I thought it would be a fun exercise to take a look at each teams most important players going forward for their franchise, and to rank the cores of NHL teams from 1 to 30.
I took a goalie from each team, and four players, whether it be current players or prospects that will have a role in the success of the team in the near future. Then I looked at an honourable mention(s) for each team and considered that in the process as well. For this process, I looked at every team and took into consideration four main aspects. Age, contractual status, star power and prospects.
As we have seen in the recent past, the core of an NHL team is the most important aspect when building a cup contender. You hold onto your core and constantly refresh the supporting cast around them and that is how to build a winner in the salary cap era. We will analyse where teams stand in regards to what they’re building and how each teams future looks. Keep in mind I don`t have a crystal ball, but I do value prospects highly.
It is okay to disagree with me. I’d love to hear your points as to who should be on some lists and who shouldn’t be, and why you feel that way. So here’s my take on the cores around the NHL.
- Tampa Bay– Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy HM: Ondrej Palat/Jonathan Drouin/Anthony DeAngelo
Wow. One word pretty much describes how awesome it must be to be a Lightning fan, and how scary it must feel for the rest of the Atlantic division and Eastern Conference. Having a superstar forward in Steven Stamkos, a shifty, play-making center in Tyler Johnson, a number one defenseman in Victor Hedman, 60 point wingers in Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, a potential star goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and a number 3 overall draft pick in 2013 in Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning have a very bright future ahead of them and the rest of the NHL should be very intimidated.
- Chicago-Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford HM: Teuvo Teräväinen
Lets start off with Captain Serious. Arguably the best two way center in hockey, and has helped lead the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in six years and has won gold medals for Canada in Sochi and Vancouver. I guess you could say the guy knows how to win. Add in point per game in the playoffs winger Patrick Kane, Norris quality defenseman Duncan Keith, and a quality starting goalie in Corey Crawford and this makes up a very scary core for the Blackhawks.
- Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Phil Kessel, Marc-Andre Fleury HM: Kris Letang/Derrick Pouliot
It’s scary to think that a core like this isn’t the top rated one in the National Hockey League. The best center and all around player in hockey with Sidney Crosby, a point game player in Evgeni Malkin, a 35 goal scorer in Phil Kessel, a young, star defenseman in Olli Maatta and generally stable goalie in MA Fleury. The Pens could have been the top ranked team here, but I have question marks with number one defenseman Kris Letang’s health, which we all hope continues to improve.
- Washington– Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznestov, John Carlson, Braden Holtby HM: Andre Burakovsky
Washington embodies the best pure goal scorer in hockey with Alex Ovechkin, and a star two-way center in Nick Backstrom. Backstrom would be the best player on a lot of teams, but this Capitals team is star studded and is building quite a roster. A solid backend anchored by John Carlson, to go along with top five goaltender Braden Holtby, and the Capitals have a very elite core. With that they also ice young potential stars Evgeny Kuznestov and Andre Burakovsky.
- LA– Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick HM: Tyler Toffoli/Marian Gaborik
A common criteria amongst these top teams is having an elite center with a defensive core and good goalie to build around. LA is just that. Anze Kopitar is another annual Selke candidate that is also good for 70 points, and perennial Norris candidate Drew Doughty is a minute eating star. Add in sniper Jeff Carter and young stars Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli, and you have some really great pieces here. Don’t forget playoff stars Jonathan Quick and Marian Gaborik either. Star studded Kings.
- St Louis – Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen HM: Kevin Shattenkirk/ Robby Fabbri
With such a good core, we begin to wonder why St Louis can’t make the jump to an elite team in the NHL or win a playoff series. You have elite talents like Vladimir Tarasenko, whom the Blues extended for 8 seasons this off-season, number one defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, two-way center David Backes, a young talented goalie in Jake Allen and young potential with Robby Fabbri and already proven Jaden Schwartz. Add into the mix another great defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk and you have multiple great pieces to build around. Is this the year the Blues break their playoff slump?
- Calgary – Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Sam Bennett, Jonas Hiller HM: Johnny Gaudreau
Some might be surprised to see Calgary so high on the list, but you really need to take a look at what pieces they have in place before making that decision. Sean Monahan is well on his way to being a big number one center that teams covet, and then you have two number one defenseman in Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton. Two. Most teams aren’t able to find one, let alone have two. Then you have Sam Bennett, who was selected 4th overall in 2014, to go along with Johnny Gaudreau and a proven goalie, who unfortunately has an injury history in Jonas Hiller. Look out NHL, the Flames are coming.
- Nashville– Shea Weber, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Pekka Rinne HM: Kevin Fiala/James Neal
Defense wins championships. It may be cliche, but what the Preds are building here should not be taken lightly. Norris calibre defenseman Shea Weber, playing alongside Roman Josi and Seth Jones. Good luck trying to get by that. Did I mention they also have annual Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne? Filip Forsberg had his coming out party last season scoring 63 points and being a runner up to the Calder trophy. If Nashville can find more ways to score goals, this team has a very dangerous future ahead of them.
- Anaheim -Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Cam Fowler, John Gibson HM: Nick Ritchie/Hampus Lindholm
Anaheim was a tough team to rank. A lot of you will have them higher, but I’d like to see a little bit more consistency out of Perry and Getzlaf in crunch time before I do that. Anaheim has all the pieces in place to compete for a cup, but will they finally get over that hump and overtake teams like Chicago? It’s a question that I’ve asked myself for a while now, and it will be interesting to see if this is the year they do that. To go along with Perry and Getzlaf, the Ducks also entail underated defenseman Cam Fowler and a young goalie full of potential in John Gibson. To go along with this the Ducks have a great farm system and have two quality players making the jump in Nick Ritchie and Hampus Lindholm. Will these youngsters provide the difference and put the Ducks over the top?
- Colorado– Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Semyon Varlamov HM: Mikko Rantanen
Boy, the Avs be able to score for a long time, but will they be able to keep the puck out of their net? Centered around young stars Matt Duchene, Nathan Mackinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, if the Avs aren’t able to succeed, it certainly won’t be for a lack of goals scored. Young defenseman Tyson Barrie put up over 50 points last season and with Erik Johnson, the two can create a formidable duo. If Varlamov can stay out of trouble, he has the potential to be a really good goalie for the Avs. Adding to their prospect system, the Avs also selected Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen during this seasons draft. If the Avs can play a better brand of defensive hockey, the rest of the NHL needs to start worrying.
- New York Islanders– John Tavares, Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Jaroslav Halak HM: Michael Dal Colle/Ryan Pullock/Matthew Barzal/Kyle Okposo
Another team that was very difficult to rank. The Islanders have superstar forward John Tavares on the best contract in the NHL to go along with another potential number one center in Ryan Strome. Talk about riches. The reason I couldn’t justify putting the Islanders in the top 10 is because I don’t see a number one defenseman when I look at their roster. They have some fantastic depth on defense, but I don’t see that number one guy that is really important to building a team. Don’t get me wrong, Boychuk and Leddy are great and can eat minutes, but I just don’t see the stud needed on the backend yet. The Islanders have one of the best farm systems in the NHL, with Michael Dal Colle, Ryan Pullock and Matthew Barzal just to name a few. It will be interesting to see if the Islanders can extend Okposo or if he walks. The Islanders have a great foundation and will be competent team in the East for a long time.
- Montreal – PK Subban, Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Carey Price HM: Jeff Petry/Nikita Scherbak
The best goalie in hockey. A top 5 defenseman in hockey, and a 35+ goal scoring winger. The Canadiens arguably have one of the top cores at three key positions, but are really missing that number one center. Alex Galchenyuk has the potential to become that center, but only time will tell on how they continue his development. Brendan Gallagher has 30 goal potential and plays with some of the best heart I’ve seen in my hockey watching career. To go with this the Canadiens also employ intelligent defenseman Andrei Markov and up and coming defenseman Jeff Petry. Don’t sleep on this Canadiens core, or they will come back to bite you.
- Florida– Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad, Roberto Luongo HM: Lawson Crouse/ Michael Matheson
Aaron Ekblad won the Calder trophy. As a defenseman. As an 18 year old. That is almost unheard of. Ekblad anchors a backend that also has Kulikov and Gudbranson, not to mention star goalie Roberto Luongo in net. Then you have two way center Aleksander Barkov transitioning into the league to go along with proven commodity Jonathan Huberdeau and you have a nice foundation up front. Florida also boasts a very good farm system with Lawson Crouse and Michael Matheson most likely being the most NHL ready. Look for the Cats to claw their way back into relevancy.
- Edmonton– Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Cam Talbot HM: Leon Draisaitl/Jordan Eberle
Edmonton was the hardest team to rank and it was for one simple reason. Connor McDavid. We have no reason to believe that McDavid won’t be a superstar in the NHL and when you have that kind of talent on a team, it automatically boasts your teams ranking. To go along with McDavid you have young stars Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and their hopeful solution to finding a number one defenseman in Darnell Nurse. The Oilers also acquired goalie Cam Talbot in the off-season, and they hope that he is the solution to their number one goalie problems. If the Oilers are able to begin to develop players properly, they could be a very interesting franchise to watch in the coming years.
- Columbus -Ryan Johansen, Brandon Saad, Ryan Murray, Nick Foligno, Sergei Bobrovsky HM: Zachary Werenski/Oliver Bjorkstrand
Ryan Johansen has matured and developed into the number one center Columbus had hoped he would. Acquiring a big winger to play alongside him this off-season in Brandon Saad was a nice move by the Jackets management team, with already having Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner up front. If Ryan Murray can stay healthy, he is the perfect top pairing defenseman to have. Having a Vezina quality goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky won’t hurt either. The Blue Jackets should be a fascinating team to watch this season and could be a threat in the wide open East.
- Dallas – Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Valeri Nichushkin, Kari Lehtonen (Antii Niemi) HM: Jason Spezza
Tyler Seguin has had a nice coming out party the last two seasons, scoring 37 goals in both seasons and tallying 84 and 77 points, respectively. Add into that the reigning Art Ross trophy winner in Jamie Benn, proven 60 point center Jason Spezza, and young power foward Valeri Nichushkin and you have a nice forward core up front. Don’t sleep on the addition of playoff warrior Partick Sharp either. I don’t think scoring goals will be a problem for the Stars, but keeping them out certainly could be. Either way, the Stars will be an exciting team to watch for years to come.
- New York Rangers– Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist HM: Derick Brassard
It’s funny how a team that is actually considered one of the best in the Eastern conference and entire NHL, is ranked just below the middle of my list. You know why the Rangers are so talented? Because they have depth and can score and also keep the puck out of their net. Proven goal scorer Rick Nash leads the team up front, while soon to be Norris candidate Ryan McDonagh anchors the backend of a sturdy Rangers defense. Then you have up and coming power forward Chris Kreider, to go along with annual Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist. Some of you may have the Rangers higher on the list, as you can certainly compare them to the Canadiens core, but time will tell how this deep team will fare.
18. Ottawa– Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, Mark Stone, Craig Anderson HM: Mika Zibanejad/Curtis Lazar
The Sens are building a nice foundation here in Ottawa. Led by two time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and winger Bobby Ryan, the Sens boast an interesting mix of size and skill throughout their core players. Trading away goalie Robin Lehner this off season, the Sens made it clear that Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond were the goalie combination that they wanted going forward. Center Kyle Turris is a nice building block down the middle, as he put up 64 points last season. Mark Stone was a Calder Trophy nominee after scoring 30 goals in his rookie year, and add to that young players Mika Zibanejad and Curtis Lazar and Ottawa is quietly building something prominent here.
19. Buffalo– Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen, Robin Lehner HM: Evander Kane
As hard as the Sabres tried to tank for Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel is certainly not a bad consolation prize. The projected number one center will fit it in nicely on this young Sabres team that could be in contention for a playoff spot if they shore up their defense as early as next season. Trading for proven center Ryan O’Reilly and having young stars Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen coming up, the Sabres are primed to have a much improved season. The addition of Evander Kane last season will also do wonders if he can finally mature and play to his potential. Add to that young goalie Robin Lehner who has the potential to be a number one guy, and Buffalo is in a good spot for the future.
- Detroit– Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Petr Mrazek HM: Dylan Larkin
The Red Wings certainly have some talented players in their core, but the main problem I see here is age. Future hall of famer Pavel Datysuk and star Henrik Zetterberg are both still contributing, but for how long? The core of this team is slowly turning over to young skilled players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, with Dylan Larkin likely coming up this season to the big club. With that you have a proven defenseman in Niklas Kronwall and an interesting situation in goal with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. Some of you will have the Wings rated higher, but I really like them in the 15 to 20 range.
21. Winnipeg – Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Michael Hutchinson HM: Tyler Myers/Josh Morrissey/Nic Petan
Led up front by a young Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, the Jets made their first return to the postseason since coming home to Winnipeg. A system filled with quality prospects, the Jets have the potential to be a scary team in the near future if some of these players pan out as they’re should. Nikolaj Ehlers had a fantastic junior career with Halifax and Josh Morrissey is coming off of a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors. If Tyler Myers can continue to play at the level he did to help guide the Jets to the playoffs, then the sky is the limit for this young and talented Jets team.
22. Philadelphia– Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Samuel Morin, Steve Mason HM: Ivan Provorov
When your team is built around a point per game number center in Claude Giroux, it’s tough to be in rough shape. To go along with Giroux, Jakub Voracek signed a longterm extension this off-season which adds to power forward Wayne Simmonds up front. The Flyers main weakness lies in their defense, as they keep handing out deals to players that would be better suited on the bottom pair, yet giving them top pairing money. The Flyers hope that Samuel Morin and Ivan Provorov will turn into top four defenseman, which would help make this team a dangerous one with an already lethal offense. If Steve Mason can put together another good season and stay healthy, the Flyers could head back to the postseason again.
23. Minnesota – Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jason Pominville, Devan Dubnyk HM: Alex Tuch/Matthew Dumba
It might be hard to believe that a team with 30 goal scorer Zach Parise up front and minute eating defenseman Ryan Suter anchoring the backend is ranked so low. Here’s the main problem, it’s difficult to see this team getting over the playoff hump in the Western Conference and finally defeating their nemesis the Chicago Blackhawks. Let’s talk about some of the positives though, with young standout defenseman Jonas Brodin and quality 25 goal scorer Jason Pominville up front as well. A lot of the Wild’s success will depend on whether or not goalie Devan Dubnyk can keep up his Vezina quality play. Was last season a fluke? Time will tell in that department and if it was, the Wild may be in for a long year. The Wild are one of the deepest teams in the league and definitely have one of the more ambiguous cores in the NHL, but can they make the jump to an elite team?
24. Arizona– Martin Hanzal, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dylan Strome, Max Domi, Mike Smith HM: Anthony Duclair/Christian Dvorak
When we re-visit this article in about three years time, it will not surprise me if Arizona is quietly sitting in the top 5. Anchored by number one defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the rest of the roster besides big center Martin Hanzal is relatively unproven. Elite prospects Dylan Strome and Max Domi lead a stacked Arizona farm system and they will likely be big parts of the Coyotes core in the near future. Anthony Duclair was acquired in the Keith Yandle deal, and will likely see his professional career begin this year with the big club. Add to that OHL star Christian Dvorak and you suddenly are building a nice offensive team in Arizona, where they’re used to being known as a defensive oriented club. In three years time, this Coyotes team could be a big threat in the Western Conference.
25. San Jose – Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Thornton, Martin Jones HM: Timo Meier/Micro Mueller/Brent Burns
The San Jose Sharks are low on the list, but it is not for a lack of quality players. With a new wave of talent replacing veterans like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton’s work loads up front, the Sharks are having a shift in leadership and playing time. Now anchored up front by Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks are quietly becoming underrated because of missing the playoffs last season. It will be interesting to see what the Sharks management has in mind because they’re still trying to go for the cup, as made evident by signing veteran Joel Ward in free agency. With quality defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun on the backend, the Sharks are slowly building a respectable blue line. If Brent Burns returns to the blue line, that will also strengthen their core. After acquiring Martin Jones from Boston this off-season, we will get to see this season if he has the potential to be the number goalie that everyone suspects he can be.
26. Boston – Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jakob Zboril, Tuukka Rask HM: Ryan Spooner/Brad Marchand
The Bruins have one of the best two way centers in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, and he needs to be the center piece of what they build around up front. The Bruins have a nice supporting cast to go along with Bergeron with youngsters David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner . With that they also employ pest Brad Marchand and quality scorer David Krejci. With aging captain Zdeno Chara winding down his career, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the Bruins to find his replacement. The Bruins dealt Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton this off-season, which was confusing to some because most had Hamilton marked as Chara’s replacement. Alot of people are wondering what is exactly going on in Boston, and can you really blame them?
27. Toronto– James Van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Jonathan Bernier HM: Nazem Kadri
Toronto’s core will be an interesting one to watch for the next three seasons. Will the Leafs finally stick to a rebuild? The Leafs have some very nice pieces in place up front in William Nylander and Mitch Marner, as well as future number one defenseman Morgan Rielly on the backend. These three players will be vital to the future success of the Leafs and whether or not they can eventually be contenders. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier signed a “prove it” contract this off-season and the Leafs brass are trying to make him show them he’s the number one goalie they thought they acquired from Los Angeles. Forward James Van Riemsdyk has all the tools to be a consistent 30 goal scorer in this league and center Nazem Kadri has all the potential in the world, but can he reach it? The Leafs will be an interesting team to watch as they likely will add another high draft pick to their farm system in the coming year.
28. Carolina– Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jordan Staal, Eddie Lack HM: Sergei Tolchinsky/Eric Staal
Carolina was lucky enough to have elite defensive prospect Noah Hanifin fall into their laps during the draft this off-season. The American two-way stud defenseman could make his mark in Carolina as early as next season. With an aging core and Eric Staal likely to be dealt this season, it looks as though Carolina is in full rebuild mode. With Justin Faulk as the leader on the backend, a top future pairing of Hanifin-Faulk could be one of the best pairings in the NHL. It will be interesting to see how the Canes handle moving Eric Staal, or if resigns here and sticks out the rest of his career in Carolina. With youngsters Sergei Tolchinsky and Elias Lindholm on the rise, the Canes will look to score more this season, even though rebuilds take time and patience. Times will soon get better in Carolina as they have some nice pieces in place, but for now the fans need to be patient and let management do their thing.
29. Vancouver– Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, Jacob Markstrom HM: Jake Virtanen/Chris Tanev
With the aging Sedin’s, the Canucks seem to be retooling for the future in order to pass the torch to the younger core. The hall of fame bound Sedins are not getting younger, but the Canucks made a surprising return to the playoffs last season and have had an interesting off season this year to say the least. Canucks fans seem somewhat shocked at what General Manager Jim Benning has done this off season, and it really is anybody’s guess as to what direction this team is really headed in. Bo Horvat, the center piece of the Cory Schneider deal, will be looked to in order to provide some offense and defensive awareness in the coming seasons as he develops. With Ryan Miller the current starter, it will be interesting to see when they finally transition to young goalie Jacob Markstrom, who is full of potential. Vancouver has some retooling to do in their system, and for now, things will get worse before they get better.
30. New Jersey– Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Pavel Zacha, Mike Cammalleri, Cory Schneider HM: Damon Severson
To be quite clear, the Devils are a pretty big mess right now. The Devils have glaring needs basically everywhere on their roster, besides in goal where they have star goaltender Cory Schneider, who posted a fantastic season last year. Led by sniper Mike Cammalleri up front, it is time for the Devils to rebuild. The Devils selected Pavel Zacha with their first round pick this season and down the line he will project to be an offensive center for a club that is desperate for scoring. Adam Larsson signed a contract extension with the Devils this off-season and it will be intriguing to watch his growth in the coming years as he has had his fair share of ups and downs in the early goings of his career. In order to properly rebuild, this Devils team will need to sell of their assets and build through the draft and establish a new core, as right now the Devils core is much to be determined.
As we have seen with the most recent Stanley Cup winning teams, building an established core is VITAL to the future and current success of a club. Once you build a core, you have to do everything in your power to keep them together and build an interchangeable supporting cast around them. Many teams are currently doing this very well, and some others still have some work to do in order to see a path towards Lord Stanley. As it stands, Tampa Bay and Chicago are the NHL’s model franchises and teams can learn a lot from them by establishing a core within and building through the draft.
Zack joined The Hockey Writers in 2015 and has been writing about hockey for over 4 seasons. He currently covers the Montreal Canadiens and Peterborough Petes for The Hockey Writers.