NHL Preseason Power Rankings: Who will start the season on top?

This NHL season starts up this upcoming week, but will be different than in previous years due to COVID-19. There will only be 56 games, realigned divisions, and more head-to-head matchups between teams than ever. With the season kicking off on Wednesday, here is where each team stands heading into their 2021 campaign.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning 

Last Season Result: Stanley Cup Champions 

The reigning Stanley Cup champs are set for years to come with the roster they have. This is truly a team with no glaring weaknesses. They have arguably the best goalie and best defenseman in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman. Their captain Steven Stamkos still has one of the top shots in the league, Brayden Point put up ridiculous playoff numbers, with 33 points in 23 games, and the defense is stacked with players who could all play on the top pair. The only big problem the team will face is the loss of former MVP Nikita Kucherov who will be out for the entire regular season, but with this team’s depth, there’s no reason to expect this to hurt their Stanley Cup aspirations. With this team in the weakest division in this year’s realignment, there is absolutely no reason to expect anything less than the number 1 seed heading into the playoffs, and a deep run in the playoffs.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Last Season Result: Lost in Second Round 

There is a case to be made that Nathan MacKinnon is the best player in the NHL. The Avalanche have found a generational talent in him and have surrounded him with two elite wingers who support him on the first line in Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche also have the reigning Calder Trophy winner in Cale Makar, and the team will have big expectations for him this year after having one of the better rookie seasons in the NHL over the last 20 years. This is a team that will be at the top of the league for a while and should be making legitimate runs at the Cup each year for the foreseeable future.

3. Boston Bruins 

Last Season Result: Lost in Second Round 

The Bruins have consistently been at the top of the league for the past 10 years and this year shouldn’t be much different. With the losses of former captain Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug though, it is clear that the window to win another Cup with their current core is closing quickly. Players like David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask aren’t getting any younger, and are likely in the last few years of their time as Bruins players. Despite their age, they are all still playing at elite or close to elite levels. Put them together with superstars David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy and this is still a team with more than enough talent to win a Stanley Cup.

4. Vegas Golden Knights 

Last Season Result: Lost in Western Conference Final

The Golden Knights have been in the NHL for three years now and haven’t had a bad season yet. They have a solid all around team with a better than average top 6 forward core and a defense anchored by Shea Theodore. They don’t have many all-star players but no one is going to be a liability to the team when they step on the ice. With seasoned vet Marc-Andre Fleury doing the netminding this team should be battling for the top spot in this year’s west division with the Colorado Avalanche.

5. Philadelphia Flyers 

Last Season Result: Lost in Second Round 

The Flyers biggest hope for this season is that 2017 number two overall pick Nolan Patrick can finally log a full season with the team. He has been dealing with a migraine disorder for the last few years that has forced him to miss a lot of hockey. He will certainly contribute to a team that already has a lot of offensive firepower. Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, and Jakub Voracek, are just a few of the many players on this team who can consistently score goals. Goaltender Carter Hart has also proven he can play at an elite level, and he will need to continue doing so in order for the team to make some noise this year.

6. St. Louis Blues

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round

St. Louis has a very gritty, hard nosed team that finds a way to win games in a lot of different ways. Their most skilled player is Vladimir Tarasenko, who missed the majority of last season, and will likely be out for at least another month to start the year. This means the Blues will look for scoring from guys like David Perron, Brayden Schenn, and Ryan O’Reilly. The big move this offseason was the long-term signing of defenseman Torey Krug from Boston. With Jordan Binnington in net, and a solid all-around roster, this is a team that shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot in the playoffs.

7. Washington Capitals

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round

The Capitals are coming off of a very disappointing first round loss to the New York Islanders last season. This is a team that has consistently been in the playoffs for a long time but never got their Stanley Cup until 2018. With a lot of players getting up there in age, you can be sure to see Alex Ovechkin playing with some desperation to find another cup while in Washington. The team’s big loss this offseason was longtime goalie Braden Holtby, though they won’t miss him too much with Ilya Samsonov taking over between the sticks. You’ll likely see them fighting for the three or four seed in a difficult east division this season.

8. Dallas Stars 

Last Season Result: Lost in Stanley Cup Final

The Dallas Stars are already off to a bad start, as the team has been shut down for two weeks due to COVID-19 issues. They will be forced to wait a little longer to start their season than the rest of the league. The Stars are coming off of a season where they made it a lot further than many expected. The two names that got it done most in the playoffs were Miro Heiskanen and Anton Khudobin. Heiskanen has quickly become a top defenseman in the league in his first two seasons, and Khudobin was the team’s playoff MVP with starting goalie Ben Bishop sidelined. Bishop and top line forward Tyler Seguin will miss the beginning of the season with their own injuries which will definitely impact the lineup. The Stars will likely take a step back this year but they still have enough talent to get them a good seed heading into the playoffs in a weak division.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs 

Last Season Result: Lost Play-In Round 

This Toronto Maple Leafs team is chalk full of offensive firepower but has struggled with their defense for years. They signed a couple of stable, solid defenders in T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian who will help their best current defenseman, Morgan Rielly. On offense they have arguably the best top 6 in the league with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander leading the pack. They will also probably put their newest forward, Joe Thornton, on the first line. This offense will be tough for any team’s defense to handle. Look for the Leafs to be in the mix for the top seed in what should be a fairly competitive north division. 

10. New York Islanders

Last Season Result: Lost in Eastern Conference Final 

The New York Islanders just signed Mathew Barzal to a three year deal after speculation that he may hold out. Barzal has been the team’s leading scorer for the past three seasons and is poised to have another big year. Along with guys like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, the Islanders have a good enough roster to lead them to the playoffs, although it will certainly be more difficult than in previous seasons because of the realigned divisions. 

11. Carolina Hurricanes 

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round

The Hurricanes have a good offense led by young Sebastian Aho, who has emerged as a top forward in the NHL in the last couple seasons. Andrei Svechnikov is another guy who will look to take the next step in his career and log similar numbers to last year when he had almost a point per game. With these two leading the charge, this team should have no problem slipping into the playoffs. 

12. Vancouver Canucks 

Last Season Result: Lost in Second Round 

The Canucks have no shortage of young talent, with Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser a top the list. Hughes likely would have won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year if it weren’t for Cale Makar of the Avalanche. The Canucks should be competitive in the north division and will look to Hughes and Pettersson to lead them back to the playoffs.

13. Edmonton Oilers 

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round

The Edmonton Oilers have two generational talents on their offense in Connor McDavid and reigning MVP Leon Draisaitl. After that however, they don’t have much. McDavid and Draisaitl both are perennial MVP candidates and they will need to play like MVP’s to carry this team to the playoffs. Behind them is a team with little depth scoring and a bad defense. McDavid and Draisaitl keep them this high in the power rankings to start the season, but they will need contributions from others in order to stay afloat.

14. Calgary Flames 

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round 

The Calgary Flames leading scorer last year, Matthew Tkachuk, is not the most talented player on this team. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan should be better, but had down years for their standards and will need to play better to help the Flames compete for a playoff spot. The Flames are a decent all around team and have the potential to make a run in the playoffs, but they are also candidates for a disappointing season.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins 

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round 

Until Sidney Crosby retires, this Penguins team will have a shot to make the playoffs every year. They are a long way away from their Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017, as their roster has become weaker each year since, but they still have enough to be competitive in the league. With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the offense, and Kris Letang still playing defense at a high level, their leading core is still intact. The biggest question mark on the team is if Tristan Jarry can fill Matt Murray’s role as the starting goalie after Murray signed with Ottawa in the offseason. There’s no doubt that the Penguins have a shot at the playoffs, but in a tough east division, with four teams ahead of them in the power rankings, it will be difficult for them to sneak in.

16. New York Rangers 

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round

The New York Rangers have a ton of young talent, probably the most in the league. The question will be if these players can come together and put up a winning season. They have a bonafide star in Artemi Panarin who is a top 5 player in the league. They also have last year’s number two pick Kaapo Kakko, who was disappointing in his first season, but still has a ton of potential. They also have the number one pick from this year’s draft Alexis Lafreniere, who put up 112 points in just 52 games in the QMJHL last season. They also have other legit offensive threats with Mika Zibanejad, who was well over a point per game last year, and Chris Kreider, who plays a very effective power forward style game. The Rangers may have a tough time getting out of an easy division this year, but they are full of talent for the future, and have the potential to surprise some people this year. 

17. Winnipeg Jets 

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round 

The Jets have a lot of talent on offense, a solid defense, and the 2020 Vezina Trophy winner in net, Connor Hellebuyck. After making the Western Conference Finals in 2018, they haven’t been able to make any noise in the playoffs since. They have three consistent producers on offense in Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, and Mark Scheifele, but not much depth after that. If they are going to compete in the north division, it will be essential for Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers to supply the scoring depth that they need. If not, they could be looking at another disappointing season.

18. Montreal Canadiens

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round 

The Montreal Canadiens shocked the Penguins in the play-in round last year and made it to the playoffs despite having the 24th best record in the NHL. They will look to improve upon that record this year, even with a relatively weak roster. They will have to adjust to life without Max Domi, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and proved himself to be one of the Canadiens best players over the last couple years. In order to compete in the north division, they will need 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi to stay healthy and live up to his potential. They will also need good seasons from captain Shea Weber on defense, and Brendan Gallagher on offense, who brings grit and scoring to the lineup.

19. Buffalo Sabres

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs 

Buffalo has a top 5 player in the NHL in Jack Eichel, but have so far wasted his five seasons in the NHL with zero playoff appearances. It will be difficult again this year to make the playoffs, as they are in the strongest division in the NHL realignment. Eichel will need help on offense from Jeff Skinner, who signed a big contract to stay in Buffalo, but was the biggest disappointment in the league last year. The Sabres need him to put up good numbers to help keep their offense afloat. The Sabres do have two of the best young defensemen in the NHL in Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen, and expect big things from them this season.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round 

The John Tortorella coached Blue Jackets always play hard and give other teams a tough time physically. The team is led by two offensive defensemen, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. In the weak central division, they have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, despite being pretty low in the power rankings, but they will need big seasons from Jones and Werenski to get there. On offense, they will need Cam Atkinson to stay healthy and score goals, as well as Pierre-Luc Dubois, who led the team in points last season. Expect the Blue Jackets to be in the mix for the fourth playoff spot in the central division.

21. Florida Panthers 

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round

The Florida Panthers are full of talented offensive players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov. They have a solid roster and a very good goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers are similar to the Wild in that they usually have good teams that just don’t live up to expectations. As crazy as it may sound, the Panthers lack of a fanbase has hurt the team, and made them pretty irrelevant for a long time. They may be the one team that benefits from a lack of fans in the arenas because they are used to playing in front of small crowds. The Panthers have a good shot to be a playoff team this year in the central division.

22. Nashville Predators 

Last Season Result: Lost Play-In Round 

Since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Predators have been steadily declining. In a normal season, the Predators would likely miss the playoffs for the first time in a while, but in a weak central division they have a chance to sneak in. This is not a team with a weak roster by any means, but they are just mediocre, and will need players like Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg to have big seasons to help them find their way into the playoffs.

23. New Jersey Devils

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs 

The New Jersey Devils have had the number one pick in two of the last four NHL drafts, and both have been disappointing so far. Nico Hischier hasn’t been horrible, but hasn’t put up number one overall stats and Jack Hughes didn’t come into the league and light it up like he was expected to. These two will finally have to live up to their potential for the Devils to have any chance to sneak their way into the playoffs in a strong east division.

24. Minnesota Wild

Last Season Result: Lost in Play-In Round 

The Minnesota Wild have been stuck in the middle of the league for a long time. They will never throw a bad team on the ice, but it’s not often that you’ll see them moving deep into the playoffs. Their path to the playoffs is clear this year as the fourth seed in the west division is wide open. They have solid defense and no glaring holes on offense so this is a team that has the potential to move up in the power rankings very quickly once the season starts.

25. San Jose Sharks 

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs

The San Jose Sharks were the most disappointing team in the NHL last year. After a run to the western conference finals in 2019, the Sharks were expected to at least be competitive. They never found their groove and weren’t even able to make it to the bubble. More of the same can likely be expected from the team this year, as they lost Joe Thornton to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and will be playing without him for the first time since 2005. 

26. Arizona Coyotes

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round 

The Coyotes surprised a lot of people beating the Predators in last year’s play-in round. Despite their success last year, this is a team that will have a hard time finding their way into the playoffs. They simply lack the offensive prowess that a lot of other teams have. Look for Clayton Keller to be the team’s best player this season as they fight for the fourth playoff seed in the west division

27. Chicago Blackhawks 

Last Season Result: Lost in First Round

The Chicago Blackhawks are the most banged up team heading into this season with the biggest loss being Captain Jonathan Toews, who is out indefinitely with an unknown illness. They will also be without Kirby Dach, Brent Seabrook, and Carl Soderberg. This team still has some of the better goal scorers in the league in Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Dominik Kubalik, but their lack of depth is what will hurt them the most, especially with all of the injuries. All that being said, don’t be surprised if they find a way to compete for a playoff spot in a weak central division.

28. Los Angeles Kings

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs

Gone are the days of the L.A. Kings Stanley Cup winning teams. They have an old core that just doesn’t have the speed or skill to keep up with today’s NHL. The future of the team lies with Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte, who were the teams top draft picks the last two years. Expect to see this team at the bottom of the west division.

29. Anaheim Ducks 

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs

Anaheim Ducks fans were very interested in this year’s World Junior Championship. They had 4 players playing in the tournament, including MVP Trevor Zegras, who was phenomenal, scoring a ridiculous 18 points in 7 games. There’s no doubt that the future of the Ducks organization is bright, but for this year, you can expect them to be in the basement of the NHL, as they don’t have much depth at any position on the team.

30. Ottawa Senators

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs

The Ottawa Senators rebuild is coming along nicely. They have a few current young players who have very bright futures in left winger Brady Tkachuk and defenseman Thomas Chabot. They also have some promising prospects in Tim Stutzle, who recently lit it up at the World Junior tournament, and Jake Sanderson who is a very good defenseman. Despite the rebuild heading in the right direction, this is still a team that is a year or two away from being competitive again.

31. Detroit Red Wings

Last Season Result: Did Not Make Playoffs

The Red Wings are still at the beginning of a rebuild that will likely take 5 or so years. They have one bonafide star in Dylan Larkin, although he had a slightly rough season last year. The Red Wings are hoping that their future is in their top picks from the last three drafts, Filip Zadina, Moritz Seider, and Lucas Raymond. This year, they will be just looking to develop their young players and create some good chemistry.

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