NHL Power Rankings: One underrated story line for all 31 teams

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

We’re now eight weeks into the 2021 NHL season,Teams are nearing (or have passed) the halfway points in their schedule, although we don’t have an All Star break as a symbolic marker. For this week’s ESPN Power Rankings, we identified an underrated story line on every team

How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 7 edition, published on March 3. Points percentages are through the games of March 9.


1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: .792
Next 7 days: @ DET (March 11); vs. NSH (March 13, 15); @ DAL (March 16)

The Lightning are always lauded for their depth, and one of their most important role players over the past few seasons has been Ondrej Palat. The 29-year-old has scored the first goal of a game six times this season, most of any player in the league.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: .750
Next 7 days: @ MIN (March 10); @ STL (March 12, 13); vs. SJ (March 15)

In his age-32 season, Max Pacioretty isn’t slowing down. The winger is averaging his best goals-per-game and points-per-game rates of his career. And he’s producing in big moments. Of his 12 goals, three have been OT winners.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: .704
Next 7 days: vs. WPG (March 11, 13); @ OTT (March 14)

It’s a little too convenient to say the Leafs finally learned how to play defense and that’s why they can break through in the playoffs this year. However Toronto did go from ranking 25th in even-strength save percentage last season to ranking second in the same category now.

4. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: .740
Next 7 days: vs. NSH (March 11); @ DET (March 14, 16)

The Canes are mighty dangerous right now, and Vincent Trocheck (13 goals through 24 games) has appeared unstoppable. Said coach Rod Brind’Amour this week: “You don’t expect him to score at this rate, but we’ll take it for as long as we can.”

5. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: .720
Next 7 days: @ CLB (March 11); vs. CHI (March 13, 15)

He’s still not showing up as much as he should on the score sheet (you can thank a sub-5 shooting percentage for that), but Anthony Duclair actually ranks top five in the league in expected goals for percentage. The goals (he’s stuck at two) should come.

6. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: .692
Next 7 days: vs. NJ (March 11); @ NJ (March 13, 14); @ WSH (March 16)

We often think of the Islanders as a defense-minded team, but they actually entered the week leading all teams in high danger chances for at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. Helps when Mat Barzal is doing things like this.

7. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: .680
Next 7 days: @ PHI (March 11, 13); @ BUF (March 15); vs. NYI (March 16)

The Caps’ power play ranks sixth in the league — about where you’d expect for Alex Ovechkin’s team — clicking at 26.2% rate. Strangely, the power play has been bad on the road. Like, really bad, scoring on 3 of 32 opportunities, for a 9.4% rate, while allowing a shortie.

8. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: .652
Next 7 days: vs. NYR (March 11, 13); @ PIT (March 15, 16)

It’s been a big glow up for Nick Ritchie. The 25-year-old scored nine goals in 48 games all of last season, and is already up to eight in 22 games in 2021. Ritchie offers a new look to the power play and his bruising style is earning him comparisons to a young Milan Lucic.

9. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: .615
Next 7 days: vs. VGS (March 12; 13); @ LA (March 15)

The Blues welcomed back Vladimir Tarasenko this week, which should only help them in their second-half push. It’s been a grind-it-out first half for St. Louis. Of its 26 games, 20 have been decided by one goal (discounting empty-netters).

10. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: .660
Next 7 days: @ TOR (March 11, 13); vs. MTL (March 15)

Paul Stastny was signed this summer, for his second tour of duty with the Jets, to solidify the No. 2 center spot. Dynamics changed with one very big trade, but it’s interesting to see Stastny have a huge impact for Winnipeg, while also being moved to wing.

11. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: .630
Next 7 days: vs. VGS (March 10); vs. ARI (March 12, 14, 16)

Cam Talbot was the big offseason addition, but Kaapo Kahkonen is coming into his own. The 24-year-old is 7-0-0 with a 1.42 GAA and .947 save percentage over his past seven starts, including his first career shutout against the division-leading Golden Knights.

12. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: .609
Next 7 days: vs. ARI (March 10); vs. LA (March 12, 14); vs. ANA (March 16)

The Avalanche haven’t been able to separate themselves in the Central Division, and are still battling through bad injury luck. But they’ve avoided getting into a hole, thanks to the fact they are 7-2-0 following a loss this season.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: .620
Next 7 days: @ BUF (March 11, 13); vs. BOS (March 15, 16)

Halfway through the season, Kasperi Kapanen had more even-strength points (15) than any other Penguins player. And he’s played his best hockey since being benched in a Feb. 20 game. Jim Rutherford’s big offseason acquisition is paying off.

14. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: .630
Next 7 days: vs. WSH (March 11, 13); @ NYR (March 15)

It’s been a fantastic start for Joel Farabee. Among players who have suited up in at least 20 games, only Mark Stone has a higher points-per-60-minute at even strength rate than Farabee’s 3.97. James van Riemsdyk is right behind Farabee, ranking third in the league at 3.82.

15. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: .574
Next 7 days: @ DAL (March 11); @ FLA (March 13, 15)

Kevin Lankinen won Chicago’s No. 1 job in net, but low-key Malcolm Subban has been earning a lot of fans around the Blackhawks organization as well. Since losing on opening night, Subban is 4-1-1 with a .930 save percentage.

16. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: .593
Next 7 days: vs. OTT (March 10, 12); @ VAN (March 13); @ CGY (March 15)

A year ago, Jesse Puljujarvi was in the Finnish Liiga, and it wasn’t clear if he had a future on the Oilers at all. Now, the 22-year-old is just behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the team lead in goals.

17. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: .604
Next 7 days: @ VAN (March 10); @ CGY (March 11, 13); @ WPG (March 15)

Carey Price’s struggles have become a focal point in Montreal (and cost goalie coach Stephane Waite his job). However newcomer Jake Allen has been exactly as advertised as a reliable backup, posting a .921 save percentage through nine starts.

18. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: .542
Next 7 days: @ ANA (March 10); @ COL (March 12, 14); vs. STL (March 15)

The Kings started their rebuild, collecting draft picks and assets, around 2017. So it feels fitting that the 2017 draft picks are leading the youth movement, notably Gabe Vilardi, centering the second line, and Mikey Anderson, manning the top pairing with Drew Doughty.

19. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: .540
Next 7 days: @ COL (March 10); @ MIN (March 12, 14, 16)

One of the surprise contributors on the Coyotes this season is Tyler Pitlick, who is on his fourth team in five years. In Arizona, Pitlick is getting opportunities on the power play, penalty kill and in the top six. “He just needed an opportunity,” coach Rick Tocchet said.

20. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: .479
Next 7 days: @ BOS (March 11, 13); vs. PHI (March 15)

The Rangers were second-to-last in the league last year, allowing 34 shots per game, along with 3.14 goals per game. They’ve tightened things up defensively — despite being without top defenseman Jacob Trouba for eight games — now allowing 29.2 shots per game, and 2.75 goals.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: .463
Next 7 days: vs. FLA (March 11); vs. DAL (March 13, 14)

After scoring a career-high 41 goals in 2018-19, Cam Atkinson had a serious drop-off last season. He’s leading the team with goals again (and leading the team in shorties) while developing chemistry with Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine.

22. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: .481
Next 7 days: vs. MON (March 11, 13); vs. EDM (March 15)

Calgary is up there with the most inconsistent teams in the league right now, which precipitated a coaching change. Over their past nine games, the Flames have won as many by three or more goals (three) as they’ve lost by three or more goals.

23. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: .500
Next 7 days: vs. CHI (March 11); @ COL (March 13, 14); @ TB (March 16)

The Stars are without Tyler Seguin for a while, and top sniper Alex Radulov missed a month. For a team desperate for some offensive boost, it’s been 36-year-old Joe Pavelski (team highs of 12 goals and 23 points through 20 games) leading the way.

24. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: .448
Next 7 days: vs. MON (March 10); vs. EDM (March 13); @ OTT (March 15)

Last year, Quinn Hughes was runner-up as rookie of the year, and could seemingly do no wrong. This year, it’s been a struggle for the 21-year-old (and the rest of Van’s blue line). No player in the league has been on the ice for more 5-on-5 goals than Hughes (33).

25. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: .442
Next 7 days: @ CAR (March 11); @ TB (March 13, 15)

There are so many ways to quantify this disappointing season for Nashville. Here’s one of them: The Predators are the only team against which the Red Wings have posted a .500 record or better this season. (So far, they’ve split the four games they’ve played).

26. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: .457
Next 7 days: @ ANA (March 12, 13); @ VGS (March 15)

It wasn’t an easy start for the Sharks, who were initially displaced because of Santa Clara County’s contact ban. Halfway through the season, that brings us this troubling stat: Vegas has as many wins (three) as the Sharks do at the Shark Tank this season.

27. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: .432
Next 7 days: @ NYI (March 11); vs. NYI (March 13, 14); vs. BUF (March 16)

The Devils had a top-10 penalty kill last season. It’s totally crashed since then. New Jersey is now worst in the league while down a man, clicking at around 65%. It’s on pace for the worst single-season mark by a team since the 1979-80 Kings.

28. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: .423
Next 7 days: vs. LA (March 10); vs. SJ (March 12, 13); @ COL (March 16)

An overrated storyline: Ryan Getzlaf getting traded. GM Bob Murray said this week it isn’t happening. “I’m tired of hearing this from Toronto anymore, how his name is out there,” Murray said. “The only way Ryan Getzlaf would go anywhere is if he came to me and said, ‘Bob, can you try and trade me to a contender?'”

29. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: .339
Next 7 days: @ EDM (March 10, 12); vs. TOR (March 15); vs. VAN (March 15)

No player in the league has completed more hits (116) or drawn more penalties (21) than Brady Tkachuk. Simply put, he may single-handedly make the Senators watchable.

30. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: .333
Next 7 days: vs. TB (March 11); vs. CAR (March 14, 16)

While it seems like yet another forgettable Red Wings season, there have been some decent individual performances. Dylan Larkin’s production isn’t there, but the captain is doing a little bit of everything (and doing it well) to keep this team competitive most nights.

31. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: .333
Next 7 days: vs. PIT (March 11, 13); vs. WSH (March 15); @ NJ (March 16)

Yes, the Sabres’ season has been dreadful and their top-earning forwards are not producing enough goals. But they’re also getting bad puck luck. No team has a lower shooting percentage at even strength than the Sabres, who are sub-6%.

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