Sports

NHL power rankings: The final regular season set, plus playoff players to watch

Folks, it’s the last Power Rankings of the regular season. Feel the excitement. Try your best, at least — because these last couple days of the schedule are absolutely brutal. We’re watching the Thursday night games, and some of these teams might as well be asleep.

Know who is definitely asleep? Dom. Buddy needed the week off to “work on playoff preview stuff” … a likely story. See you never, little buddy! This is “The Shayna and Hailey Show” now. They’re back and better than what typically passes for content in these parts.

Our theme this week is twofold; for the playoff teams, we picked players who — for varying reasons — we’re excited to watch come the first round. The rest of you got players who should provide optimism for next season.

Apologies to McIndoe; we started working on this before we read his Wednesday post. In any case, we made it. The playoffs are here. Congratulations to us, one and all.


1. Florida Panthers

Record: 58-17-7
Last week: 1
Hailey rank: 1
Shayna rank: 2
Sean rank: 1

Shayna: Two years straight, Aaron Ekblad’s Norris-caliber regular season has been cut short by injury. His 3.68 GSVA still ranks seventh among all defenders despite being sidelined for the last month. Luckily this time around, he should be back for the playoffs after missing out last year. That gives the Panthers a serious boost on both ends of the ice, in all situations.

Already Florida has one of the best forward groups in the league; with Ekblad back their defense is more comparable to other contenders. Not only do they bring a legitimate No. 1 back into the fold, but the rest of the blue line gets to be slotted more appropriately. Mackenzie Weegar and Ben Chiarot have been fine as the top pair in the interim, but they’re not nearly as strong in their own zone as the Weegar-Ekblad duo. Moving Chiarot into the bottom-three, with Ekblad, Weegar, and Gustav Forsling headlining the blue line, should give this team a much better chance of progressing this spring.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Record: 56-18-7
Last week: 2
Hailey rank: 2
Shayna rank: 1
Sean rank: 2

Hailey: He didn’t wind up as the Avalanche’s leading scorer, but Nazem Kadri is still going to be a huge factor here. Colorado has come to rely on his productivity — he had 85 points in 69 games. That alone is important enough.

The big reason to track him, though, is clear. He’s been suspended in the playoffs three separate times, twice with the Maple Leafs and again last year with the Avalanche. We know Colorado is a great regular-season team. We don’t know that this core is capable of making it to a Western Conference final … because they haven’t done it. If they break through, Kadri will have been a big part of it. Throw in the fact that he’s a pending UFA, and a borderline lock to sign a big-money deal elsewhere, and there’s a lot riding on his performance. He’s got to stay in the lineup for any of it to matter.

3. Calgary Flames

Record: 50-20-11
Last week: 3
Hailey rank: 4
Shayna rank: 4
Sean rank: 3

Hailey: I have two trains of thought here. If the Flames play against Nashville in the first round, the drama with Matthew Tkachuk will be epic. Did anyone else watch the game between Calgary-Nashville on Tuesday? It was incredible, and Tkachuk was right in the thick of it, scoring the game-tying goal with 0.1 of a second left and pissing off the entire opposing team. That will all surely bleed into a seven-game series.

But if they play against Dallas in the first round, Tkachuk and the Flames have a chance to avenge the playoff loss from 2019-20. Tkachuk was the emotional heartbeat of that series for Calgary and when he left the lineup due to a concussion sustained in Game 2, that “drag the team into battle” element of his game was missed.

Not to mention, Tkachuk is a better player this year than in 2019-20. He’s a 40-goal, 100-point player this season on one of the best lines in the NHL and he’s still a pain to play against. That should be fun.

4. Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 54-20-8
Last week: 6
Hailey rank: 3
Shayna rank: 7
Sean rank: 4

Sean: There were always going to be reasons to track Freddie Andersen’s performance in the playoffs; part of the reason he’s in Carolina in the first place was an 0-4 record in playoff series with the Maple Leafs. (He had save percentages of .915, .922 and .926 mixed in there, but I digress). Now, after an outstanding season — he had a .922 save percentage and a goals saved above expected of 28.47, second-best in the league — he’s dealing with an injury that, at minimum, could hinder him in the first round.

Is he healthy? Can he win a playoff series as a starter? How much of his success is a product of Carolina’s system, given last season’s top-five GSAx performances from Alex Nedeljkovic and Petr Mrazek? I’m ready for answers to any and all of those questions.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 50-23-8
Last week: 8
Hailey rank: 6
Shayna rank: 3
Sean rank: 6

Hailey: Most of the potential picks on the Lightning’s roster are boring, right? These are known commodities in the playoffs. That’s how it tends to work when you’ve won the Cup in consecutive seasons. Wow, you’re excited to see what Andrei Vasilevskiy does in the postseason? How brave you are.

Nick Paul doesn’t fit in with most of the rest of the roster, though. He was part of Tampa’s on-the-fly reconstruction of its middle six, and the former Senator has done what they acquired him to do. Honestly, 14 points in 19 games — including seven in his last six games heading into Thursday — is probably more than what they could’ve expected. Paul doesn’t need to be a point-per-game guy to be relevant for the Lightning. Players like him — with a different level of hunger than the rest of such a successful group — are necessary for teams looking to repeat … or threepeat.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 53-21-7
Last week: 5
Hailey rank: 5
Shayna rank: 6
Sean rank: 5

Sean: I flipped a coin to decide between Mitch Marner and Jack Campbell, and here we are. This is probably the right choice, given the psychic baggage Marner — more than any other Leaf, tough as that may be — is bringing into the postseason.

He’s a fantastic regular-season player. We know that. We’ve known it for years. He’s also got three 5-on-5 points in the last three postseasons. Granted, he’s only played in three series total, but … one probably leads to the other, yeah? Nothing about Marner’s performance this season suggests that Meltdown No. 4 is on the way — he’s in better shape, and he’s been one of the NHL’s top even-strength scorers for months — other than, uh, his past performance and the logo on his jersey. All he has to do is show up and produce against the two-time defending champs. No pressure.

7. Minnesota Wild

Record: 52-22-7
Last week: 4
Hailey rank: 8
Shayna rank: 5
Sean rank: 7

Shayna: The Wild have a much deeper offense than last year. Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello lead the way. Kevin Fiala and Matt Boldy form a much more effective duo than whatever they trotted out last year (often Fiala with Marcus Johansson). And now what was the second line last year, technically is the third this year.

Jordan GreenwayJoel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno are a reliable trio for Minnesota. It’s a hard-nosed line that’s stout in its own zone and can create havoc in front of the opponents’ net. The center is such a pivotal part of that it, and his two-way efforts should keep him in the Selke conversation again this year. Eriksson Ek can be leaned on in all situations and in the most critical moments of a game. Over the last two seasons, he’s picked up his offensive impact to match his stellar defensive play. And he has a knack for absolutely infuriating his opponents because he’s such a pain to play against — that’s helped earn him a plus-14 penalty differential. It should make for some really interesting matchups against the Blues.

8. St. Louis Blues

Record: 49-21-11
Last week: 9
Hailey rank: 7
Shayna rank: 8
Sean rank: 8

Shayna: It’s a fact that Pavel Buchnevich’s playoff experience is pretty minimal. In 2016-17 with the Rangers, he played less than he should have and was even a healthy scratch for Tanner Glass at times. Remember those days? Then he played a couple games in the bubble before being eliminated by the Hurricanes.

That makes this his best opportunity yet to really make his mark. This time around, he’s a bonafide top-six winger who his coaches trust in all situations, on both ends of the ice. That’s a huge difference from last time. And he’s in a great position to succeed, on a skilled line with Robert Thomas and Vlad Tarasenko. It’s a test for him to see how he responds to a playoff environment in an expanded role from those previous experiences. Based on how he’s responded to challenges these last two years — evolving his game to focus more on defense and joining a new squad — there’s reason to be confident in what he’ll do for the Blues.


Igor Shesterkin. (Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

9. New York Rangers

Record: 51-24-6
Last week: 7
Hailey rank: 9
Shayna rank: 9
Sean rank: 9

Sean: I didn’t want to choose Igor Shesterkin; he’s been the subject of, conservatively, 95 percent of every Rangers blurb we’ve typed up here over the past few weeks. Sometimes, though, the obvious choice is the correct one. Dude is about to be must-see TV. There’s no way around that.

Now, is that a little less true than it was in, say, January? Sure. The team ahead of him is a lot better; they’re probably not going to need him to put together a nightly gymnastics routine if they want to advance, as we all were anticipating. He’s still the Vezina-winner-in-waiting, though. We should want to watch the best goalie currently walking the planet, whether he needs to carry his team or not.

10. Boston Bruins

Record: 51-25-5
Last week: 10
Hailey rank: 10
Shayna rank: 10
Sean rank: 10

Hailey: Since returning from injury, David Pastrnak has six points, and that’s great, considering the Bruins needed him back healthy and ready for the postseason. He leads the team in scoring, with 40 goals in 72 games. He is the primary scoring threat on the Bruins power play — the team went 0-for-24 on the man advantage with Pastrnak out with a core injury. He also makes linemate Taylor Hall a different, more impactful, player for the Bruins. Hall produces at a higher rate at 5-on-5 when Pastrnak is on his right flank. Hall is going to be important for Boston in the playoffs too, but Pastrnak is directly responsible for driving his line, helping Hall’s play and the top power play unit.

11. Edmonton Oilers

Record: 48-27-6
Last week: 12
Hailey rank: 11
Shayna rank: 11
Sean rank: 11

Shayna: Maybe this is the boring answer, but I don’t care. Love the Oilers or hate them, it’s always good to see the best players in the world have the opportunity to compete in the postseason. Connor McDavid hasn’t always had that during his NHL career, or at least, had a good opportunity to do so based on the teams around him. This year, he’s once again having an MVP-caliber season. Now it’s time to see if he can take over games when they matter most. And, see how he manages against the likes of Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar of the Kings.

Sometimes it feels like we get tired of seeing McDavid or even Sidney Crosby consistently crush it, but it’s a sight to watch every single time he’s on the ice. And there’s a good chance we see that for more than one round, seeing as Edmonton’s the favorite in this Pacific Division matchup.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 45-25-11
Last week: 11
Hailey rank: 12
Shayna rank: 12
Sean rank: 13

Sean: It’s not that Evgeni Malkin has been bad this season; he’s a point-per-game player, albeit in just 40 games, and has 16 in 14 games since March 19 (with a four-game cross checking suspension mixed in there). He’s been great at times. That’s to be expected — he is, through it all, a great player.

If the Penguins are going to make it out of the first round, though, they’re going to need more from him. Of Malkin’s 40 points, just 16 came at 5-on-5. That, you see, is the problem. He hasn’t had consistent linemates — Bryan Rust, Rickard Rackell, Jason Zucker and Danton Heinen could all wind up on his wing at any given time — and his future in Pittsburgh is, to some degree, an open question. None of that is going to help matters. But if he’s not more productive, the Penguins’ season-ending slide is going to end without a reversal.

13. Washington Capitals

Record: 44-25-12
Last week: 13
Hailey rank: 13
Shayna rank: 12
Sean rank: 12

Sean: Shayna and Hailey stuck me with all the obvious ones. That’s good — I’m real stupid! But yeah, this spot is Alex Ovechkin’s, and it’s his for a couple reasons. The first is that he’s still fantastic. He followed up a midseason productivity lull with 18 goals in his last 24 games, putting him at 50 overall. That’s standard Ovechkin stuff. We’re used to it, because we’ve been watching it since 2005.

What we’re not used to? The big fella missing games. He’s played less than 77 games in a normal NHL season exactly twice, and he hit the mark again this season, but a late upper-body injury has his early series availability (theoretically) in doubt. He’s going to play — there’s no sense in pretending otherwise — but he may not be at 100 percent. That’s a version of Ovechkin we haven’t seen.

14. Los Angeles Kings

Record: 44-27-11
Last week: 15
Hailey rank: 14
Shayna rank: 14
Sean rank: 15

Hailey: We’re less than a year removed from watching Phillip Danault eating pizza and shutting down opposing top lines in the playoffs. Since then, he’s signed a big-ticket contract and added a better scoring touch to his arsenal, more than doubling his previous career high in goals with 27 in 79 games. His 51 points are only two shy of his previous high of 53 scored in 2018-19. Danault has elevated his game offensively, all without sacrificing his diligence on the defensive side of the puck. He leads a solid two-way line for the Kings, has eased the burden on No. 1 center Anze Kopitar and allowed young centers Gabe Vilardi and Quinton Byfield to be slotted into favorable matchups. The bet on Danault’s $33 million deal has paid off so far.

The Kings and Oilers first-round matchup is locked in. In 2020-21, Danault was effective all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. What will this version be able to do against McDavid and the Oilers?

15. Nashville Predators

Record: 45-29-7
Last week: 14
Hailey rank: 15
Shayna rank: 16
Sean rank: 14

Sean: I don’t want to say that Roman Josi ran out of gas down the stretch — he just didn’t hit the 100-point mark. Last month, that felt like a lock. Hilarious stuff, due to him being a defenseman and all that. What he still managed, though, was to set the Preds’ franchise record for points. I figured Filip Forsberg held that, and I was wrong.

The thing about Forsberg? If he played a full season, he probably would’ve been right there with Josi. The man scored 42 goals in his first 67 games. Did you know he missed that much time? Because I did not. The end result is that he started Thursday tied for second in goals per 60 minutes, league wide, among players with at least 500 minutes. Only Auston Matthews has him beat. That’s primetime stuff — and if the Preds are going to compete in the first round, with Juuse Saros likely on the sideline, they’re going to need everything he’s got.

16. Dallas Stars

Record: 45-30-6
Last week: 16
Hailey rank: 16
Shayna rank: 15
Sean rank: 16

Shayna: The Stars aren’t the most exciting team around … until their first line hops over the boards. It’s a group effort between Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, who each contribute something to make this trio thrive. But is Robertson a star, or what? Like a legitimate star, not just a Dallas Star.

The winger has been such a game-changer over the last two seasons. The now-40-goal scorer (!) rises to the occasion, and elevates his game when his team needs it most. Look at their game against Vegas a few days ago; he scored tying goals twice to keep his team in it. By Dom Luszczyszyn’s model, he has the eighth best offensive rating in the league. Think of how many teams would kill to have him headlining their winger depth now after passing on him in the draft.


17. Vancouver Canucks

Record: 40-30-11
Last week: 17
Hailey rank: 17
Shayna rank: 18
Sean rank: 17

Hailey: Something wasn’t right with Elias Pettersson at the start of the season, and really, the Canucks team as a whole. It doesn’t really matter what it was because a lot of the issues seemed to be fixed now under Bruce Boudreau. Specifically with Pettersson, he’s scored 53 points in 53 games since Boudreau was hired in December. Arguably no player has embodied the Boudreau glow up more than him — save for J.T. Miller, who scored 74 points in his last 53 games, but he was already a point-per-game player. Miller went from being good to really good. While Pettersson went from looking lost to looking like an elite forward in the league again.

If he repeats that point-per-game production for a full season under Boudreau, he’s going to be fine.

Maybe he’ll even hit 100 points like someone predicted

18. Vegas Golden Knights

Record: 42-31-8
Last week: 18
Hailey rank: 18
Shayna rank: 17
Sean rank: 18

Sean: It feels exceedingly stupid to say this after the way the things ended for the Golden Knights — turns out they weren’t any good, whoopsie daisies — but they’re on track to get a full season’s worth of Jack Eichel. That counts for something.

Now, has Eichel spent the last few weeks taking shots? Sure. Those are the breaks when you’re the star on a team that has the wheels come off. The juxtaposition between all *gestures toward the desert* that, and how Eichel’s old team have ended their season is stark. There’s also a lot of work to do elsewhere for Vegas; signing Johnny Gaudreau for $13 million a season or whatever isn’t an option. But … he’s Jack Eichel. He’s a big deal for a reason. Whether the Golden Knights crawl out of the muck is a fair question, but I’d bet on him being really good next season no matter what. And as we know, bets in Vegas never backfire.

19. Winnipeg Jets

Record: 37-32-11
Last week: 20
Hailey rank: 19
Shayna rank: 19
Sean rank: 19

Sean: It’s tough to look at the Jets and see anything other than a team stuck in neutral. There are a lot of finished products on that roster and not many points (or playoff series wins) to show for it. Kyle Connor is a boring choice — of course your 46-goal, 92-point guy is going to be a reason for optimism — but he’s the right one for a couple reasons. One of them? If Winnipeg takes a real look inward and decides that the current course isn’t correct, Connor is going to be a prime trade piece. Several guys on that roster fit that bill, in fact. It’s better than nothing.

Assuming they don’t take that route, I’ll be interested to see what a new coach can pull off with this group. They don’t lack for talent, but the results are undeniably mediocre. Weird situation.

20. New York Islanders

Record: 37-34-10
Last week: 20
Hailey rank: 20
Shayna rank: 20
Sean rank: 20

Shayna: Between the pipes, Ilya Sorokin had such a strong season on Long Island. It’s unfortunate that so many feel that making the playoffs is a parameter for the Vezina, because he should finish top-three on the ballot for his efforts. Even though his team fell short, it wasn’t for a lack of goaltending — he can check off the boxes for one of the ‘best’ performances by a goaltender this season, and the ‘most valuable’ depending on how the award is viewed.

In 51 games in all situations, according to Evolving-Hockey, Sorokin saved 21.93 goals above expected. That puts him third in the league behind Shesterkin and Andersen. Thirty-four of those 51 games qualify as a ‘quality start’ or a game in which a goaltender gave their team a chance to win by earning a GSAx above zero. Even more impressive is that he accomplished this in his first year of taking on a starter’s workload at the NHL level, after splitting the net and playing 22 games last year.

So there should be stability in net for years to come with Sorokin, who is living up to the hype so far in his young NHL career.

21. Buffalo Sabres

Record: 31-39-11
Last week: 21
Hailey rank: 21
Shayna rank: 21
Sean rank: 21

Shayna: Pressure and high expectations are part of the deal for first-overall picks. That’s true for Owen Power who is getting off to an impressive NHL start, and will be exciting to watch next year. It’s also true for Rasmus Dahlindrafted first overall in 2018. Over the last few seasons, there have been glimmers of his skill but he hadn’t really developed into a game-breaker quite yet. There’s been instability in Buffalo that factors into that too, though. But over the last couple of months, he’s really kicked his game up and is showing that difference-making ability.

Dahlin can skate his way out of danger, and bring the puck up the ice with possession, and quarterback offensive plays from the blue line. Between his shooting and passing, he can help tilt the ice in the Sabres’ favor at even strength, too. There’s a lot of potential here, and he’s on the right path to put it all together. Next year could be the year he really hits the star status that’s expected.


Troy Terry. (Photo by Debora Robinson / NHLI via Getty Images)

22. Anaheim Ducks

Record: 31-36-14
Last week: 23
Hailey rank: 22
Shayna rank: 22
Sean rank: 22

Sean: Bet you all thought I was going to say Trevor Zegras. Nope! Nope! Nope! I’m going with Troy Terry. Is that because he was one of the best guests we’ve had on The Athletic Hockey Show? Is it because he’s an American? No. No, of course not.

Part of it, though, is the stuff he said on the show. He’s a smart dude, and he’s also adjusting to life as a goal-scorer, rather than as the pure playmaker he was up until this point. It worked out well; he’s at 36 goals and counting. Now, after spending a whole bunch of time with Ryan Getzlaf, he’s penciled in as a Zegras running mate for hopefully the next decade or so.

23. San Jose Sharks

Record: 32-36-13
Last week: 22
Hailey rank: 23
Shayna rank: 23
Sean rank: 23

Shayna: There has to be optimism for Tomas Hertl since the biggest question for the Sharks the entire year was whether they were going to extend or trade him. He’s a high-end top-six center who can make an impact on both ends of the ice. Without him, this team looks a lot different. But it also would likely signal a change in direction — that they were heading toward a re-tooling.

Instead, the Sharks have to navigate this cap situation with the hurdle of another major contract. It shouldn’t have to be asked how a team is going to figure out how to balance the books just after signing such a significant deal. But the Sharks have had a tendency of signing their core players to these absolutely massive contracts at the wrong point in their careers. Every deal, inevitably, becomes a weight on the cap in the later years. That’s going to make this offseason interesting as the front office changes. How is management going to dig their way out of cap hell? Can they find a way to salvage the situation and find supporting players before all of their core pieces are out of their primes?

24. Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 37-37-7
Last week: 24
Hailey rank: 24
Shayna rank: 25
Sean rank: 25

Sean: For too many years to count, the Blue Jackets were thin down the middle. Pierre-Luc Dubois wasn’t around long enough to count. In the last year or so, they’ve addressed the position in a big way. Jack Roslovic had the best season of his career. Cole Sillinger stuck in the NHL as an 18-year-old. Kent Johnson joined up after Michigan’s season ended. All three seem like legitimate answers to a long-term question. I’ll go with Johnson as the frontman here — his skill is pretty remarkable — but pick any of the three and you’d be fine.

25. Ottawa Senators

Record: 32-42-7
Last week: 25
Hailey rank: 25
Shayna rank: 26
Sean rank: 24

Hailey: There were lengthy stretches of this season where almost everything went wrong for the Ottawa Senators. Brady Tkachuk took time to ramp up after missing camp. Tim Stützle started slow. Erik Brannstrom broke his hand. There was the COVID-19 outbreak, and then a flu that went around the room. Drake Batherson got targeted by Aaron Dell and missed his first All-Star nod. Josh Norris missed some time with a shoulder injury. And then, there were the two injuries to Shane Pinto that ended up requiring surgery. Frankly, the single biggest reason to be optimistic about the Senators is that this can’t possibly happen again … right?

But, anyone who knows me and my time covering Ottawa, is that I am a big fan of Pinto’s game. His return to health and the lineup should be good for the Sens. Pinto is a reliable top-six center who can be impactful in all situations. He’s good on faceoffs, he’s good on the PK. He has a nice shot and playmaking ability. The idea of a top-six with Norris and Pinto up the middle should be the bones for something good, especially if other young players — Brady Tkachuk, Stützle and Batherson — continue to take steps in the right direction.

26. Detroit Red Wings

Record: 31-40-10
Last week: 26
Hailey rank: 26
S
hayna rank: 24
Sean rank: 26

Hailey: Moritz Seider is probably going to win the Calder Trophy, or at least he should. He came into the NHL as a 20-year-old and made an immediate impact on the Red Wings. He’s shown he’s capable of playing the No. 1 defender role already. He can hit. He can quarterback the power play. He can keep plays alive in the offensive zone and has the offense to match with 49 points in 81 games. He has become one of Detroit’s most important, most heavily relied-upon players.

A more experienced Seider in 2022-23 is exciting to think about. Honestly, there’s more than just one reason to be optimistic about the Red Wings: Lucas Raymond is going to be older and probably wiser too, maybe he makes a jump in productivity. There’s Jakub Vrana who, ideally, is healthy. Maybe Simon Edvinsson arrives? Maybe they get a fresh perspective behind the bench with a new coach? There could be a lot of moving pieces this summer, and that could be good in Detroit.

But unless the Red Wings add impact free agents, I’m not sure how much better they’ll be.

27. Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 28-42-11
Last week: 27
Hailey rank: 27
Shayna rank: 28
Sean rank: 27

Sean: Huh. This one was tough. It’s been said 1,000 different ways here, but the Blackhawks are in the process of restarting a rebuild that they, for whatever reason, aborted last year. Scott Powers wrote a nice story on top prospect Lukas Reichel, who spent most of the season getting some AHL seasoning. Hopefully more of that is on the way for Chicago. They’re in the right lane, if nothing else.

28. New Jersey Devils

Record: 27-45-9
Last week: 28
Hailey rank: 27
Shayna rank: 28
Sean rank: 28

Sean: Unreal performance this season by Jack Hughes. We know about the on-ice leap he took in between injuries; 56 points in 49 games is ahead-of-schedule production. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be everything New Jersey hoped he’d be.

On top of all that, though, is a well-timed, season-ending knee injury. Sure, in a perfect world, Oliver Wahlstrom wouldn’t have sprained Hughes’ MCL with a dirty hit in the first place … but with him out of the lineup, the Devils have added a whole bunch of ping-pong balls to the lottery hopper. They’ve now lost six straight and have the fifth-best odds at winning the first pick.

29. Seattle Kraken

Record: 26-48-6
Last week: 29
Hailey rank: 29
Shayna rank: 30
Sean rank: 29

Hailey: Brandon Tanev is expected to be back for the 2022-23 season after ACL surgery in December. He’s fast, he’s physical, he’s developed a nice scoring touch — he was third in Kraken scoring with nine goals before his injury — and he brings so much energy that his teammates call him Turbo. Tanev is a lot of fun to watch. I’d be excited to have him back next season if I were a fan.

However, the real reason for optimism for the Kraken, and I’m going against our player rule here, is probably their 12 draft selections this summer. Or rather the 34 over the next three drafts. And their $22 million in cap space for next season.

30. Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 25-45-11
Last week: 31
Hailey rank: 30
Shayna rank: 31
Sean rank: 30

Hailey: At first I thought it would be nice for the Flyers to get Ryan Ellis back next season. He’s a solid defender and could be the centerpiece of a blue line. But the more I read about his injury situation via Charlie O’Connor, the more I wonder if this is a reason for pessimism, especially when it comes to the lack of information surrounding his status, his recovery and, really, the injury in general. The goalposts on what is happening and what will happen have been moved so many times that there are even reports he hasn’t been around the team since the start of 2022.

Outside of Ellis, I’m hesitant to pick an individual player here, given GM Chuck Fletcher’s desire for an aggressive retool. The team doesn’t have a ton of cap space right now, so bringing in significant players will require bodies (and money) to move out the door.

Perhaps a healthy full season of Kevin Hayes — plus whatever free agents or trades the team can bring in — is reason to be optimistic?

31. Montreal Canadiens

Record: 21-49-11
Last week: 30
Hailey rank: 32
Shayna rank: 29
Sean rank: 31

Shayna: Marty St. Louis has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air in Montreal. The results may not always show it, but he brings an innovative approach that this league needs — like emphasizing concepts over systems and encouraging players to make reads on developing plays and following their instincts. The impact he’s had in a short time is already super clear, especially when it comes to Cole Caufield.

Ahead of the coaching change, Caufield, who many expected to be in Calder contention, had just one goal and seven assists in 30 games. His start was nothing short of disappointing, but the blame didn’t land squarely on his shoulders. Since the St. Louis era kicked off, he’s leading the team in goals (19) and is second in points (32) in 36 games. That’s four times his early-season scoring in only six more games. One notable change in his game is how often he drives to the slot. There’s so much a former player like St. Louis — someone who knows what it takes to work incredibly hard to reach this level and was an elite player — can teach. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s not too far removed from playing, either.

32. Arizona Coyotes

Record: 24-50-7
Last week: 32
Hailey rank: 31
Shayna rank: 32
Sean rank: 32

Shayna: This is the toughest of the bunch. It’s going to be really interesting to see how player acquisition goes for Arizona this summer considering their situation. Maybe some will love the vibes from a small arena — there is potential to make it a really cool experience — but there has to be a willingness to give that a shot.

Luckily, one of their best players is under contract for a while. So barring some major change, Clayton Keller should still be leading the way for the Coyotes next year. The winger put up 63 points in 67 games, and was on pace to set career highs before suffering an unfortunate season-ending injury. He was generating scoring chances at a high rate and sending his teammate high-danger passes to facilitate their games. Between Keller and Nick Schmaltz, there was some exciting offensive creation for a stretch. Hopefully, there’s some talent around him next year so he can build off this season and exceed the milestone he tried to reach.

(Top photo of Matthew Tkachuk: Getty Images)

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