Happy Puck Drop Day, everybody!
It’s time to remind ourselves of all that summer turnover and meet that stranger with the “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker on his lapel.
It’s our season-starting, cork-popping NHL Power Rankings: Hey, Who’s the New Guy? Edition.
As per tradition, all 31 clubs are ranked in order of their awesomeness right now at puck drop.
The write-ups focus on the one new face who should have the greatest impact over the next nine months.
The Lightning, a trendy Stanley Cup champion pick for a few years now, hardly changed a thing on its solid roster as pitches for John Tavares and Erik Karlsson didn’t yield fruit. Architect Steve Yzerman’s surprise departure gives understudy Julien BriseBois a chance to see a stacked squad through to the finish line. He’ll be put to the test quick with core players Brayden Point, Anton Stralman and Yanni Gourde all entering contract years.
Whisper the name “Laurent Brossoit” in the ear of an Edmonton Oilers fan, and you risk getting punched in the head. Yet even after posting an .883 save percentage last season in seldom relief of Cam Talbot, Brossoit landed another NHL job — as backup to young Connor Hellebuyck, he of one awesome big-league season and a spicy $37-million contract. Brossoit must be better, and should be considering he’s playing behind a significantly better D core.
For all of the talk about San Jose having the deepest defence corps in the West, take another gander at Nashville. Ryan Ellis is set to play a full season healthy, and stay-at-home bottom-sixer Dan Hamhuis was one of the summer’s smartest under-the-radar UFA signings.
He’s not new to the organization, but he is new to the Capitals. With Philipp Grubauer heading to Colorado, 26-year-old North Pole native (seriously) Pheonix Copley has been promoted to the bigs. Grubauer played some key minutes and gave starter Braden Holtby some much-needed rest during the Caps’ championship season. Can Copley — coming off a .896 save percentage with Hershey — do the same? Tall order.
Everyone feel comfortable with me saying Erik Karlsson will be kind of a big deal in teal? Good. Karlsson himself should feel comfortable with security-blanket D partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic, considering how EK65 excelled when paired with Marc Methot.
John Tavares gives Toronto, arguably, the greatest centre depth in the NHL. (The team below would be the one to argue.) He’s also a gift to Mitch Marner’s contract year and part of this newly formed Voltron of a power-play unit destined to give goalies night terrors.
Goaltending and scoring are seldom an issue, but the questionable strength of the Penguins’ blueline depth is a recurring theme — especially whenever Kris Letang is nursing something or other. Jim Rutherford shelled out a handsome fee in hopes that Jack Johnson will make more of an impact in Pennsylvania than in did in his last days with the Pens’ heated rivals.
Yes, we’re bullish on the Cats this season. The addition of noted San Jose Sharks sniper Mike Hoffman gives Florida a speedy winger in his prime: four straight seasons with 22-plus goals.
Max Pacioretty arrived with larger headlines, but it’s Patches’ centreman and fellow American, Paul Stastny, who makes us feel confident that the Knights top six is sturdy enough to get them back to the playoffs in the jump-ball Pacific.
10. Boston Bruins
Torey Krug’s pre-season injury adds another layer of scrutiny on newly signed lefty defenceman John Moore, late of New Jersey. The top of the Bruins’ lineup can pile up points and we like the Tuukka Rask–Jaroslav Halak tandem in net, but their defence will be tested battling high-flying Toronto and Tampa for the divisional title.
11. Calgary Flames
We’re fans of Brad Treliving’s approach to his job. If something’s broke, fix it. Of the many new additions in Calgary, coach Bill Peters is a biggie, and Noah Hanifin may play out — for good or bad — to be the most meaningful for the future. For this season, however, James Neal will be an important piece. On paper he’s a 30-goal guy who brings sorely missed depth scoring from the wing. Also key: he’s an experienced winner of playoff series who plays with an edge — something the 2017-18 Flames missed.
12. St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly sounds like a man reborn. By also acquiring Tyler Bozak to slot in at 3C, the Blues are better up the middle. The idea of getting set up by ROR all year should get Vladimir Tarasenko salivating.
With Columbus, this winter will not be so much about the new faces in town but the old ones (Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky) who might be heading out. That said, the centre position was weak last season, with a few experienced guys trudging through down years and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois rising to the top. So the depth pickup of Riley Nash, 29, was a shrewd one.
The return of James van Riemsdyk adds another wrinkle to an already-lethal power play. It also puts impending UFA Wayne Simmonds on notice. The Flyers already employ three forwards carrying a long-term cap hit of $7 million plus. Can they (re-)sign a fourth?
15. Dallas Stars
There will be pressure on backup Anton Khudobin to do what his predecessor, Kari Lehtonen, was unable to last season: keep the Stars in the hunt if/when starter Ben Bishop struggles or falls injured. Still, we’re looking closely at the return of winger Valeri Nichushkin. The Stars are desperate to get scoring from more than just their one power line.
The Kings have pushed all-in against the grain. Old and good beats young and good! Ilya Kovalchuk showed flashes of brilliance at the Olympics and during pre-season, but does the Russian sniper have a 30-goal campaign or two left in the tank?
17. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers went out on a limb by grabbing Mikko Koskinen out of the KHL to back up Cam Talbot. That limb was extended by the price they paid to get him ($2.5 million). With GM Peter Chiarelli entering on a warm seat, that gamble better pay off.
18. Anaheim Ducks
Rather quietly, depth centre Brian Gibbons had himself a nice little season in New Jersey and was rewarded with a low-risk, $1-million deal in California. Considering the shaky health of big guns Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks will need its role players to step up.
Looking back at Ray Shero’s exceedingly quiet off-season is frightening. Many more warm bodies exited than entered. We’re wondering what he’s got planned for all that cap space. In the meantime, the Ty Smith prospect watch should be fun.
With oft-injured Semyon Varlamov entering the final year of his juicy contract, the Philipp Grubauer trade on the draft floor was a shrewd one for Joe Sakic. Might be a coin flip who gets the most starts.
21. Arizona Coyotes
Although banged up to start, centreman(?) Alex Galchenyuk needs this kind of freedom from the spotlight and fresh start. We do believe him to be the superior talent in the trade, but proving it would be nice.
22. Minnesota Wild
Paul Fenton‘s inevitable rise to GM status is great news for the man. The bad news? He inherited an aging team with a swath of pricey contracts. Watching his vision for a bubble team like the Wild unfold should be intriguing.
The first full campaign under the ownership of the heavily involved Tom Dundon is certain to bring more surprises. We love the Hartford Whalers throwbacks and Petey Pablo goal song. The return for Jeff Skinner? Not so much.
Taking into account the uncertainty of Corey Crawford’s health, it will be imperative that new guy Cam Ward — no stranger to a heavy workload — keeps the Blackhawks in games.
25. Buffalo Sabres
Lots of turnover to get excited about in Buffalo. Is Carter Hutton a legit NHL starter? Will Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner pile up career stats? And how awesome is this Rasmus Dahlin kid?
26. Ottawa Senators
The impressive Brady Tkachuk has been tossed directly into a top-six role and is the reason why the Senators elected to remove themselves from the Jack Hughes lottery. No pressure, kid.
27. New York Rangers
All the buzz around new bench boss David Quinn has been positive as he embarks upon the unenviable task of guiding a stripped-down roster in a major market.
It’s difficult to get too worked up about a Thomas Vanek signing at this stage in the game. But there could be another interesting opportunity here for Jonathan Bernier. With Jimmy Howard in the last year of his deal, and Bernier signed through two additional seasons, he could grab the No. 1 spot.
Marc Bergevin took some flak for his first-round pick, but young centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi (a.k.a. “KK“) looked like the real deal in exhibition and has delivered a little something the French call les espoir.
Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello bring rings and resumés, but with all due respect to the Trotzy Hot Lap®, they don’t actually play. A culture change is afoot on the Island, and Mathew Barzal is certainly the type of talent you build around — hopefully properly.
All I want for Christmas is the ability to shoot a hockey puck like Elias Pettersson.