Julian Blackmon. Day 3 was more focused on depth, but keep an eye out on Johnson and Brooks, who have the potential to be versatile defensive line pieces. Sometimes, all you can do is make the best out of a bad situation, and Indianapolis did just that.
8. Atlanta Falcons (B+): USC WR Drake London (1-8), Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (2-38), Montana State LB Troy Andersen (2-58), Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (3-74), Western Kentucky EDGE DeAngelo Malone (3-82), BYU RB Tyler Allgeier (5-151), Georgia G Justin Shaffer (6-190), Georgia TE John FitzPatrick (6-213)
I agreed with the Falcons taking a receiver in Round 1, but London’s also the prospect who holds Atlanta out of the A range. He has a high ceiling like the other top receiver prospects, but a lower floor, which is a bit concerning for a team that’s rail-thin at the position. Ebikeite and Andersen are both high-upside prospects who fill holes on defense, while Malone gives the Falcons another chance to get a quality pass-rusher. Ridder drew comparisons to current Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, and now he’ll get the chance to develop under him. His speed and processing ability were both on display throughout the pre-draft process, and giving him a year to learn an NFL offense will benefit him greatly. I’m not sure how I feel about their Day 3 picks, but if Allgeier gets anywhere close to a poor man’s Derrick Henry, that would go a long way towards making this class a success. It’s a class that has potential, but how London and Ridder develop will be paramount to Atlanta’s long-term success.
9. Detroit Lions (B+): Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (1-2), Alabama WR Jameson Williams (1-12), Kentucky EDGE Josh Paschal (2-46), Illinois S Kerby Joseph (3-97), Virginia Tech TE James Mitchell (5-177), Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez (6-188), Jackson State LB James Houston IV (6-217), Arizona State CB Chase Lucas (237)
While there are questions regarding Hutchinson’s ultimate NFL upside, he was still the home run pick for the home-state Lions. With a floor of a double-digit sack artist and a plus run defender, the Lions would be happy to get just that level of production. An odd inter-division trade with Minnesota also gave them a chance to grab Williams, who was my personal favorite receiver in the class. Despite an ACL injury in the National Championship game, Williams has been progressing well enough that he shouldn’t miss too much time, and he’ll add a new field-stretching element to the offense. Paschal and Joseph both have their question marks as prospects, but both are high-upside adds to a defense that needed help virtually everywhere. Mitchell, Rodriguez and Houston should also see time as quality depth pieces, with the latter two also having the athletic profile to emerge as special teams aces. I’m not sure how I feel about them skipping out on quarterbacks, but if they manage to land Bryce Young in 2023? Look out.
10. Arizona Cardinals (B+): Colorado State TE Trey McBride (2-55), San Diego State EDGE Cameron Thomas (3-87), Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders (3-100), USC RB Keaontay Ingram (6-201), Virginia Tech G Lecitus Smith (6-215), Valdosta State CB Christian Matthew (7-244), Penn State LB Jesse Luketa (7-256), Oklahoma G Marquis Hayes (7-257)
The Hollywood Brown trade that cost the Cardinals their first-round pick was a risk, but it does have its upside. Brown now reunites with his college quarterback in Kyler Murray, and he now slides into the Christian Kirk role in Arizona’s offense. McBride was an odd choice with Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams on the roster, but tight ends typically take a year to develop. Expect him to see the field a bit in his rookie year as he learns how to be a quality NFL player. Both third-round edge rushers have their merits. Thomas has the production and physical comparisons to J.J. Watt to get the fans excited, while Sanders will be their first attempt to replace Chandler Jones. Their Day 3 picks were a bit hit-or-miss for me, but Smith and Luketa stand out as strong values. As much as I liked some of these picks, the success of this draft will come down to how Brown does with a change of scenery.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (B+): Houston DT Logan Hall (2-33), Central Michigan G Luke Goedeke (2-57), Arizona State RB Rachaad White (3-91), Washington TE Cade Otton (4-106), Georgia P Jake Camarda (4-133), Sam Houston State CB Zyon McCollum (5-157), Minnesota TE Ko Kieft (6-218), LSU EDGE Andre Anthony (7-248)
The Bucs didn’t have many holes to fill, but they did manage to hit on some needs. Hall was a necessary pick with Ndamukong Suh still unsigned, and his style means he won’t clash with Vita Vea. I’d expect Tampa to use him all around the defensive line to ensure they can keep their best players on the field at all times. Goedeke’s experience as a tackle helped him out in the draft process, but he projects as a guard at the NFL level. With the Bucs having a soft spot for offensive line maulers and needing to fill the void left behind by Ali Marpet, this was a good choice. PPR fantasy league players need to circle White’s name on draft day. He was arguably the best receiver out of all the running backs in the class, and he stands to be the perfect complement to a pure runner in Leonard Fournette. Otton will be a good insurance policy if Gronk doesn’t return, and a good understudy if he does. The Bucs also needed help with punting, but I’m not sure why they went with Camarda over the more-hyped Matt Araiza. McCollum’s athletic profile make him a good small-school flier to take a chance on. The Bucs did a good job of getting the best value for what they had, so props to them.
12. Buffalo Bills (B): Florida CB Kaiir Elam (1-23), Georgia RB James Cook (2-63), Baylor LB Terrel Bernard (3-89), Boise State WR Khalil Shakir (5-148), San Diego State P Matt Araiza (6-180), Villanova CB Christian Benford (6-185), Virginia Tech T Luke Tenuta (6-209), Clemson LB Baylon Spector (7-231)
The Bills needed a corner opposite Tre’Davious White, and they got that in Elam. While the physicality could translate to penalties early in his career, his game should translate relatively well to the NFL. Cook is the pure speed merchant that the running back room in Buffalo lacked. He should be in line to take over third-down back duties and be a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball. Bernard’s size and tackling issues could push him to safety at the NFL level, but that might not be a bad thing with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde approaching the latter phase of their careers. Sean McDermott would be smart to work on the transition now, as Bernard’s instincts could translate well to the new position. Shakir and Araiza were both great values at the points they were drafted, and both should become early fan favorites in Buffalo. Keep an eye on Benford, who has the physical profile necessary to carve out an NFL role. This wasn’t a great draft from the Bills, especially since the interior offensive line is still a bit messy, but they managed to tackle almost every other need adequately.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (B): Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (1-20), Georgia WR George Pickens (2-52), Texas A&M DT DeMarvin Leal (3-84), Memphis WR Calvin Austin III (4-138), Michigan State FB/TE Connor Heyward (6-208), Ole Miss LB Mark Robinson (7-225), South Dakota State QB Chris Oladokun (7-241)
This class screams boom-or-bust to me. Pickett was a big riser up draft boards with his Heisman-winning season, but his hand size and less-than-ideal field processing makes him a difficult projection. There’s clear talent here, but there’s also serious bust potential. Pickens has flashed talent at Georgia, but medical issues and off-the-field red flags risked knocking him down lower. At best, he’s Pittsburgh’s new Antonio Brown; at worst, he’s Pittsburgh’s new Antonio Brown. Leal was a consensus first-round pick at the start of last season, but his tweener physical profile and rough final season knocked him down. The third round was a nice spot for him, but I don’t know where he stands at the next level. Austin has impressive deep speed, but I wonder if anyone in Pittsburgh’s QB room has the necessary arm strength to capitalize on that. Expect him to be a gadget player to start his career. Picks like Heyward and Oladokun were decent, but I wonder if there were other needs the Steelers could have tackled. I put the Steelers this high because there’s a good chance these risks pay off; I can’t put them any higher because there’s serious cause for concern here.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (B): Michigan S Daxton Hill (1-31), Nebraska CB Cam Taylor-Britt (2-60), Florida DT Zachary Carter (3-95), North Dakota State OT/G Cordell Volson (4-136), Toledo S Tycen Anderson (5-166), Coastal Carolina EDGE Jeffrey Gunter (7-252)
With the long-term future of the Bengals secondary up in the air, GM Duke Tobin decided to focus his draft capital there. Hill was a good safety/slot corner hybrid for Michigan, and he should see some time in Cincinnati’s secondary early. He’s the insurance policy if Jessie Bates leaves after this season. Taylor-Britt should replace Eli Apple in the starting lineup fairly quickly, and his upward trajectory at Nebraska should have fans excited. After that, there were a couple of reaches. Carter and Volson could both be alright prospects, but they were both drafted a round early and over better prospects at their positions. Anderson and Gunter were both good picks, though, and both should be rotational pieces on defense. It was a mixed bag for the Bengals, but Hill and Taylor-Britt should both be solid players coming from this class.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (B): Boston College G Zion Johnson (1-17), Baylor S JT Woods (3-79), Texas A&M Isaiah Spiller (4-123), UCLA DT Otito Ogbonnia (5-160), Georgia OT/G Jamaree Salyer (6-195), Wake Forest CB Ja’Sir Taylor (6-214), Ole Miss CB Deane Leonard (7-236), Purdue FB Zander Horvath (7-260)
After aggressively working to fix their defense in free agency, the Chargers continued their offensive line rebuild with the Johnson pick. Johnson tore up the Senior Bowl, showcasing his positional versatility and ability in run and pass protection. There may have been greater needs to fill in Round 3, but Woods gives Brandon Staley the ability to be more versatile with his schemes. Expect Woods to play the center-field safety role to better showcase his ball-hawking skills. Spiller was a good value in the fourth round, and he should be exactly what the Chargers are looking for in a running mate to Austin Ekeler. Ogbonnia adds another body to the defensive line, and the hope is that he can showcase his value in run defense to start his career. Salyer was a sixth-round steal who could either slide in at guard or right tackle for the Chargers in a year or two. Taylor will likely be in line for special teams duties, while Horvath serves as a sixth or seventh offensive lineman and short-yardage hammer. There are still a few questions that remain, but it’s hard to say the Chargers missed with any of these selection.
16. Denver Broncos (B): Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto (2-64), UCLA TE Greg Dulcich (3-80), Pittsburgh CB Damarri Mathis (4-115), Iowa State DT Eyioma Uwazurike (4-116), Oklahoma S Delarrin Turner-Yell (5-152), Samford WR Montrell Washington (5-162), Washington C Luke Wattenberg (5-171), Wisconsin DT Matt Henningsen (6-206), Wisconsin CB Faion Hicks (7-232)
With the Russell Wilson trade taking their top two picks this year, the Broncos had to wait until the end of the second to make their first decision. Ironically, the pick they got in the Von Miller trade went to get his replacement in Bonitto. Bonitto is an effective speed rusher who landed in one of the best-fitting places he could have landed, so that should get Denver fans excited. Dulcich replaces Noah Fant, who went in the Russell Wilson trade to Seattle. He should compete with Albert Okwuegbunam for snaps, or the Broncos could decide to opt for two-TE sets to get both in there. Mathis adds depth to a cornerback room that needed it, and his great final season for Pittsburgh should open some eyes to what his potential is. Uwazurike and Henningsen could both move all across the defensive line, giving Denver some versatility in the trenches. Wattenberg is a nice insurance policy if Lloyd Cushenberry doesn’t develop and Quinn Meinerz works better at guard. Denver needed to fill a few holes to prepare for a potential run, and I think they did alright with what they had.
17. Minnesota Vikings (B-): Georgia S Lewis Cine (1-32), Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. (2-42), LSU G Ed Ingram (2-59), Oklahoma LB Brian Asamoah II (3-66), Missouri CB Akayleb Evans (4-118), Minnesota EDGE Esezi Otomewo (5-165), North Carolina RB Ty Chandler (5-169), Illinois OT Vederian Lowe (6-184), Michigan State WR Jalen Nailor (6-191), South Carolina TE Nick Muse (7-227)
The trades that the Vikings made to give division rivals in Detroit and Green Bay quality prospects were a bit confusing, but they did make the most of the picks they got. Cine got great production on a Georgia defense loaded with NFL-caliber players, and he’s arguably the best athlete at the position in this class. He’ll be a strong playmaking complement to Harrison Smith. The Vikings traded up to end the fall of Andrew Booth Jr., who was a first-round value in my opinion. Medical concerns knocked him to the second round, but Minnesota may have gotten another starter. Ingram’s off-field concerns are extremely valid, but he’s been relatively clean now for a few years. He’ll be perfect to open up running lanes for Dalvin Cook. Asamoah is a nice off-ball complement to Eric Kendricks, but I think I would have liked to see them take Nakobe Dean here. Doubling down at corner with Evans was a good idea, as it gives the Vikings depth at a position where they desperately need it. Chandler and Nailor are both speedsters at skill positions. Otomewo was an odd choice since he isn’t a great fit for the Vikings’ new defense, so he’ll have to transition to five-technique to stick. The Vikings came out of the draft with a few really good players, but they will mostly be remembered by the trades if Jameson Williams or Christian Watson pan out.
18. Tennessee Titans (B-): Arkansas WR Treylon Burks (1-18), Auburn CB Roger McCreary (2-35), Ohio State OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (3-69), Liberty QB Malik Willis (3-86), Michigan RB Hassan Haskins (4-131), Maryland TE Chigoziem Okonkwo (4-143), UCLA WR Kyle Philips (5-163), Tennessee CB Theo Jackson (6-204), Ole Miss LB Chance Campbell (6-219)
This draft for the Titans will hinge on the decision to trade AJ Brown to the Eagles and draft his replacement in Burks. Burks did draw comparisons to Brown, but there is work that has to be done in order to reach those levels. McCreary’s lack of length was the only reason he fell out of the first round. He has the speed and awareness to match up with receivers, but will he be forced into the slot due to his small arms? Petit-Frere is a good prospect who struggled against the Big 10’s elite pass-rushers, so there’s clearly room to grow. He’ll be a swing tackle that the Titans hope they can develop into Taylor Lewan’s successor. Willis in the third round was a steal. He can provide a whole different dimension to the Tennessee offense that Ryan Tannehill can’t, which could put him in the lineup in certain situations. Haskins is another power back who can spell Derrick Henry so they don’t tire out their All-Pro back too quickly. Okonkwo opened up some eyes with his athletic profile, and he’ll provide a field-stretching element to the offense opposite Austin Hooper. Philips is a candidate for slot receiver and kick return duties, while Campbell is an athletic linebacker who should be an effective special teams gunner. It’s a similar situation with the Vikings; good decisions all around, but the trades will be what defines this class.
19. Green Bay Packers (B-): Georgia LB Quay Walker (1-22), Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt (1-28), North Dakota State WR Christian Watson (2-34), UCLA OT/G Sean Rhyan (3-92), Nevada WR Romeo Doubs (4-132), Wake Forest C/OT Zach Tom (4-140), South Carolina EDGE Kingsley Enagbare (6-179), Georgia Tech S Tariq Carpenter (7-228), Miami (FL) DT Jonathan Ford (7-234), Penn State OT Rasheed Walker (7-249), Nebraska WR Samori Toure (7-258)
The Packers started the draft with a head-scratcher pick in Walker. While there was a need for a playmaking complement to De’Vondre Campbell, but I would have preferred to see them land Devin Lloyd. There were some off-field concerns for Wyatt that popped up late in the pre-draft process, but he’s the more versatile version of fellow Bulldog Jordan Davis. This may be a sign that the Packers are preparing for life without Kenny Clark, which could be a reality soon due to the cap situation in Green Bay. The Packers traded up to land Watson in the second, who’s an exciting player to monitor. While Watson has all of the intangibles to be a great receiver, is he ready to be the top receiver right out of the gate? Rhyan and Tom are both versatile offensive linemen who can play tackle if needed, but will likely be on the interior at the NFL level. Doubs and Toure add more bodies to a receiver room that desperately needed them. Enagbare and Walker were both steals, and I can see them both turning into key reserves as soon as this season. While the Packers had a fine draft, there are a lot of question marks that need to be answered sooner rather than later.
20. Cleveland Browns (B-): Mississippi State CB Martin Emerson (3-68), UAB EDGE Alex Wright (3-78), Purdue WR David Bell (3-99), Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey (4-108), LSU K Cade York (4-124), Cincinnati RB Jerome Ford (5-156), Oklahoma WR Michael Woods II (6-202), Oklahoma EDGE Isaiah Thomas (7-223), Texas Tech C Dawson Deaton (7-246)
The Browns sacrificed a lot of premium draft capital to land Deshaun Watson, which is a decision that will undoubtedly determine the franchise’s foreseeable future. Emerson’s ball skills are a work in progress, but he’s a good developmental option to take in the third round. The decision to trade Troy Hill indicates that they think highly enough of Emerson that they can build him up into a starting-caliber player. Don’t let Wright’s lack of premier competition fool you; he’s a legitimate combination of size and strength that can dominate opposing offensive linemen. Within a couple of years, he can emerge as a solid complement to Myles Garrett. Bell isn’t the most dynamic receiver, but the current group in Cleveland is already loaded with speed, so he doesn’t have to be. I liked both Oklahoma defensive linemen (Winfrey and Thomas) and thought both could have been drafted a round or two higher than they were. Ford seemed like an odd choice to add to a loaded backfield, and York’s selection isn’t helped with Cleveland’s poor track record of kickers they drafted. No prospect Cleveland drafted is likely going to develop into a superstar, but there’s a fair enough number of contributors here to warrant keeping them above C level.
21. Carolina Panthers (C+): North Carolina State OT Ikem Ekwonu (1-6), Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (3-94), Penn State LB Brandon Smith (4-120), Virginia Tech EDGE Amare Barno (6-189), Tennessee G Cade Mays (6-199), Baylor CB Kalon Barnes (7-242)
Outside of Ekwonu, who should be an instant starter at left tackle, much of Carolina’s draft is based around projection. Corral has an incredibly high ceiling to me, but an RPO-heavy scheme at Ole Miss and inconsistency make him a difficult prospect to gauge. He reminds me of a more accurate Josh Allen; the arm and mobility are all there, but it’s a matter of giving him time to read NFL defenses. Smith and Barno both have the athletic profiles that teams covet, but can defensive coordinator Phil Snow put them in the right spots to optimize them? Mays should be a decent offensive line reserve, while Barnes’s blazing speed should put him in line for return duties. The Panthers don’t get a B because the floor is as low as the ceiling is high, which isn’t exactly going to make Matt Rhule any more comfortable.
22. Dallas Cowboys (C+): Tulsa OT Tyler Smith (1-24), Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams (2-56), South Alabama WR Jalen Tolbert (3-88), Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson (4-129), North Dakota OT Matt Waletzko (5-155), Fresno State CB DaRon Bland (5-167), LSU LB Damone Clark (5-176), Arkansas DT John Ridgeway (5-178), Oklahoma State LB Devin Harper (6-193)
Part of the Cowboys’ grade comes from the fact that I liked their later picks more than their early ones. Smith was one of my least favorite picks in the first round, as he’s someone who faces a steep learning curve as an NFL tackle and could be better off transitioning to guard in the long run. The run-blocking ability is there and the youth is promising, but his technique isn’t first-round material. Williams has off-field issues, but the player he’s replacing in Randy Gregory was the same way. He put together his best season last year, but he’ll need to establish consistency quickly. Tolbert has the speed and ball skills necessary to be a good deep threat in the NFL. If Kellen Moore can help him with the nuances of the position, that could go a long way. Ferguson should serve as a nice in-line blocker complement to Dalton Schultz. Waletzko was a good choice for a developmental swing tackle. If he gets stronger, there’s a chance that the Cowboys have found their right tackle of the future. Clark won’t play in 2022 due to spinal fusion surgery, but he was a good choice in the fifth round. Bland, Ridgeway, and Harper are all quality depth pieces for the defense. Day 3 may have been the saving grace for the Cowboys, as I was not blown away with the rest of their draft at all.
23. Houston Texans (C+): LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (1-3), Texas A&M G Kenyon Green (1-15), Baylor S Jalen Pitre (2-37), Alabama WR John Metchie III (2-44), Alabama LB Christian Harris (3-75), Florida RB Dameon Pierce (4-107), Stanford DT Thomas Booker (5-150), Oregon State TE Teagan Quitoriano (5-170) LSU OT Austin Deculus (6-205)
As great as Stingley’s 2019 season was, he never got the chance to build off of it and now has some injury risks. It’s a great pick if it pays off, but it’s a huge gamble for a top-5 pick on a roster that needs almost everything. Green isn’t a bad prospect, but I preferred Tyler Linderbaum and Zion Johnson over him at this point. While Green has the ability to play tackle, he’ll almost certainly stay at guard in the NFL. Pitre was my favorite pick they made, as he’s a hybrid defender that NFL defensive coordinators love. He should instantly make the Texans more stout against the run, and his positional versatility is going to get him playing time right away. Metchie and Harris were both big risks to trade up for, whether due to injury concerns (Metchie) or rawness as a prospect (Harris). How the Texans develop both of them could determine how successful this draft was. Fantasy players should get to know Pierce. He was arguably the best running back at the Senior Bowl, and now finds himself in a backfield with little long-term competition. Booker will be a fine defensive line chess piece, while Quitoriano should serve as a sixth offensive lineman. Given how I was a fan of only one of the Texans’ first five picks, a low grade has to be given out.
24. Chicago Bears (C): Washington CB Kyler Gordon (2-39), Penn State S Jaquan Brisker (2-48), Tennessee WR Velus Jones Jr. (3-71), Southern Utah OT Braxton Jones (5-168), Miami (OH) EDGE Dominique Robinson (5-174), San Diego State OT Zachary Thomas (6-186), Baylor RB Trestan Ebner (6-203), Illinois C Doug Kramer (6-207), Southern G Ja’Tyre Carter (7-226), California S Elijah Hicks (7-254), North Carolina State P Trenton Gill (7-255)
The Bears draft confuses me. I want to like the selections of Gordon and Brisker, but they couldn’t have gone towards a receiver or offensive lineman to help Justin Fields? The secondary’s shored up for now, but at what cost? With all due respect to the player, I hate the Velus Jones selection. I know that he has amazing speed, but why are you drafting an older version of Darnell Mooney with better prospects still on the board? Braxton Jones, Thomas, Kramer, and Carter are all good developmental offensive linemen, so there’s that. I want to like this draft and the players they got early, but does it really help your franchise quarterback? I don’t know.
25. Los Angeles Rams (C): Wisconsin OT/G Logan Bruss (3-104), South Carolina State CB Decobie Durant (4-142), Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams (5-164), UCLA S Quentin Lake (6-211), Georgia CB Derion Kendrick (6-212), Montana State EDGE Daniel Hardy (6-235), Kansas State S Russ Yeast (7-253), Michigan State OT AJ Arcuri (7-261)
When this is your GM’s mentality towards premium draft capital, you can’t expect your team to do too much when the draft comes around. They tabbed another Wisconsin offensive lineman in Bruss to compete for the spot left by Austin Corbett. Durant should take Darious William’s slot corner role shortly, but it will be a steep learning curve for him. Williams has serious ball security issues, but he has the ceiling of a poor man’s Austin Ekeler. That’s good value for a fifth-round spot. Ditto for Kendrick in the sixth, who has cover skills but not the top-end speed you’d like to see in a cornerback. The Rams also like small-school edge rushers with good athleticism, so Hardy’s a good fit for them. Again, none of these picks will jump off the page, but winning the Super Bowl makes the lack of premium picks much easier to stomach.
26. Miami Dolphins (C): Georgia LB Channing Tindall (3-102), Texas Tech WR Erik Ezukanma (4-125), California LB Cameron Goode (7-224), Kansas State QB Skylar Thompson (7-247)
Tyreek Hill and trades from last season left the Dolphins without a pick in the top 100, so they would be hard-pressed to do anything notable. Tindall has sideline-to-sideline speed that will make him valuable. Expect him to show up on blitz packages as a rookie to play to his strengths. Ezukanma doesn’t have great speed or agility, but he brings size to a receiver room that lost a big target in DeVante Parker. Goode and Thompson are pure depth selections, nothing more. Tough to do much with just four picks.
27. Las Vegas Raiders (C): Memphis G Dylan Parham (3-90), Georgia RB Zamir White (4-122), LSU DT Neil Farrell Jr. (4-126), Tennessee DT Matthew Butler (5-175), Ohio State G Thayer Munford (7-238), UCLA RB Brittain Brown (7-250)
This may be a little harsh of a grade given that their first two picks landed them Davante Adams, but I can’t help but feel the Raiders left talent on the board. Parham has the athleticism that the Raiders love, but he’ll need to get stronger to win consistently against NFL defensive tackles. White’s a good power back who should fill either Josh Jacobs or Kenyan Drake’s roles next season, but I like Isaiah Spiller (who went to the Chargers with the very next pick) more as a prospect. I like both defensive tackles; Farrell is a pure nose tackle, while Butler should do well as a three-technique. Munford and Brown felt like redundant selections. Adams will make this class better than it probably is, so the good news is these rookies won’t have to do too much too early.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (C-): Georgia EDGE Travon Walker (1-1), Utah LB Devin Lloyd (1-27), Kentucky C Luke Fortner (3-65), Wyoming LB Chad Muma (3-70), Ole Miss RB Snoop Conner (5-154), Ouachita Baptist CB Gregory Junior (6-197), Arkansas CB Montaric Brown (7-222)
Trent Baalke has gone all in on Walker, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Walker’s athletic profile is insane, but his production is terrifyingly low for a first overall pick. Both linebackers in Lloyd and Muma were good choices. Both should be incredibly versatile additions to the Jaguars defense, as they have shown up well against the run and the pass. Fortner was a necessary pick after the retirement of Brandon Linder. I don’t know if he’s ready to be a starter right away, but it was a big need to fill. There were better running backs than Conner available in the fifth round. Congratulations to Junior on being the first-ever prospect from Ouachita Baptist to be drafted, and his size and agility made him worth a Day 3 pick. This is a draft that will be defined by Walker’s career; if he busts out, Baalke is all but gone.
29. New Orleans Saints (C-): Ohio State WR Chris Olave (1-11), Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning (1-19), Tennessee CB Alontae Taylor (2-49), Appalachian State LB D’Marco Jackson (5-161), Air Force DT Jordan Jackson (6-194)
Sacrificing more draft capital to go after Olave over a quarterback is a bit odd, but the Saints must have known a receiver run was coming. It shows confidence in Jameis Winston returning to form, and Olave’s fit in the New Orleans offense is as good as any prospect-team combination. Penning will fill in for Terron Armstead at left tackle, which is a bit of a concern. Penning’s a great athlete, but he needs to improve his pass protection and cut down on the penalties. Put Taylor in as one of my least favorite selections of the draft. His size-speed combination is tantalizing, but there are too many technical issues to warrant a top-50 selection. Both of the Jacksons, especially D’Marco, should be fine rotational pieces. The Saints need to invest in younger talent eventually, and the lack of quantity in this class can’t be a common occurrence in the future.
30. San Francisco 49ers (D+): USC EDGE Drake Jackson (2-61), LSU RB Tyrion Davis-Price (3-93), SMU WR Danny Gray (3-105), UTSA OT Spencer Burford (4-134), Toledo CB Samuel Womack (5-172), Fordham OT Nick Zakelj (6-187), UCF DT Kalia Davis (6-220), Penn State CB Tariq Castro-Fields (6-221), Iowa State QB Brock Purdy (7-262)
First things first, they still have a quarterback controversy between Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, so that’s not good. Jackson was a really nice pickup in the second round, and I can see him as a rotational piece in his rookie year before locking down a starting role opposite Nick Bosa next year. Davis-Price and Gray were not good selections, and they would have been available at least two rounds later. Burford and Zakelj will likely compete for the swing tackle role, with the loser likely going to have to kick inside to guard. Womack is a good sleeper candidate, and he could do really well in a slot corner role. Castro-Fields has good speed and cover ability, so watch him as well. Adding Purdy as this year’s Mr. Irrelevant was more funny than anything, given the 49ers current quarterback situation. Hard to think that the 49ers got great value out of anyone, and they need Jackson and one of their other selections to pan out to make this a success.
31. Washington Commanders (D): Penn State WR Jahan Dotson (1-16), Alabama DT Phidarian Mathis (2-47), Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr. (3-98), Louisiana S Percy Butler (4-113), North Carolina QB Sam Howell (5-144), Nevada TE Cole Turner (5-149), Tulsa G Chris Paul (7-230), Oklahoma State CB Christian Holmes (7-240)
What was odder about the Dotson pick than reaching for a receiver was that they traded their original pick to a receiver-needy team in New Orleans. I understand Washington’s rebuilding and the extra picks can help, but the difference between Chris Olave and Dotson is probably more significant. Mathis and Robinson should both be good contributors, but I can’t help but feel they were drafted a round early and over prospects with higher ceilings at their positions. Howell is amazing value in the fifth round, as he reunites with former North Carolina receiver Dyami Brown and as a whole slew of deep threats to throw lasers to. Don’t be surprised if he competes against Carson Wentz if the veteran struggles again. Butler is a good choice for safety depth, Turner should get a chance to compete for snaps, and Paul should fill in nicely as a swing guard. Howell could easily turn this draft into a positive for the Commanders, but the early reaches sank this grade.
32. New England Patriots (D-): Chattanooga G Cole Strange (1-29), Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton (2-50), Houston CB Marcus Jones (3-85), Arizona State CB Jack Jones (4-121), South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127), Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe (4-137), South Carolina RB Kevin Harris (6-183), Northwest Missouri State DT Sam Roberts (6-200), LSU G Chasen Hines (6-210), Michigan OT Andrew Stueber (7-245)
If New England was run by any other coach or executive, there would have been calls for his firing by now. Strange and Thornton were far away the two biggest reaches in the draft. Both prospects would likely have been on the board for them two or three rounds later, so using premium picks for either was bizarre. I like both Marcus and Jack Jones, but both fulfill the same exact archetype. Ditto for Strong and Harris. Zappe is a nice backup option and the rest of their picks seem like good depth, but it’s all been too confusing. Belichick has to have a plan for all of this…right?
Welcome back to the NHL Power Rankings, and the postseason race is officially on.
While the midseason mark has already passed, the All-Star Game is significant for being the true starting point of the playoff push. It gives teams an opportunity to look at where they are in the standings, figure out what they can expect going forward, and plan to either increase their odds in the postseason or start looking towards the future. While the Eastern Conference’s playoff field is realistically determined in every manner except seeding, the Western Conference looks to be coming down to the wire. By the time the March 21 trade deadline rolls around, we will have a clear picture of where every team sees themselves.
As a matter of fact, the first big domino on the trade market has fallen earlier today. New Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes has wasted no time in beginning the fire sale that everyone was expecting. Tyler Toffoli, one of the key contributors of Montreal’s surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, has officially been shipped off to the Calgary Flames in exchange for first and fifth-round draft picks, prospect Emil Heineman, and a bottom-six forward in Tyler Pitlick. It’s a fair trade on both sides, in my opinion; Montreal officially gets their rebuild underway, while Calgary reunites Toffoli with coach Darryl Sutter, both of whom were on the Los Angeles Kings’ 2013-14 Stanley Cup-winning squad. It’s officially time for the trade rumor mills to spin out of control, and I’m excited to see what deals come out of the woodwork this time.
For now, however, where does the NHL stack up this week?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since February 13.
1. Colorado Avalanche (1): Want to know how dominant the Avalanche have been this season? After losing six of their first ten games, Colorado has lost that same number in the next 36 games. Losing in the Second Round again will NOT cut it this time.
2. Florida Panthers (2): The Panthers have been linked to premier trade chip Jakob Chychrun, which would certainly bolster their chances at making it out of the Eastern Conference in the postseason. Can they avoid giving up Anton Lundell in the process, however?
3. Minnesota Wild (4): Defeating Carolina this weekend felt like a statement win for the Wild, who are firing on all cylinders. The ‘dark horse’ label I’ve given the Wild before might not be entirely accurate; they’re looking more like a legitimate Cup contender with each passing week.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (5): Losing to the Avalanche in a tightly-contested game doesn’t hurt too badly, which is why the Lightning rise in the rankings this week. After last season, it feels difficult to doubt this team’s ability to threepeat.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (3): Four games in five days didn’t help the Hurricanes, as a 6-0 blasting of Boston was the only real dominant effort this week. Expect them to get better, and possibly take a closer look at the John Klingberg rumors floating around.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (7): “When will the Penguins go away?”, cries every exacerbated hockey fan out there. It feels like every time pundits expect this team to start declining, they somehow continue to perform at a higher level.
7. Calgary Flames (13): The Flames are riding a six-game winning streak, look to usurp Vegas atop the Pacific Division, and the Toffoli trade gives them much-needed offensive depth. That said, this has to be the year this core proves it can handle the rigors of the postseason.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs (6): Jack Campbell is starting to fall back down to Earth, and the Leafs are starting to fall behind their Florida counterparts in the Atlantic Division. For a long-suffering fanbase desperate for postseason success, that’s a massive cause for concern.
9. New York Rangers (9): This is a core that should compete with the big dogs in the East, but the depth is concerning. Expect the Rangers to be major players for any middle-six forward that comes up in the rumor mill.
10. Vegas Golden Knights (8): Mark Stone taking Jack Eichel’s place on LTIR all but guarantees the Knights will go the Lightning route in the playoffs and not trade anybody, which is great for them. If Robin Lehner can’t find his form consistently, though, it may not matter in the end.
11. Boston Bruins (10): Tuukka Rask’s hip injuries proved to be too severe to overcome, and Brad Marchand’s six-game suspension will highlight the depth issues continuing to plague Boston. Expect any and all future assets to be on the table in order to make good on a potential final Cup run with this core.
12. St. Louis Blues (12): The longer Jordan Binnington’s struggles continue to coincide with Ville Husso’s phenomenal play, the louder the goalie controversy in St. Louis will get. Is there a chance Husso gets the nod over Binnington in the playoffs if the issues go that far?
13. Nashville Predators (11): Losses to divisional rivals in Dallas and Winnipeg highlight the poor discipline the Predators have shown as of late. If they want to emerge as a true sleeper team in the postseason, that’s an issue that needs to get fixed quickly.
14. Washington Capitals (14): The Capitals tried to coax Marc-Andre Fleury to fix their goaltending, but it seems that the former Pittsburgh goalie has no interest in joining his former team’s rival. It’s looking more and more like Washington’s ceiling is a first-round exit.
15. Dallas Stars (16): John Klingberg trade rumors will haunt the team for the next month, but the Stars have started to find a groove. As young players like Jason Robertson continue to impress, Dallas will only see their chances to make the postseason grow.
16. Los Angeles Kings (18): The fact that the Kings are deep in the playoff hunt at this point makes this season a success for their rebuild. The only question is if they can push for more.
17. Edmonton Oilers (17): A rough stretch saw the end of Dave Tippett’s run in Edmonton, and it’s fair to assume that it will take a miracle second half for Ken Holland to not follow him out the door. Get those McDavid trade rumors firing up again.
18. Anaheim Ducks (15): I’m not sure if Anaheim has the horses to get into the playoffs, but their rebuild is starting to trend in the right direction. Trevor Zegras was robbed of the Breakaway Challenge victory, and I will NOT be told otherwise.
19. Vancouver Canucks (20): J.T. Miller’s continued to be a huge part of the Canucks, but it seems that the rest of the team’s struggles are too much to overcome. Could he be available if a contender is willing to pay?
20. Winnipeg Jets (21): Blake Wheeler’s five-point game against the Predators has to be an exciting prospect for the Jets. If they want to make a run to the postseason, Winnipeg will have to hope their captain can use that to build some much-needed momentum.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (25): The Eastern Conference’s postseason spots are likely locked up, so Columbus doesn’t have too much to play for right now. Seeing what Patrik Laine is capable of offensively, however, has to be a positive sign for the future.
22. Detroit Red Wings (23): Beating Philadelphia twice isn’t terribly impressive, but it’s still a positive sign for Detroit to beat the teams it should beat. Moritz Seider is slowly looking like he’ll be a star on the back end for a long time.
23. San Jose Sharks (22): Six of the next seven Sharks games will be in San Jose, so this feels like their last chance to start a run to the postseason. If they falter here, Tomas Hertl would be wise to pack his bags.
24. New York Islanders (19): Defensive problems on top of a continually-disappointing offense is a death knell to the Islanders. This is the most disappointing team in the NHL this season, and it doesn’t feel too close.
25. Ottawa Senators (27): The Senators shined in a five-game week, and the tandem of Matt Murray and Anton Forsberg have looked really good as of late. For a team that needs to look to the future, this has to be a positive sign.
26. Seattle Kraken (26): Expect the Kraken to be looked at for a few pieces at the deadline, most notably Mark Giordano and Calle Jarnkrok. Both players could give Seattle some pieces to work with for the future.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (24): A terrible season on and off the ice, and another poor stretch of play all but eliminates Chicago from playoff contention. An offseason of serious and necessary introspection awaits.
28. Buffalo Sabres (28): A four-goal game for Jeff Skinner has pushed him past the 20-goal mark for the first time since his 40-goal season three years ago. Buffalo would have liked to see this production with a certain star center still on the team, but better late than never.
29. New Jersey Devils (29): Two straight seven-goal games for the Devils had to be a pleasant surprise. With the struggles in net, however, this offensive explosion came just too late.
30. Philadelphia Flyers (30): Claude Giroux is all but gone, virtually every major player for the Flyers has struggled, and they’re locked in to some bad-looking contracts. Expecting this to be a quick turnaround is foolish optimism, at best.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The Arizona State Coyotes are a real thing now? Do I have to make another Nerd Rage segment for this team?
32. Montreal Canadiens (32): Good luck, Martin St. Louis. That is all.
It’s been a little while, but the NHL Power Rankings are back in full swing.
First of all, I would like to apologize for the brief hiatus from the blog. I have been insanely busy with real-life obligations for the last couple of weeks, and it required me to put this on the backburner for a minute to handle it. I have also had time to conceptualize a new project for this blog, and more information of that will be coming up shortly, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, the past couple of weeks have seen the NHL landscape start to even out a bit. We’re starting to determine where teams truly stand, and that could mean big things for the trade deadline in March. Rumors are beginning to swirl around several big-time players, and teams like Washington, Boston, and Edmonton are emerging as aggressive buyer candidates going forward. While the Stanley Cup can’t be won off the back of a strong first half, it does make some serious inferences on who should be taken seriously as legitimate contenders?
So how does the NHL stack up this week?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since January 30.
1. Colorado Avalanche (2): There’s a long list of reasons to watch the best team in the NHL right now, but the top of the list has to be watching Cale Makar. Makar is pushing the forty-goal mark, which would be the first time a defenseman has hit that number in over 35 years (Paul Coffey).
2. Florida Panthers (1): Jonathan Huberdeau was once the best player no one’s ever heard of; now he has a real chance to win the Hart Trophy this season. His 62 points are leading the NHL, and he has become the driving force behind the hottest offense in the league at this time.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (3): I had serious doubts when Carolina shifted away from their goaltending duo last season in favor of Frederik Andersen. He has rewarded the Hurricanes with a Vezina-caliber year.
4. Minnesota Wild (12): It’s amazing how the addition of a single player can shift a team from the middle of the pack to among the league’s elite so quickly. Kirill Kaprizov and crew could use a center at the deadline, but the results have this team looking like a dark horse to finally bring the Stanley Cup to the state of hockey.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (5): Everything is still the same: the elite players are rolling, depth contributions have been up, and Andrei Vasilevskiy still looks like the best goaltender on Earth. It’s odd, however, to think that their biggest competition for their third straight Stanley Cup may be in their own home state.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (7): Do you think the Coyotes are kicking themselves for letting Michael Bunting head north of the border? He’s been one of the quality depth forwards that Toronto has been coveting for years.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (4): The Penguins didn’t look as strong this past week, and players like Evan Rodrigues have started to slow down a bit after a torrid start. We’ve seen good teams break out of slumps like this before, though, so there’s nothing to be concerned about long-term.
8. Vegas Golden Knights (8): 2022 hasn’t been kind to the Knights so far, but a 2-1-1 record on a difficult East Coast road trip could be the start of things turning around for them. The fact this team still looks like the best team in the Pacific despite the serious injuries is a scary thought for the postseason.
9. New York Rangers (9): The analytics haven’t always been favorable towards the Rangers, and they’ve been bailed out far too many times by Igor Shesterkin. This is a good young team, but there are serious flaws that have to be addressed in the next month or so.
10. Boston Bruins (13): Tuukka Rask has been extremely up-and-down since returning to the Bruins, but that was to be expected with such a long layoff. With an aging core and Patrice Bergeron possibly leaving in the offseason, could they go after a player like Claude Giroux to make one more serious Cup run?
11. Nashville Predators (6): Once again, the Predators seem to have the on-ice results to keep holding off a rebuild. Will they be willing to extend Filip Forsberg past this season?
12. St. Louis Blues (11): We may be in the midst of a full-blown goalie controversy in St. Louis. Jordan Binnington’s mediocre season has opened the door for Ville Husso, and the young backup has been more than good enough to earn more opportunities.
13. Calgary Flames (17): Calgary put together the most dominant performance of the season against Columbus, putting up 62 shots in a 6-0 victory. With games in hand of Pacific Division-leading Vegas, that could be a race to monitor as the season progresses.
14. Washington Capitals (10): It’s becoming clear that the Capitals are interested in upgrading their goaltending, and the name they’ve circled is Marc-Andre Fleury. Could you imagine a first-round playoff series between Pittsburgh and Washington with MAF in a Capitals jersey?
15. Anaheim Ducks (14): John Gibson is stealing games, Troy Terry is still producing, and Trevor Zegras continues to produce mind-boggling highlights. The rebuild seems to be reaching a critical phase in Anaheim.
16. Dallas Stars (15): The Stars look good lately, but it seems like they’ve always followed up good runs with equally bad ones. It’s hard to trust them until we see them have this type of success with any sort of consistency.
17. Edmonton Oilers (21): A four-game winning streak has pulled Dave Tippett and Ken Holland out of the fire for now. Can they continue this success with the pressure somewhat alleviated, and will Evander Kane be an asset or a detriment to the locker room?
18. Los Angeles Kings (18): The Kings seem to be a fringe playoff contender at the moment, which could be somewhat disappointing given how high expectations were for them. A strong second half from Quinton Byfield would be huge in pushing them to the postseason without having to make any big trades.
19. New York Islanders (27): They’ve looked better in recent times, but a losing streak at this point would all but end the Islanders’ postseason ambitions. Ilya Sorokin can’t do this on his own, unless he can start scoring goals from his net.
20. Vancouver Canucks (16): The Canucks have cooled off recently, going from winning the first seven games with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench to .500 in the next twelve. Would they potentially trade J.T. Miller if the price is right?
21. Winnipeg Jets (19): Connor Hellebuyck has endured a down season to this point, which is concerning at this stage. Wasting a season where Kyle Connor has been producing outstanding offensive numbers would be disappointing, to say the least.
22. San Jose Sharks (20): The Sharks were already trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture. Losing Erik Karlsson might be the cannonball that sinks their ship.
23. Detroit Red Wings (22): The Red Wings have started to cool down, and it seems that they’ll be on the outside looking in the Eastern Conference by the time April rolls around. At least they’ll have two lottery tickets at the Calder Trophy?
24. Chicago Blackhawks (25): The vultures have started to circle Chicago to pick off pieces from them, and players like Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik are starting to worry fans about stalled development. Alex DeBrincat is still sniping goals, though…yay?
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (23): Losing 6-0 to Calgary with 62 shots is worthy of an apology to Elvis Merzlikins. It’s hard to get much worse than that.
26. Seattle Kraken (29): The Kraken are currently on one of those stretches where they’ve been playing better. It still won’t stop them from moving pieces at the deadline, though.
27. Ottawa Senators (28): Drake Batherson was arguably Ottawa’s best player all season. Losing him to long-term injury makes a bad team even worse.
28. Buffalo Sabres (30): The early returns on Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs have been promising, so they might turn out ok after trading Jack Eichel. It’s one of the few positive things going on in Buffalo right now.
29. New Jersey Devils (26): They’ve only won six games between December and January, and are now last in the Metropolitan behind a Flyers team that has had two massive losing streaks. I’ll be respectful towards Lindy Ruff, though, given recent circumstances.
30. Philadelphia Flyers (24): The good news is the Flyers broke their thirteen-game losing streak. The bad news is that it was their only win in January.