That was a fun project — ranking the NHL teams by position.
Fun and enlightening, yet challenging since the league’s parity is so prevalent on paper.
There were tiers at every position that opened the door to much debate, with the slightest of margins separating several teams. That made for difficult decisions from top to bottom, especially with the forwards and defence but even extending to the goaltenders.
The end result is these power rankings based on my positional rankings. For this exercise, I simply added up those three rankings — forwards, defence and goaltenders — with the lowest totals being the best and the highest obviously being the worst.
In wrapping up this four-part series, here are the power rankings based on my positional rankings — counting down from No. 32 to No. 1.
32) Arizona Coyotes
Previous Ranking: 20
ANALYSIS: To say it’s going to be a long season in the desert would be a massive understatement. Having traded their number-one defenceman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their second-best goalscorer in Conor Garland, and now one of their top centers in Christian Dvorak, they will most definitely be searching for offence this season. Unfortunately for them, they probably won’t even have the defence or goaltending to win games 1-0 or 2-1. So, it’s really no surprise they are hanging out at the bottom of these rankings.
31) Buffalo Sabres
Previous Ranking: 20
ANALYSIS: The Sabres had another frustrating season in all areas, and it’s going to continue in 2021-22. Without the services of their top scorer and all-around best player Jack Eichel, they will be in trouble to start the season. Their top two centers are now 22-year-old Casey Mittelstadt and 20-year-old Dylan Cozens. While talented, they are not established top-six forwards in the NHL and will be in tough against the monsters of the Atlantic Division.
Their defence will again be led by the uber-talented Rasmus Dahlin, but beyond him, it is slim pickings. They will likely also struggle in goal as they are hanging their hopes on the inexperienced Aaron Dell and 40-year-old Craig Anderson.
29) Los Angeles Kings
Previous Ranking: 30
ANALYSIS: The Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of a rebuild, and these rankings show it. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty are all approaching the twilight of their careers and are not the dominant forces they once were. So it’s no wonder they struggled as a team this past season. There is a lot to look forward to though as they have a strong pipeline that is only going to get stronger.
In fact, THW’s own Peter Baracchini ranked their farm system first in the entire NHL. Needless to say, the future looks very bright in Hollywood.
28) San Jose Sharks
Previous Ranking: 27
ANALYSIS: The once-elite San Jose Sharks have fallen quite a bit in recent years. After being ranked 27th going into last season, they still find themselves at the bottom going into 2021-22. They’ve moved on from Martin Jones but really haven’t replaced him with anyone better. Adin Hill is unproven and inexperienced and he won’t get much help from his offence or defence this season, just like in the desert. Unless Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson re-discover their past selves, they won’t be going anywhere again this season.
27) Anaheim Ducks
Previous Ranking: 26
ANALYSIS: The Ducks are still led by the grizzled veteran Ryan Getzlaf, who just finished his 16th season in the NHL. He is approaching the vaunted 1000-point mark and will probably be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when all is said and done. Unfortunately, his production is not where it once was, as he has now gone three seasons without eclipsing 50 points. That means someone younger will have to take the reigns from him soon. Fortunately for them, Trevor Zegras looks to be that next number one center. In fact, he could win the Calder Trophy when all is said and done this season. However, the Ducks will still struggle to generate offence because he doesn’t have much support around him right now.
John Gibson is still in his prime and the defence has potential with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson leading the way, so a bounce-back is not out of the question. Though a new forward core has to start emerging soon, or that will never happen.
26) Ottawa Senators
Previous Ranking: 28
ANALYSIS: The Senators are clearly rebuilding still, but could be turning a corner soon. They have a plethora of young talent in Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Shane Pinto and they are still led on defence by smooth-skating point producer Tomas Chabot. If Matt Murray can somehow find the form that saw him win two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, they may surprise a lot of people this season.
25) Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Ranking: 13
ANALYSIS: The Blue Jackets dropped like a rock in these rankings from where they were before last season. Their goaltending tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins struggled to keep the puck out of the net and they had trouble generating offence as well. All in all, a very disappointing season that not only led to the trade of their captain Nick Foligno but also the dismissal of head coach John Tortorella. Now they enter the 2021-22 campaign with a new coach, new leadership, and a new defence core after the massive trade of Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks.
That means Zach Werenski will be the big man on campus when it comes to the defence. He won’t have his buddy Jones beside him for the first time in his career and he will have to break in a new defence partner in either Adam Boqvist or Jake Bean. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the extra pressure. As for the offence, Jakub Voracek re-joins the team that drafted him and should be a welcome sight for Patrik Laine. With his goal-scoring talents and Voracek’s playmaking, they could be the NHL’s next great dynamic duo.
24) Calgary Flames
Previous Ranking: 22
ANALYSIS: For the first time since the 2005-06 season, the NHL won’t have Mark Giordano patrolling the blue line for the Calgary Flames. He finishes his career with the Flaming C having recorded 143 goals and 509 points in 949 games. Now with him sporting the Seattle Kraken logo, they will need someone else to fill his shoes in 2021-22. That may be tough considering he played over 20 minutes a game in all situations most nights and was their captain for eight seasons as well. Chris Tanev is now the elder statesman on the blue line and will be tasked with even more minutes now.
Without Giordano, the Flames’ defence will lack mobility. Replacing him with Erik Gudbranson and Michael Stone is not the answer. If they want to make the playoffs this year, they will need more production from their forwards, because Jacob Markstrom looks to be in for another season facing a lot of shots and high-danger chances.
23) Detroit Red Wings
Previous Ranking: 31
ANALYSIS: With the acquisitions of Alex Nedeljkovic, Jakub Vrana, and Nick Leddy, the Detroit Red Wings are a better team than last season. So much so that they’ve climbed their way out of the basement to 23rd in these power rankings. They likely will remain goal-starved this season with only Vrana as their sniper, but with an improved defence and goaltender, they might end up winning a lot more games.
22) New Jersey Devils
Previous Ranking: 29
ANALYSIS: Like the Red Wings, the New Jersey Devils improved during the offseason, especially on defence with the additions of Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves. Hamilton is a true number-one defenceman in the NHL and should play big minutes in all situations and Graves has a very underrated two-way game. Offensively, they might struggle, but with Jack Hughes seemingly coming into his own last season, he and Nico Hischier could prove that prediction wrong especially with the talent they both possess.
21) Edmonton Oilers
Previous Ranking: 24
ANALYSIS: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid once again dominated the NHL in the regular season and fizzled in the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers need to be more than just their two superstars if they hope to win a Stanley Cup. Zach Hyman was a great pick-up for the top-six, but he’s not the solution to the ultimate problem facing this team.
It’s starting to become a broken record, but if the Oilers don’t upgrade their defence and goaltending, they are going nowhere. Yes, they made the playoffs with a tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen last season but got eliminated in the first round rather easily. General manager Ken Holland went out and got Duncan Keith from the Blackhawks to try and solve the problem, but that trade is five years too late. Keith has not been an impact player for a long time and now he’s just an albatross of a contract on a team loaded with salary at the top. Until they find a defence core beyond Darnell Nurse and a goaltender better than Smith, this team will remain good, not great.
20) Minnesota Wild
Previous Ranking: 21
ANALYSIS: The Minnesota Wild didn’t take a huge step back from last season, but that’s only because they had a deep defence core past Ryan Suter and Carson Soucy. They will miss their presence on the blue line, but with replacements like Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, and Jordie Benn, they should be able to offset their loss. Their offence will once again hinge on Kirill Kaprizov and the continuous improvement of Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala, but considering how they performed last season, that should be the least of their problems.
19) Dallas Stars
Previous Ranking: 11
ANALYSIS: The Dallas Stars will be coming into 2021-22 trying to bounce back from the mediocre season that saw them miss the playoffs after making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. Tyler Seguin should help with that as he will hopefully play a full season this year. Without him, they struggled to score goals, so I’m sure they’re happy to have him back and ready to go. Their defence is still one of the best in the league with Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and newcomer Ryan Suter leading the way.
The questions will start with their goaltending as Anton Khudobin and Braden Holtby will try and rebound from their mediocre 2020-21 seasons. For the Stars to compete in the Central Division, they need the Khudobin from the 2019-20 season and 2020 playoffs and the Holtby from his prime years with the Washington Capitals. Expecting Holtby to do that might be a stretch, but they at least need Khudobin to rediscover his previous form.
18) Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous Ranking: 14
ANALYSIS: The Pittsburgh Penguins could be in trouble to start the season with both their superstars on the shelf. They still remain high on this list because of the fact that both Crosby and Malkin will return early in the season. Without them in the lineup, veteran Jeff Carter will take over the duties as their top-line center. Their offence will likely struggle out of the gate unless he can continue the torrid pace he was on towards the end of the season and into the playoffs last year.
The Penguins will need Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith to hold down the fort as the Penguins will inevitably struggle to put the puck in the net. Both have not been consistent performers since Matt Murray left, so if they have sights on a playoff spot that needs to change quickly.
17) Chicago Blackhawks
Previous Ranking: 23
ANALYSIS: The Blackhawks still boast the talents of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews from the glory days and now have stars in Dominik Kubalik, Alex DeBrincat, and Kirby Dach. DeBrincat, in particular, returned to stardom last season with 32 goals, and now with another talented dynamo like Tyler Johnson in the fold, their forward group could be a scary one to face this season. Throw in the puck-moving presence of Seth Jones to the mix, and the Blackhawks might be the team to watch in the Central in 2021-22.
16) New York Rangers
Previous Ranking: 16
ANALYSIS: The New York Rangers have been good ever since Artemi Panarin joined forces with Mika Zibanejad on Broadway. He has been an MVP candidate the last two seasons and he will continue to be in 2021-22. Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere will also be back a year older and a year wiser. For talents as great as these, that fact should put fear into the hearts and minds of every opponent in the Metropolitan Division.
15) Vancouver Canucks
Previous Ranking: 12
ANALYSIS: The Vancouver Canucks drop in these rankings a bit because of the losses on the blue line. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman are great defencemen, but they are nowhere near the penalty killer Alex Edler was. He played the most shorthanded minutes of any defencemen in the league and he was amongst the leaders in shot blocks as well. None of the players the Canucks got this offseason can boast those types of statistics.
The Canucks goaltending and offensive depth are the reasons they are ranked 15th. With the additions of Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, and Jason Dickinson, their top-nine should be amongst the best in the league. They also have the lights-out goaltending of Thatcher Demko and the steady presence of Jaroslav Halak to fall back on too. If the defence proves the pundits wrong, they could be a force this season.
14) Florida Panthers
Previous Ranking: 17
ANALYSIS: The Florida Panthers could be one of the best teams in the NHL this season, as long as their goaltending and defence hold up. They boast four lines that can score on any given night, but their goaltending lets them down sometimes. Sergei Bobrovsky was better in his second season but still didn’t look like the Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltender he was in Columbus. They will need him or youngster Spencer Knight to step into the spotlight and deliver the goods because that’s what they need to get over the hump in the playoffs.
13) Boston Bruins
Previous Ranking: 2
ANALYSIS: The “Perfection Line” remains one of the best in the league with the lethal David Pastrnak leading the way along with the reliable Patrice Bergeron and the pesky Brad Marchand completing the trio. Except now without David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, they might have to be superhuman every night to keep the Bruins afloat in the Atlantic. Jeremy Swayman looks like the real deal, but it remains to be seen if he can sustain his brilliance over an entire season.
12) Washington Capitals
Previous Ranking: 10
ANALYSIS: The Washington Capitals will continue to be an offensive force as long as Alex Ovechkin is on the roster. He’s showing no signs of slowing down and should bump against Wayne Gretzky’s record soon enough. They still have a formidable top-six and a defence that knows how to push the pace, so expect them to be a playoff contender once again.
11) St. Louis Blues
Previous Ranking: 6
ANALYSIS: The St. Louis Blues continue to be a force in the NHL even without Vladimir Tarasenko lighting up the scoreboard. They are a terrific two-way team with great offensive depth that just knows how to play a structured system. Binnington may not be the same player that won the Stanley Cup back in 2019, but he is still a solid starter that gives the Blues a chance to win every night.
10) Seattle Kraken
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
ANALYSIS: The Kraken surprisingly debut in the top ten to start their tenure in the NHL. Credit general manager Ron Francis for that as he and his staff have built a pretty competitive team on paper going into their inaugural season. Backed by the solid goaltending of Peter Grubauer and a deep blue line consisting of veterans like Giordano, Oleksiak, and Larsson along with youngsters like Vince Dunn and Haydn Fleury, they could surprise just like Vegas Golden Knights did a few seasons ago.
Up front, they might not be as scary as the Tampa Bay Lightning or Carolina Hurricanes, but they do have players that have generated offence in the past. Jordan Eberle and Alex Wennberg have found another gear since leaving Edmonton and Columbus respectively, Jared McCann is a very underrated producer and they have an interesting bottom-six too.
9) Montreal Canadiens
Previous Ranking: 19
ANALYSIS: Even after losing Shea Weber to injury and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault to offer sheet and free agency respectively, the Montreal Canadiens remain a team to be reckoned with going into 2021-22. Replacing them will be David Savard, Mike Hoffman, and Christian Dvorak. While no one can replace the monster that is Weber and the two-way force that is Danault, GM Marc Bergevin did a pretty good job filling their roles.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, Carey Price will return to the crease for training camp after offseason surgery and dodging the expansion draft bullet. He was their best player in the playoffs and will continue to be that same goaltender in 2021-22. Without him, they would plummet down these rankings.
8) Winnipeg Jets
Previous Ranking: 15
ANALYSIS: The Winnipeg Jets made the playoffs thanks mostly to the all-world performance of their goaltender Connor Hellabuyck. The former Vezina Trophy winner played out of his mind throughout the season stopping the most shots and high danger chances in the NHL. If not for him, they are toiling in the basement, and that’s not an exaggeration.
With the star power of Nikolaj Ehlers, and Blake Wheeler still available they were still a powerhouse on most nights. Their defence struggled to keep the scoring chances down, but Neal Pionk, Josh Morrissey, and new addition Nate Schmidt are legitimate top-four defenders, so with a bit of tweaking they should be able to tighten that up this season.
7) Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous Ranking: 8
ANALYSIS: This ranking is probably a little flattering to the Toronto Maple Leafs considering how they exited the playoffs. Their offence was the envy of the league again with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner leading the charge, but their defence was lacking at times.
The Maple Leafs have three legitimate top defenders in Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie but beyond that, they really don’t have a strong core. With all the talent they possess up front, they still need more of a balance on the back end. They ranked higher because of their star power, that’s just the reality of it.
6) Philadelphia Flyers
Previous Ranking: 4
ANALYSIS: The Philadelphia Flyers completely revamped their blue line in the offseason bringing in Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle in an attempt to stop the bleeding that was their 31st ranked defence in 2020-21. While none of them are defensive stalwarts, they should help push the pace and keep the Flyers from being stuck in their own zone. Their offence will get a boost from Cam Atkinson and if Carter Hart can rebound from his awful 2020-21 season, they should be a much better team this go around.
5) Carolina Hurricanes
Previous Ranking: 9
ANALYSIS: The ever-interesting Carolina Hurricanes continue their assault on the top ten this season mostly because of their forward depth. Before they snagged Kotkaniemi from the Canadiens, the Hurricanes were already an offensive juggernaut. Now with another threat added to their arsenal, their lineup is as deep as anyone’s in the NHL. Led by the dynamic trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastien Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen and the revitalized Vincent Trocheck, offence should not be a problem in 2021-22.
The only thing that could hold the Hurricanes back this season is their defence. Frederik Andersen will be able to hold his own, but if the defence falters they might have to resort to winning games 5-4. Without the services of Hamilton and Gardiner this season, that could be their Achilles heel.
4) New York Islanders
Previous Ranking: 7
ANALYSIS: The New York Islanders’ defensive structure might make their goaltenders look better than they actually are, but that fact shouldn’t devalue anything Semyon Varlamov has done for them over the past two seasons. On a team that thrives on one-goal games and 2-1 and 1-0 wins, he is the perfect goaltender for Barry Trotz to trot out every night.
They also have a great defensive core led by Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech and offensive depth that rival some of the best in the league. If Trotz decides that he ever wants to open it up, he should have the horses to do it. Overall, they’re a very well-rounded group that should eventually beat the Lightning and make it to the Stanley Cup Final one day.
3) Vegas Golden Knights
Previous Ranking: 3
ANALYSIS: The Golden Knights have proven throughout the regular season and the playoffs that they are one of the toughest teams to play against. One of the reasons for that is the depth, physicality, and speed of their forwards and defence. Theodore is clearly a star in the making and should be considered one of the top defenders in the NHL at this point. They also have insane offensive depth that just got deeper with Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov. If Robin Lehner can settle into the de facto starting role this season, they will be neck and neck with the next team on this list all season long.
2) Colorado Avalanche
Previous Ranking: 5
ANALYSIS: Despite not getting past the Golden Knights in the second round of the playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche should still be proud of what they accomplished. Nathan MacKinnon is developing into one of the best forwards in the league, and they also have one of the top young defenders in Cale Makar. Not to mention they have another future star in Bowen Byram waiting in the wings. Needless to say, they are well deserving of the runner-up position behind the Lightning.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous Ranking: 1
ANALYSIS: Another season is in the books and the king has not been toppled off his throne. The Lightning remain atop these rankings and it’s fitting since they are probably as close to a dynasty as you can get in the modern era. They boast a deep lineup from forwards to defence and one of the best goaltenders in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Despite losing their entire third line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman in the offseason, the Lightning still have a powerful offensive attack led by Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos. After missing the entire regular season and dominating the playoffs with eight goals and 32 points in 23 games, Kucherov should be one of the league’s top scorers in 2021-22. Ditto for Point who replicated his 14 goals in the playoffs and now has 28 goals over the last two postseasons and 36 goals in 67 games overall. Throw in Corey Perry and potential breakout candidates, Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph, and the Lightning might just have a chance at their third straight championship in 2022.
Feel free to disagree with those rankings and share your own in the comments below.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.