Now that the 2020-21 season is underway, it’s time for some updated NHL power rankings to get a sense of where teams really stand in the early going. Buckle up, because this could be a truly wild time, with numerous rankings fluctuations and maneuvers.
Due to the persistent uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, division realignment and shortened, 56-game schedule as opposed to the regular slate of 82, there’s a sense anything can happen. Even the best clubs could stumble out of the gates. On the other hand, continuity will likely bode well for some of the top Stanley Cup contenders.
Without further ado, here are Sportsnaut’s NHL power rankings, which will continue to be updated throughout the season.
NHL power rankings: Avalanche lead legitimate Stanley Cup hopefuls
1. Colorado Avalanche (Previous Ranking: 2)
Colorado is taking no prisoners, handily dealing the St. Louis Blues an 8-0 loss after a 4-1 defeat. Thanks to contributions from Nathan MacKinnon (1G, 2A) and Andre Burakovsky (2G, 1A), Colorado has no problem putting up goals. Their depth continues with Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen up front, and Cale Makar and Ryan Graves on defense. The Avs lineup is so stacked and moves like a well-oiled machine, so it’s tough to bet against them. They now claim top spot on the NHL power rankings.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous Ranking: 1)
Playoff MVP Victor Hedman continues to be an all-around asset for the Lightning team, putting up points and making defensive play look easy. Captain Steven Stamkos was the Third Star of the Week, racking up two goals and three assists in Tampa’s pair of wins over the Chicago Blackhawks. But, they had to place forward Blake Coleman and goalie Curtis McElhinney on the Covid-19 protocol list, forcing them to turn to their taxi squad to fill in. What this means for Coleman and McElhinney’s future is still unknown.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (Previous Ranking: 4)
Beating the Anaheim Ducks seems like a relatively easy task, but Alex Pietrangelo slotted into the Golden Knights lineup with an impressive ease, and his play has done nothing but prove he’s worth his contract. When the Golden Knights faced off against a heavily forechecking Arizona Coyotes team, they came prepared, with both defense and offense answering the call, tallying a 4-2 victory. The Golden Knights remain undefeated through their three games.
4. Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 6)
Brad Marchand didn’t end up missing any games, and he immediately made his presence felt. The Bruins’ 1-0 loss to the Islanders was not as a result of bad gameplay, but rather an unlucky bounce that resulted in an Islanders’ victory, despite the Bruins topping them in many categories on the score sheet. In one of the hardest divisions in the league, look for the Bruins’ grit to give them an edge in the NHL power rankings.
5. Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 7)
Alex Ovechkin has been nothing short of stellar as he continues to age well, but his teammates Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson are matching his competitive tenacity. The Caps are 2-0-1, only suffering a shootout loss against the Penguins that went eight players deep before Jake Guentzel popped the game winner. Washington plays hard, solid hockey, and they’ve shown no signs of stopping. Ovechkin, of course, is rising on the all-time goals list, so look for his goal production to top the NHL’s list this season.
6. St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 4)
Even though they were blanked by the Colorado Avalanche, the Blues recovered to top the San Jose Sharks 5-4, giving them a 2-1-0 record. Ryan O’Reilly and Justin Faulk throw everything possible at the net, totalling 19 shots on goal between just the two of them. If Binnington can stay consistent between the pipes, St. Louis will cruise through the shortened season. That shutout, as well as stronger gameplay from other teams, results in the Blues falling a bit in the rankings.
7. Philadelphia Flyers (Previous Ranking: 5)
Philly made news this week for Jakub Voracek’s outburst on a local sports reporter. While he had a decent week points-wise, curse-laden antics are hardly new to Voracek’s repertoire, and the NHL has reached out to him about his conduct. Still, things were going well on Broad Street (thanks to solid performances from Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee) until the 6-1 smackdown handed to them courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres. Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel was fined for roughing their goalie, too. And, Carter Hart’s questionable puck-handling that led to a Sidney Crosby goal lingers as a reason they’ve dropped a bit in the NHL power rankings, though they show promise to recover.
8. New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 9)
Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee impressed in the team’s season opener against the New York Rangers, but things have quieted offensively for the Islanders since. What keeps them afloat is the absolutely stellar goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, who already recorded two shootouts on the season. They’ll need to ensure the superstars aren’t playing streaky hockey, but they’re still a force to be reckoned with.
9. Dallas Stars (Previous Ranking: 8)
We’ve yet to see the Dallas Stars take to the ice, and their opening delay will probably result in a rusty few games as their iron out their plays and catch up to what the league has already been doing. And, let’s not forget, Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop are both missing the season while recovering from surgery. This means they’ll rely heavily on young guns like Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Joel Kiviranta and Miro Heiskanen, which might mean a little more adjusting time is in store.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (Previous Ranking: 13)
With one loss and two wins, Toronto’s offensive threats have come to play. John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner have all had impressive starts to the season, leading the team’s scoreboard. But, they waived veteran forward Jason Spezza as well as goalie Aaron Dell. So, they’ll need Fredrik Andersen to be consistent this season, and they’ll need their top-heavy roster to stay healthy in order to remain serious competitors. To date, though, they are playing exciting hockey.
NHL power rankings: 2nd-tier contenders with problematic flaws
11. Carolina Hurricanes (Previous Ranking: 11)
The Canes are facing issues with COVID, too, as their second game against the Nashville Predators had to be postponed out of “an abundance of caution,” according to the league. In their first three games of the season, their young guns in Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trochek and Andrei Svechnikov stepped up in the COVID-related absence of captain Jordan Staal, and both goalies have flexed impressive form. They are playing well so far, but if their coronavirus problems persist, they could drop lower in these NHL power rankings.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (Previous Ranking: 15)
After losing back-to-back games to the Nashville Predators, John Tortorella and the Blue Jackets had their work cut out for them. They recovered with a win over the Detroit Red Wings, though, and Joonas Korpisalo has been incredible in the crease in both of his starts. An unexpected bright spot: Michael Del Zotto, who signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jackets, has been playing some of the best hockey of his career, recording three assists, a +2 rating and 8 shots on goal in three games.
13. Calgary Flames (Previous Ranking: 17)
The Flames climb the NHL power rankings, thanks in large part to their offensive corps. Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau have shown off their prowess, and Calgary has yet to put up less than three goals in a game. Jacob Markstrom has been stellar in his maiden season with Calgary, too, and the team is just playing all-around good hockey on all fronts, getting strong performances from every part of the lineup.
14. Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 12)
Edmonton is off to a shakier start than anyone predicted. After winning big against the Vancouver Canucks, they were dealt two straight losses, courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens. What’s worse is that they were held to just one goal in each loss. While Connor McDavid has already notched three goals and two assists, Leon Draisaitl has yet to find the back of the net. He’ll need to figure that out as the season progresses.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins (Previous Ranking: 14)
Speaking of players yet to record a goal, Evgeni Malkin has, even more alarmingly, yet to tally a point in the Penguins’ three games this season. It’s uncharacteristic and something that needs to be remedied rather quickly if the Penguins are going to return to form. Their back-to-back losses against the rival Flyers saw them playing at a lower quality than they’re capable of. Their veterans, including Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, will have to light a fire under this team to stop their slip in the NHL power rankings.
NHL power rankings: Teams on the playoff picture border
16. Vancouver Canucks (Previous Ranking: 10)
No team is off to a more disappointing start than Vancouver. Since rolling Edmonton 5-3 in the season opener, the Canucks are getting crushed, outscored in their subsequent three losses by a tally of 13-4. No one should be hitting the panic button just yet, but goodness, there may be some regret involved letting goalie Jacob Markstrom flee the nest for Calgary this offseason considering Vancouver’s horrid defense thus far.
17. New York Rangers (Previous Ranking: 16)
Igor Shesterkin returns to guard the crease after posting a 10-2 record as a rookie with a 2.52 GAA that was better than it seemed, as the Blueshirts blueliners did the netminder few favors in allowing so many shots through. In Shesterkin, reigning Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, New York has a fascinating young core to build around on both ends of the ice. Shesterkin had a rough 2021 debut, but he and Alexandar Georgiev should complement each other well throughout the year.
18. Montreal Canadiens (Previous Ranking: 20)
Goalies are a commonly discussed theme in these NHL power rankings, and for good reason. The position is the most important and can be a big equalizer that makes up for many roster shortcomings. This is precisely what’s happened with the Habs. They have Carey Price, who helped them upset the Penguins last posteason. Montreal needs Columbus import Josh Anderson to step up and provide some offensive firepower, and helping Price out is the presence of former Blues goalie Jake Allen. He gives the Canadiens a great 1-2 punch in net.
19. Nashville Predators (Previous Ranking: 21)
Special teams are still a massive concern for Nashville, as the Preds are a woeful one for 11 on the power play. Until that problem area from yesteryear is rectified, it’s difficult to place them any higher. Nevertheless, the club is off to an encouraging enough start — in no small part thanks to Juuse Saros, who stopped 71 of 74 shots in consecutive victories over Columbus.
20. Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 18)
The presence of new head coach Joel Quenneville worked wonders in his maiden year at the helm, as Florida secured a playoff berth for the first time since 2016. With the culture improved around the team, it’s up to Quenneville to shore up the defense, which was problematic a season ago. Perhaps goalie Chris Driedger will get more run over declining veteran Sergei Bobrovsky after a strong 7-2-1 record in 2019-20, with a 2.05 GAA. Driedger got the nod on opening night, helping Florida to a 5-2 romp over the Blackhawks.
21. Winnipeg Jets (Previous Ranking: 19)
It feels like Winnipeg is so close to something special. The Jets came out flat in the Qualifying Round versus Calgary during the NHL restart, and got bounced in the first round of the 2019 playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues. Thus, their recent results don’t tell the full story of what this club is capable of. Don’t be surprised to see Winnipeg make a big surge soon. Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Connor Hellebuyck provides the Jets a chance to win on any given night, and Winnipeg is still a little inconsistent in splitting two games to start the season off.
22. Arizona Coyotes (Previous Ranking: 22)
Splitting games with San Jose isn’t the best tone to set, yet Arizona looked strong against Vegas, forechecking relentlessly en route to a 2-0 lead on Monday night. Unfortunately, the Coyotes couldn’t keep it up for 60 minutes, as the Golden Knights scored four unanswered goals. That’s the worry with Arizona: Is there enough depth on this roster to hold up against the NHL’s elite, and can goalies Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta provide elite backstop play? One complements the other, and right now, the Coyotes are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
NHL power rankings: Severe underdog clubs with promise
23. New Jersey Devils (Previous Ranking: 24)
Mackenzie Blackwood: 62 saves on 65 shots. Jack Hughes: three points in two games. The Devils: pushed Boston to overtime twice, lost in a shootout the first time, won the second in the extra short period. If New Jersey’s performance versus the Bruins was an indicator of what’s on the horizon, don’t sleep on the Devils as a surprise postseason contender.
24. Buffalo Sabres (Previous Ranking: 27)
Among the most shocking outcomes in the NHL season’s beginning phases was the Sabres’ 6-1 rout of the Flyers. Maybe Buffalo was being underestimated after hanging decently well with Washington in two initial losses. Perhaps the club was inspired by the Bills’ run to the AFC Championship Game over the weekend. Whatever it was, Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall are already dynamite together, combining for 12 points in the first three games.
25. Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 23)
Getting shut out by Anaheim isn’t the best look for Minnesota. Beating Los Angeles twice in overtime isn’t exactly a crowning achievement for the Wild. More bad news: zero power play goals on 16 chances, which isn’t going to get it done by any stretch. Enough negatives, though — the team is 2-1, and has successfully killed penalties without allowing a goal while shorthanded. Let’s see how Minnesota responds this week.
26. Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 29)
Poaching defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Lightning probably won’t be enough to ignite hopes of a successful season in Anaheim, yet it’s a step in the right direction. Shattenkirk dished out the winning assist in the Ducks’ 1-0 victory over the Wild, and Anaheim had to open the season against the juggernaut that has become the Golden Knights. The bigger concern is the lack of weapons the Ducks have at forward, as they’re liable to be one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL once again.
NHL power rankings: Worst teams in pro hockey
27. Ottawa Senators (Previous Ranking: 30)
Is it possible Ottawa’s busy offseason results in the team jelling together sooner than expected and shocking the hockey world? Hard to say what these Senators really are after splitting a pair of games versus Toronto, but that’s better than being swept. New goalie Matt Murray made 37 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Leafs, suggesting he can be sharp even against elite offensive attacks despite the limited talent in front of him. Murray must have a career year for the Sens to even think about playoff contention.
28. Los Angeles Kings (Previous Ranking: 28)
Dealing away Tyler Toffoli ahead of last year’s NHL trade deadline makes L.A. even less of a threat in the West. That said, this club did rattle off seven consecutive victories to close last season. Whether that momentum is too far gone to recapture is a legitimate concern, as are back-to-back, 4-3 overtime losses to Minnesota, which really stings and halts this team’s early momentum. There’s not much else working in the Kings’ favor at this point. Young forward Gabriel Vilardi (21) likely needs to be an All-Star-caliber player for Los Angeles to be in the middle of the pack in a top-heavy West Division.
29. San Jose Sharks (Previous Ranking: 26)
The Sharks were the NHL’s No. 1 penalty killing team last season at 85.7%, which is impressive considering the offense tied Columbus for the fourth-fewest goals per game. Martin Jones has had a bad couple years as starting goalie in San Jose, and has had a discouraging couple starts in the new year. Good news? San Jose’s power play unit has converted five of 11 chances. It’s a matter of improving the defense and play between the pipes for the Sharks to ascend in the standings.
30. Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 31)
The indubitable worst team in the NHL from last season is showing signs of life. Newly minted captain Dylan Larkin scored twice in a victory over Carolina, and the Red Wings put up a decent fight against the Blue Jackets in their next game. Don’t get too excited as Detroit legend Steve Yzerman continues his grand undertaking as GM to rebuild this roster, but (some) brighter days may be ahead in the Motor City at least a little sooner than expected.
31. Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 25)
Jonathan Toews’ absence really looms large in Chicago. The team looks like an undisciplined mess without their captian, who’s dealing with an illness and is out indefinitely. It’s surprising to see a team with multiple Stanley Cup champions like Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith come out so sluggish in 2021. A couple blowout losses to Tampa Bay preceded a 5-2 defeat to the Panthers, confirming the Blackhawks as the NHL’s worst team thus far.