NHL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, each team's player to watch

ByKristen Shilton ESPN logo
Friday, February 16, 2024

With the Stadium Series on tap this weekend in New Jersey -- Flyers-Devils 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC/ESPN+, and Rangers-Islanders 3 p.m. Sunday on ABC/ESPN+ -- that means we are also closing in on the March 8 NHL trade deadline. And beyond that, the final push to the playoffs.

There are some captivating players we all have our eyes on when it comes to the potential wheeling and dealing over the next few weeks. This week as part of our NHL Power Rankings, we've identified one player from each team that is under the closest watch -- whether it's a player that could be traded, someone chasing a milestone, or a player carrying his team's playoff hopes on his shoulders.

How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors sends in a 1-32 poll based on the games through Wednesday, which generates our master list here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the previous edition, published Feb. 9. Points percentages are through Thursday's games.

1. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 1

Points percentage: 72.73%

Quinn Hughes. Vancouver's top defenseman already owns the franchise record for most points from a blueliner (76), but can he smash through that mark and hit 100 this season? Would that be an opening salvo to Quinn winning his first Norris Trophy? Both milestones feel possible for Hughes, and we'll be watching to see how his excellent campaign plays out.

Next seven days: vs. WPG (Feb. 17), @ MIN (Feb. 19), @ COL (Feb. 20), @ SEA (Feb. 22)

2. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 5

Points percentage: 68.52%

Sam Reinhart. Florida is one of the NHL's best teams in part because of Reinhart's dynamic play this season, particularly on the power play. He's already set and surpassed franchise records for special teams scores, and there are still weeks to go in this campaign. In a contract year, Reinhart is putting on a show that's well worth watching, especially to see just how many goals he can collect by the end.

Next seven days: @ TB (Feb. 17), vs. OTT (Feb. 20), @ CAR (Feb. 22)

3. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 2

Points percentage: 68.52%

Jake DeBrusk. Boston has explored trade partners for Jake DeBrusk before, and we'll be watching to see if they do so again. DeBrusk is notably without a contract after this season, and given Boston's recent struggles it could be time for GM Don Sweeney to shake things up. DeBrusk might be a valuable asset in helping the Bruins fill in their gaps.

Next seven days: vs. LA (Feb. 17), vs. DAL (Feb. 19), @ EDM (Feb. 21), @ CGY (Feb. 22)

4. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 9

Points percentage: 67.59%

Igor Shesterkin. New York knows it needs a revived Igor Shesterkin for the stretch run here. Do the Rangers finally have that in their midst? Shesterkin played almost a backset to Jonathan Quick in the season's first half, but he's perked up post-All Star break. Last week Shesterkin recorded his first shutout of the campaign. Is that a sign of good things to come? In a hotly contested Metropolitan Division race, the Rangers have to hope so.

Next seven days: vs. NYI (Feb. 18), vs. DAL (Feb. 20), @ NJ (Feb. 22)

5. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 4

Points percentage: 68.52%

Thomas Harley. Dallas has an unsung hero on its hands in defenseman Thomas Harley. The 22-year-old caught fire while Miro Heiskanen was injured, and now they're together on the Stars' top pairing. That's music to Dallas' ears. The Stars need a robust defensive effort to compensate for some injury issues -- they recently lost Evgenii Dadonov long term -- and Harley will be one to monitor.

Next seven days: vs. EDM (Feb. 17), @ BOS (Feb. 19), @ NYR (Feb. 20), @ OTT (Feb. 22)

6. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 3

Points percentage: 63.64%

Ryan Johansen. Colorado hasn't seen the best of Ryan Johansen -- and that may well be an understatement. The veteran forward has 19 points in 54 games this season on a team he clearly isn't clicking with in a projected second-line center role. Do the Avalanche keep trying to make things work there? Or can they scour the trade market for someone to take Johansen and his $4 million contract through next season off their hands? Stay tuned.

Next seven days: vs. ARI (Feb. 18), vs. VAN (Feb. 20), @ DET (Feb. 22)

7. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 6

Points percentage: 67.65%

Kyle Connor. Winnipeg has been sliding of late thanks in no small part to their big problem -- not scoring goals. That's where Connor comes in. The All-Star winger has been slowed by injuries this season, but if Connor were to get on a run, it would be the exact spark Winnipeg needs to avoid a repeat of last season's second-half spiral. Let's see what a healthy and confident Connor can do to keep that fate at bay.

Next seven days: @ VAN (Feb. 17), @ CGY (Feb. 19), vs. MIN (Feb. 20)

8. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 8

Points percentage: 63.00%

Connor McDavid. Edmonton will go where Connor McDavid takes it; that's been true the last few years. McDavid has helped resurrect the Oilers following a rancid start. Now it's all about how he -- and, let's be honest, Leon Draisaitl -- do at bringing their personal brand of magic into the playoffs. It wasn't long ago a postseason try was pure pipe dream for Edmonton. Now it's on McDavid to get them there, and do something special.

Next seven days: @ DAL (Feb. 17), @ ARI (Feb. 19), vs. BOS (Feb. 21)

9. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 7

Points percentage: 64.15%

Adin Hill. Vegas could see Adin Hill in the Vezina Trophy conversation this season. He's been that good -- and entirely low-key about it. When he's between the pipes, Vegas is reaping major rewards. What more can Hill prove into spring? And will it be key to the Golden Knights possibly repeating as Stanley Cup champs?

Next seven days: vs. CAR (Feb. 17), @ SJ (Feb. 19), vs. NSH (Feb. 20), vs. TOR (Feb. 22)

10. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 11

Points percentage: 61.54%

Auston Matthews. Toronto has seen some great things out of Matthews -- but a 70-goal season? That would be a new accomplishment. Only eight NHL players have ever hit that threshold, and Matthews would need just 28 goals in the Leafs' final 30 games to become the ninth. It's a bold benchmark that hasn't been hit in over 30 years. If anyone could do it, it would be Matthews.

Next seven days: vs. ANA (Feb. 17), @ STL (Feb. 19), @ ARI (Feb. 21), @ VGK (Feb. 22)

11. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 10

Points percentage: 62.50%

Andrei Svechnikov. When healthy, Svechnikov is a standout. Unfortunately, he hasn't been available much this season. Svechnikov is on the cusp of returning from his third injury of the season -- but the timing may well be perfect if he can finally stay in the lineup. Just how much better can Svechnikov make these Hurricanes? We've seen him dominate before. After getting plenty of rest and rehab, perhaps he'll be right back on form.

Next seven days: @ ARI (Feb. 16), @ VGK (Feb. 17), vs. CHI (Feb. 19), vs. FLA (Feb. 22)

12. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 12

Points percentage: 59.09%

Sean Walker. Philadelphia is a rebuilding playoff team. If that's even a thing. It's on GM Danny Briere to decide if that's where the Flyers will remain, and Sean Walker's situation hangs in the balance. Walker is a pending UFA having his best NHL season. That makes Walker both an attractive trade chip and desirable player to retain. What will the Flyers ultimately do with Walker? The outcome of their season might be in the balance.

Next seven days: vs. NJ (Feb. 17), @ CHI (Feb. 21)

13. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 13

Points percentage: 59.09%

Nikita Kucherov. Tampa Bay's defense took a hit when Mikhail Sergachev went down with a broken leg. That'll put even more emphasis on the Lightning's offense to keep scoring -- and Nikita Kucherov is the one to watch in that department. Kucherov appears to be a in a horserace with Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid for league MVP. Carrying Tampa Bay through a tough stretch would go a long way in bolstering his candidacy for the title.

Next seven days: vs. FLA (Feb. 17), vs. OTT (Feb. 19), vs. WSH (Feb. 22)

14. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 14

Points percentage: 56.60%

Lucas Raymond. Detroit's recent surge has deservedly put Raymond in the spotlight. After a slow start to the season, he's nearly matched Alex DeBrincat for the team lead in points, and that output has helped the Red Wings start to soar. Can Raymond keep the good times going in Motor City and propel Detroit back into the playoffs? No doubt we'll be keeping tabs on that progress.

Next seven days: @ CGY (Feb. 17), @ SEA (Feb. 19), vs. COL (Feb. 22)

15. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 15

Points percentage: 58.82%

Pierre-Luc Dubois. Los Angeles has a new coach in Jim Hiller -- and what the Kings really need is for Hiller to get more out of Pierre-Luc Dubois. Often a change behind the bench can kick-start struggling players, and if Hiller can pull something out of Dubois that L.A. hasn't experienced yet it would be a real boost to their postseason prospects.

Next seven days: @ BOS (Feb. 17), @ PIT (Feb. 18), vs. CBJ (Feb. 20), vs. NSH (Feb. 22)

16. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 18

Points percentage: 54.72%

Jack Hughes. New Jersey needs Jack Hughes to be an electrifying force up front if they're going to contend in the Metro. Fortunately, Hughes has built a career on being exactly that -- and he's back from injury and lighting it up again. Hughes has the talent to wrestle these Devils out of the murky middle and up the standings. It should make for fascinating theater through to spring.

Next seven days: vs. PHI (Feb. 17), @ WSH (Feb. 20), vs. NYR (Feb. 22)

17. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 20

Points percentage: 56.60%

Pavel Buchnevich. St. Louis hasn't had the easiest season to date, but Buchnevich is one continuous bright spot. Will that lead the Blues to trade him away? St. Louis has been clinging to a Western Conference wild-card spot, and retaining Buchnevich gives them a better shot at the playoffs. But Buchnevich might move the needle even more on the trade block. What direction GM Doug Armstrong goes could reflect how he feels about this season's potential for the Blues.

Next seven days: vs. NSH (Feb. 17), vs. TOR (Feb. 19), vs. NYI (Feb. 22)

18. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 19

Points percentage: 53.77%

Noah Dobson. New York arguably has the league's most underrated defenseman in Noah Dobson. Will he continue to fly under the radar? The Islanders are in a dogfight to make the playoffs, and if they do, Dobson will be a primary reason why. What he's able to do nightly in pushing New York over the line will be worth watching one way or another.

Next seven days: vs. NYR (Feb. 18), @ PIT (Feb. 20), @ STL (Feb. 22)

19. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 22

Points percentage: 50.93%

Jonathan Huberdeau. Calgary waited a long time to see Jonathan Huberdeau shine -- and this just might be his moment. Since the Flames swapped Elias Lindholm for Andrei Kuzmenko and slotted the latter skater onto Huberdeau's line it's like Huberdeau himself has come to life with some inspiring hockey. If this success is sustainable, can an improved Huberdeau help push Calgary into the playoff conversation?

Next seven days: vs. DET (Feb. 17), vs. WPG (Feb. 19), vs. BOS (Feb. 22)

20. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 17

Points percentage: 51.85%

Alexandre Carrier. Nashville could cash in at the deadline by moving Carrier to a contender. He's a 27-year-old right-shot defender that would be an ideal depth add for any team hoping there's a long spring ahead. That scenario doesn't look to be in the cards for Nashville, so will taking calls on Carrier be what helps set them up for brighter days in the future?

Next seven days: @ STL (Feb. 17), @ VGK (Feb. 20), @ LA (Feb. 22)

21. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 16

Points percentage: 53.92%

Jake Guentzel. Pittsburgh was dealt another tough blow when Guentzel landed on injured reserve this week, with a projected return date around mid-March. Guentzel was (is?) the Penguins' top trade asset, and was generating plenty of interest ahead of the deadline. Will that still be the case? Is the prospect of trading Guentzel -- a pending UFA -- more appealing to the Pens now that he's unavailable to help keep their playoff hopes alive? And what does it mean if the Guentzel market has totally cooled? There's a landslide of uncertainty now -- something the Penguins did not need more of this season.

Next seven days: vs. LA (Feb. 18), vs. NYI (Feb. 20), vs. MTL (Feb. 22)

22. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 27

Points percentage: 51.89%

Brock Faber. Minnesota might have the one player capable of challenging Connor Bedard for the Calder Trophy, and it's defenseman Brock Faber. The Wild freshman just tied Bedard for a league lead in rookie points, and he's done it while helping stabilize Minnesota's back end with excellent play well beyond his 21 years. Keep an eye on Faber to see if he can pull off an award's season upset.

Next seven days: vs. BUF (Feb. 17), vs. VAN (Feb. 19), @ WPG (Feb. 20)

23. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 24

Points percentage: 51.92%

Alex Ovechkin. Washington may not make the playoffs -- but Ovechkin is back on track towards making history. The Capitals' captain has been a goal-scoring machine of late, and discussion about his potential to break Wayne Gretzky's goal-scoring record is heating up once again. How much closer can Ovechkin get in these final weeks? Let's find out.

Next seven days: @ MTL (Feb. 17), vs. NJ (Feb. 20), @ TB (Feb. 22)

24. Seattle Kraken

Previous ranking: 21

Points percentage: 51.85%

Philipp Grubauer.Seattle's playoff chances could hinge on how well Grubauer can perform down the stretch. He was back in the crease this week after more than two months away nursing an injury, and the Kraken need him to take some of the pressure off goalie partner Joey Daccord. If Seattle is going to get back in that postseason mix, they'll need a strong tandem in net. Can Grubauer be the guy who helps the Kraken climb?

Next seven days: vs. DET (Feb. 19), vs. VAN (Feb. 22)

25. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 23

Points percentage: 48.08%

Barrett Hayton. Arizona sorely missed Hayton while he sat out two months with an injury. Well, he's back, and he's exactly what the Coyotes need in a pivotal lead up to trade deadline. That's when GM Bill Armstrong will decide whether to let Arizona keep gunning for a playoff spot or go into trade mode. Having Hayton on the scene makes the Coyotes better -- how much better is what we'll be watching to find out.

Next seven days: vs. CAR (Feb. 16), @ COL (Feb. 18), vs. EDM (Feb. 19), vs. TOR (Feb. 21)

26. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 25

Points percentage: 47.17%

Casey Mittelstadt. Buffalo has done well locking up its players to long-term deals. That strategy just hasn't actually gotten the Sabres anywhere in their quest to return to the playoffs. Mittelstadt is a pending RFA that will want a multi-year pact of his own, and frankly Buffalo might not be able to offer that up. So, should the Sabres be trading Mittelstadt instead? If the interest is there, Buffalo should consider the offer.

Next seven days: @ MIN (Feb. 17), vs. ANA (Feb. 19), @ MTL (Feb. 21)

27. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 26

Points percentage: 48.15%

Jake Allen. Montreal has three goaltenders in the mix, and Allen is long-rumoured to be the odd man out there; meaning, the Canadiens would be most likely to trade him. Will they find a team willing to perform the swap? Allen's name being out there so long suggests it won't be easy -- but not impossible, either.

Next seven days: vs. WSH (Feb. 17), vs. BUF (Feb. 21), @ PIT (Feb. 22)

28. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 28

Points percentage: 46.00%

Vladimir Tarasenko. Ottawa's season hasn't gone to plan -- to put it charitably. There's still time to make the most of opportunity, though. That could start with trading Tarasenko. The veteran forward would have to waive his no-trade clause, but it's not like Tarasenko would pass on a chance to chase another Cup. The Senators have to focus on the future, and since Tarasenko's deal runs out this season, Ottawa's focus might shift to seeing him out the door sooner than later.

Next seven days: @ CHI (Feb. 17), @ TB (Feb. 19), @ FLA (Feb. 20), vs. DAL (Feb. 22)

29. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 29

Points percentage: 40.39%

Boone Jenner. Columbus is in a tough spot with Jenner. The club's captain wants to be part of the Blue Jackets' rebuild -- but he's also a viable trade asset who Columbus could flip for long-term assets. So what should the Blue Jackets do? Keep a good player who wants to be there? Or think about the future and capitalize on Jenner's value right now? An attractive offer could make for a seriously hard decision.

Next seven days: @ SJ (Feb. 17), @ LA (Feb. 20), @ ANA (Feb. 21)

30. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 30

Points percentage: 37.74%

Frank Vatrano. Anaheim won't be making the postseason. But the Ducks could be a winner with the right trade return for Vatrano. Their top skater is generating plenty of interest on the market, and a high-end return could provide long-term building blocks for Anaheim in their ongoing rebuild. And from Vatrano's perspective, he might wind up somewhere with a chance to compete for a Cup this season.

Next seven days: @ TOR (Feb. 17), @ BUF (Feb. 19), vs. CBJ (Feb. 21)

31. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 31

Points percentage: 33.02%

Mikael Granlund. San Jose are destined to trade at the deadline, and Granlund might be first off their docket. The veteran has been terrific this season, and newly back from injury, he will have time to show off for potential suitors before March 8. The Sharks -- with cap space to spare on the salary retention front -- could fetch a fine return placing Granlund in a new home.

Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Feb. 17), vs. VGK (Feb. 19)

32. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 32

Points percentage: 28.70%

Tyler Johnson. Chicago is primed to sell at the deadline. And while Johnson has been superb for the Blackhawks this season, he's a 33-year-old with extensive playoff experience, making $5 million a year on a rebuilding team. Chicago would be better off in the long term finding a trade partner for Johnson that reels in something the Blackhawks can use into their future.

Next seven days: vs. OTT (Feb. 17), @ CAR (Feb. 19), vs. PHI (Feb. 21)