There are many reasons people tend to like the Irish.
First off, St. Patrick’s Day usually gives people of all backgrounds an opportunity for a guilt-free adult beverage
at 11 in the morning in the early afternoon of a weekday, should they so choose.
The Irish have an outsized reputation around the world that belies the fact Ireland is actually a relatively small island of about five million people. That’s surely because, among other things, they’re celebrated as poets and humorists. As the Irish family in my life states with no trace of ego, the country’s greatest export, by far, is its people.
There’s an inherent underdog element to the Irish tale, which is yet another reason people tend to latch onto the Leprechaun. So with St. Paddy’s Day almost here, let’s go green for this edition of the power rankings and identify an unlikely success story for each of the NHL’s 32 teams.
1. Boston Bruins (50-11-5): Brad Marchand is a five-foot-nine third-round pick who, halfway into his career, transitioned from quality player to bona fide superstar.
2. Vegas Golden Knights (42-20-6): As you’d expect with a team dubbed the ‘Golden Misfits’ in their early expansion days, there is no shortage of guys who beat the odds in Vegas. All three members of the original ‘Misfit Line’ — William Karlsson between Reilly Smith and undrafted Jonathan Marchessault — are still there and have been joined by a captain, in Mark Stone, who was a sixth-round selection with questionable skating; Chandler Stephenson, a third-rounder who immediately became a top-six centre after Vegas fleeced Washington for his services; and undrafted goalie Logan Thompson, who was in the thick of the Calder Trophy race before getting hurt this season.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (44-14-8): Jaccob Slavin is a fourth-round pick whose defence-first game is so respected in this offensive era that he consistently gets Norris Trophy votes.
4. New Jersey Devils (44-17-6): Jesper Bratt is a sixth-rounder who could post his second consecutive 70-point season this year, while Ondrej Palat is a seventh-round pick who played a major role on title-winning teams in Tampa before inking himself a $30-million deal with Jersey last summer.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (40-18-9): Undrafted Mark Giordano is the oldest skater in the league, still logging major, shot-blocking minutes for his hometown team in a year they could win it all. Cheers.
6. Los Angeles Kings (39-20-9): Anze Kopitar has enviable athletic gifts, including his six-foot-three frame. But don’t forget, this guy would have gone even higher than 11th overall in the 2005 draft had people not foolishly questioned whether a trailblazing kid from Slovenia could actually make it in the NHL.
7. New York Rangers (38-19-10): Artemi Panarin is the best-undrafted player in the NHL today. He also overcame a poverty-stricken childhood to live an amazing life in the world’s greatest city.
8. Dallas Stars (37-18-3): The funny thing about Joe Pavelski is his friends will tell you he’s the absolute best at everything they do, from golfing to fishing. Yet all he heard as a young player was, “Not big enough; can’t skate; never make it.” He was passed over in the 2002 draft before San Jose made the fantastic choice to select him 205th overall in 2003. Twenty years later, he’s still scoring.
9. Minnesota Wild (39-21-8): Go ahead, find us a better underdog story than Mats Zuccarello, the five-foot-nothing Norwegian who was never drafted, became a beloved teammate with the Rangers and turned into a point-per-game player in his age-34 season.
10. Colorado Avalanche (38-22-6): Both members of the Avs’ battery — Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz — are undrafted and Colorado has the seventh-best save percentage in the league this year.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (40-22-6): Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli are both third-round picks. The former is one of the best two-way pivots in the league, the latter is going to win a Selke before too long. Point is listed at five-foot-11, while Cirelli eked it out to six-feet.
12. Seattle Kraken (37-23-7): For years, five-foot-nine, undrafted Yanni Gourde was one of the poster boys for Tampa’s ability to mine and develop talent. Now he’s helping Seattle push toward a playoff spot in its second year of existence.
13. Edmonton Oilers (37-23-8): Drafted in Round 5 by Florida, never signed, inked as a free agent by his hometown Leafs, signed as a UFA by Edmonton for almost $40-million: what a ride for Zach Hyman, who is exploding his previous personal bests as a 30-year-old with the Oilers.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-23-10): The first two members of Pittsburgh’s Big 3 — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — were top-of-the-draft talents. The third, Kris Letang, is a third-rounder whose had two strokes in his young life and still anchors the Pens D corps.
15. New York Islanders (35-27-8): Islanders captain Anders Lee is a sixth-rounder who didn’t become a full-time NHLer until his age-24 season.
16. Nashville Predators (34-24-7): The bias against small goalies is a very real thing. At the 2013 NHL Draft Combine, one team asked Finn Juuse Saros to get his bones x-rayed to see if he might grow more. That team was not the Nashville Predators, who watched eighth-round Finn Pekka Rinne turn into a franchise goalie and have now replaced him with the 99th pick in the 2013 draft, the five-foot-11 perennial Vezina contender Saros.
17. Florida Panthers (33-27-7): Undrafted Sergei Bobrovsky has two Vezina Trophies on his resume and stands to gross over $110 million in his career.
18. Winnipeg Jets (38-27-3): Connor Hellebuyck is a fifth-round gem; Blake Wheeler is a classic late-bloomer, but undrafted Neal Pionk may take the cake as an undersized D-man who played 20 minutes a night from the moment he stepped into the league six seasons ago with the Rangers.
19. Buffalo Sabres (33-28-6): How many teams, after a Guinness or two, have maligned the fact they likely could have plucked Tage Thompson from the Sabres two years ago for, what, a fourth-round pick? Wow, has this ongoing journey from breakout player to megastar in his mid-20s been something to behold.
20. Calgary Flames (30-24-14): The defence features undrafted Chris Tanev and sixth-rounder MacKenzie Weegar, but how about five-foot-nine, 170-pound (soaking wet) Jakob Pelletier pushing his way into the lineup?
21. Washington Capitals (33-29-7): He may be a third-overall pick, but two teams have given up on Dylan Strome. How nice, then, that he’s tracking a career-best 60-point season with the Capitals at age 26 and has been rewarded with a five-year contract extension.
22. Ottawa Senators (33-30-4): Alex DeBrincat slipped to the second round of the 2016 draft because he’s five-foot-eight. He already has two 41-goal seasons on his resume.
23. Vancouver Canucks (29-32-5): Andrei Kuzmenko, at 27-years-old, is on a 42-goal pace as a first-year NHLer. What a story.
24. Detroit Red Wings (30-28-9): You know what, let’s just take a moment to recall that the Wings drafted Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively, at a time when the team was already winning Cups. That’s how you blend one dynasty into the next.
25. Arizona Coyotes (25-32-11): Clayton Keller is a small player who struggled early in his career and his team was sometimes derided for handing him a $57-million contract when it did. Today — and for the next five years — he’s a bargain at $7.2-million per year.
26. St. Louis Blues (29-33-5): Born in Wales, raised in Australia, Nathan Walker might be the best example of hockey being a global game.
27. Anaheim Ducks (22-36-10): I mean, the team itself was inspired by a kids movie. Twenty years on, the Ducks are still in Anaheim, have hung a Cup banner and, at times, have been one of the model franchises in the league.
28. Montreal Canadiens (27-35-6): It’s still Martin St. Louis, isn’t it? The undrafted, undersized guy who went on to become a Cup champ and Hockey Hall of Famer is now an NHL head coach whose widely praised inside and outside the organization for the job he’s doing with this building team despite having no previous high-level bench boss experience.
29. Chicago Blackhawks (23-38-6): Undrafted and five-foot-eight, Tyler Johnston has had a wonderful NHL career that includes two rings.
30. Philadelphia Flyers (24-32-11): Philadelphia gave us our greatest fictional sports underdog, Rocky Balboa. What can Daniel Briere — the five-foot-nine guy who was starting to thrive in the Dead Puck Era, then exploded when it ended — do as a young executive now that he’s one of the architects of what’s starting to look like a ground-up rebuild?
31. Columbus Blue Jackets (21-38-7): Johnny Gaudreau is still kind of the baby face of little guys in the league. He’s on a charge lately and looks as though, when all is said and done, he’ll again be a point-per-game player in Year 1 with Columbus.
32. San Jose Sharks (19-36-13): Four years into his San Jose tenure, it looked like Erik Karlsson’s time there would be characterized as somewhere between disappointing and disastrous. Funny how a 100-point season from a defenceman can change the narrative.