Welcome to the first edition of my weekly NHL Power Rankings for The Hockey Writers, where the top half of the league is evaluated. These rankings will focus on how the teams have performed in the past week of play and significantly factor in the overall strength of the team and where they are at the time in the standings. Technically, the 2021-22 season has been on for two weeks now, but at this point last week, certain teams had only played one game, which is why I chose to start this new series now instead. With that being said, let’s take a look at the top 16 teams in the league at this moment.
16. Buffalo Sabres (3-1-1)
There has been perhaps no bigger surprise early on this season than the Buffalo Sabres winning three straight games to start the year. This is a team that many expect to finish dead last, something that could still very well happen. Since that winning streak, they have lost two straight, though they could pick up a single point versus the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Due to the lack of talent on their roster, things will likely go downhill for them soon. Still, you have to give them credit for how they have started the season, especially given that they have done so without Jack Eichel.
15. Vegas Golden Knights (1-4-0)
It isn’t quite time to panic yet, but the Vegas Golden Knights have gotten off to a very concerning start for a team that most expected to finish first in the Pacific Division this season. Injuries have played a major role, as they are currently without Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, and Zach Whitecloud.
The injuries, paired with the shaky play of goaltending Robin Lehner, could end up really affecting the Golden Knights this season. It wouldn’t surprise anybody if they could turn things around, but it may be challenging for them to do so.
14. San Jose Sharks (4-1-0)
After missing the playoffs in the past two seasons, most expected the San Jose Sharks to struggle in 2021-22. They are a team with some aging veterans on ugly contracts. However, early on, those veterans appear to have found the fountain of youth this offseason.
There are still some serious questions surrounding this roster, perhaps none more so than their goaltending. They will likely come back down to earth, but they have been outstanding early on.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-3-1)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling early on in 2021-22. Perhaps most concerning is the play of Mitch Marner, who, after being criticized heavily throughout the summer, has just one assist in six games played. Auston Matthews has also struggled, as he has not hit the scoresheet yet in the three games he has suited up form.
This roster can be a good regular season team, and they should be able to figure things out soon. However, there are still some missing pieces on this roster, and they could very well struggle in the postseason once again.
12. Colorado Avalanche (2-3-0)
The Colorado Avalanche came into the season as a serious Stanley Cup contender, and while they still are that, they haven’t been at their best early on. Not having Nathan MacKinnon, paired with newcomer Darcy Kuemper’s struggles, has been the main cause for their slow start.
There isn’t much to worry about here. This team is stacked from top to bottom and will be one of the best teams in the league this season.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-2-1)
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be in a bit of a hangover spell right now. It started on opening night when they got blown out by a Pittsburgh Penguins team missing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. It hasn’t gotten a lot better since, as they were trailing 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings before making a comeback and going on to win 7-6 in overtime.
They also struggled against the Florida Panthers last Tuesday, losing 4-1. They should be able to get things back on track, but losing Nikita Kucherov due to injury hurts, especially given that they lost some depth pieces this offseason.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-2)
With how strong the Metropolitan Division is, paired with the fact that both Crosby and Malkin are out due to injury, there were plenty who believed the Penguins might miss the playoffs for the first time in over a decade this season. Instead, they have looked very strong in the early going, including Saturday nights 7-1 shellacking of the Maple Leafs.
There are still some serious question marks as to whether or not this roster can continue to get things done without their two superstars, though early on, things are going better than anyone could have imagined.
9. Minnesota Wild (4-1-0)
There was some serious concern regarding the Minnesota Wild this offseason, given the fact they were unable to work out a contract with Kirill Kaprizov until late September. That, as well as choosing to buy out both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, left many questioning how things would work out for them in 2021-22.
Thankfully for Wild fans, their team looks very strong right now, aside from their first loss of the season to the Nashville Predators on Sunday night. The even better news is that they are playing this well despite the fact Kaprizov has yet to score a goal this season. Once he truly gets going, the Wild could be a really dangerous team.
8. New York Islanders (3-2-1)
The New York Islanders have become pretty notorious for slow starts under head coach Barry Trotz, and this year is no exception. Goaltending had been a bit of an issue early, as Semyon Varlamov has been unable to play due to injury and Ilya Sorokin struggled in his first few games. However, he appears to have figured things out with two straight shutouts on Saturday and Sunday.
There isn’t much to worry about here. Despite the somewhat slow start, this is an excellent team who should be amongst the best in the league by the time the 2021-22 season has wrapped up. Sunday night’s win against the Golden Knights could be what gets them back to playing like one of the NHL’s elite teams.
7. Boston Bruins (3-1-0)
Despite losing David Krejci this offseason, the Boston Bruins were expected to continue their long run as a top team, and they have done so early on. Linus Ullmark, who they signed to a free-agent deal this summer, along with Taylor Hall, who they signed to a lengthy extension, have both looked great and should continue to perform well moving forward.
The Bruins’ other great news is that both Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand look as great as ever, as neither has shown even the slightest signs that age is starting to catch up with them. Though they aren’t as deep as they have been in recent seasons, they should still be an outstanding team throughout the 2021-22 campaign.
6. New York Rangers (4-1-1)
After declaring a rebuild just three years ago, the New York Rangers could turn things around very quickly. That has a ton to do with the signing of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad transitioning into a legitimate superstar in recent seasons. On top of that, Igor Shesterkin looks like a world-class goaltender, much like many thought he would become.
While most didn’t expect them to be contenders just yet, there is no denying the talent level on this roster. If they can keep up this good play, they will climb further up this list in a hurry and be viewed as one of the most dangerous teams in the Metropolitan.
5. Washington Capitals (3-0-2)
The Washington Capitals were expected to be a strong team in 2021-22, and so far, they have been just that. The one question surrounding this team was goaltending, as Ilya Samsonov struggled last season. However, this season, Samsonov has been relegated to backup duty as Vitek Vanecek has started four of their five games.
Alex Ovechkin is continuing to be an ageless wonder and has gotten off to his best start in some time with five goals and 10 points on the year. While the goaltending remains a question mark, it shouldn’t impact their strength as a regular-season team.
4. St. Louis Blues (4-0-0)
The St. Louis Blues are just one of four teams who have yet to lose a game this season. Jordan Kyrou looks ready for a huge breakout season with eight points so far, and Jordan Binnington appears primed for a bounce-back season.
This roster was never thought to be a bad one, but not many would have considered the Blues contenders this offseason. However, with the way they are playing and how good Vladimir Tarasenko has looked after questions regarding his health, they may be talked about as contenders soon again.
3. Edmonton Oilers (5-0-0)
The Edmonton Oilers are another team that has yet to drop a game. Everyone knew they would be a good team, thanks in large part due to being in a weak Pacific Division, but they have been even better than expected.
Several additions this offseason have helped improve this team, none more so than Zach Hyman, who is already up to five goals. Hopefully, the injury to Mike Smith isn’t anything serious, as running with a tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner could cause some problems. With players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, however, they should continue to rack up wins regardless of who’s between the pipes.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (4-0-0)
The Carolina Hurricanes have been perfect through their first four games of the season. Though they lost Hamilton via free agency, they were still expected to be a solid team in 2021-22, making their hot start rather unsurprising.
While trading Alex Nedeljkovic was a head-scratching decision, Frederik Andersen has been fantastic in his four starts with his new club, posting a 1.75 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .944 save percentage (SV%). The Canes will continue to be a great team moving forward.
1. Florida Panthers (5-0-0)
The final of the four undefeated teams is the Florida Panthers, who top this week’s power rankings. Aaron Ekblad looks fully recovered from his gruesome leg injury last season, while Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have continued to be their dominating selves.
The best news for the Panthers, and a huge part of why they are at the top of this list, is because of the play of Sergei Bobrovsky. After two down seasons, he looks like his old Vezina Trophy-winning self with a stellar 1.99 GAA along with a .942 SV% in four starts.
Changes to Come
These rankings will continue to change each week throughout the season, as all teams go through highs and lows. Of course, the true contenders will likely always remain on the list, but where they are ranked could be different each week. Tune in at this time next week to see the changes!
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.