The power play unit’s success rate is often the variable that determines if an NHL team makes the playoffs – and how far they progress in the postseason. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the top-five NHL power play units (based on conversion percentage) for the upcoming season.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season: 9th (21.7%)
The Columbus Blue Jackets would have made the playoffs last season were it not for a string of major injuries early on in the term; in fact, they were capable of a lengthy stay in the postseason. The Jackets went on an amazing nine-game unbeaten run toward the end of the season once a few of those injured players returned – a franchise record.
The major Blue Jackets’ news in the offseason was – of course—their trade acquisition of Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. Saad will add to the already impressive ranks of Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, and Jack Johnson – that trio netted the most on the man-advantage last season.
Likely primary PP unit: Folingo – Johansen – Saad – Johnson with Ryan Murray as the D-man.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last season: Tied for 8th (19.3%)
The Pittsburgh Penguins are an interesting bunch these days – made even more interesting after the team brought in Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason – leaving all Leafs’ fans with the easy task of finding something else to complain about.
Kessel will slide into the power play unit alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And, if those guys don’t produce, David Perron and Patric Hornqvist will each be eager to impress once they take the ice on the power play. On top of that, the team acquired a decent face-off winner when they picked up Eric Fehr (formerly of the Washington Capitals) via free agency, and he may break into the power play setup in Pittsburgh.
Their eighth place finish in the power-play rankings last season was a bump in a usually strong overall showing by the Pens. If Kessel enjoys his new surroundings, the team may end up higher than my predicted fourth-place ranking.
Likely primary PP unit: Chris Kunitz – Crosby –Kessel – Malkin with Kris Letang as the D-man.
3. Dallas Stars
Last season: Tied for 11th (19%)
The Stars already looked good on paper going into the offseason based on their solid performance with the man advantage last year. However, when they acquired Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks in July, the power play unit took on an even better shine. Sharp was extremely adequate at firing in goals from the point for Chicago, and 66 of his 249 career regular season goals came on the power play; 13 out of 43 career playoff goals were with the extra man. Those stats set the stage for an improved power play unit in Dallas next season and a top-three finish in the stats.
So, Sharp enters the fray with Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Not only do I believe the Stars will finish high in the power play rankings, I see them making a surprise run for the Stanley Cup.
Likely primary PP Unit: Jamie Benn – Seguin –Valeri Nichushkin – Sharp with John Klingberg as the D-man.
2. Detroit Red Wings
Last season: 2nd (23.8%)
The Detroit Red Wings are usually always near the top of the power play success charts. Indeed, they also led the NHL last season in power-play opportunities with 294 attempts.
Defenseman Mike Green is a welcomed addition to an already impressive power play unit. The former Washington Capital was picked up during the free agency frenzy, and he always excelled on the man-advantage during his Washington years. However, he was usually always supplying the puck to superstar Alex Ovechkin. Next term, he’ll likely look left and see Tomas Tatar.
Adding Brad Richards to the lineup won’t hurt things either, and I see Detroit challenging for the top power play conversion spot next April. But, they’ll just lose out.
Likely primary PP unit: Henrik Zetterberg – Pavel Datsyuk – Justin Abdelkader – Tatar with Green as the D-man.
1. Washington Capitals
Last season: 1st (25.3%)
Why change a good thing? Unless that change means bringing in T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to add to the Washington Capitals’ already remarkable extra-man lineup. Oshie, in particular, will relish the chance to stand alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom with the extra man on the ice.
Sure, the Capitals lost a couple of players who usually featured in power-play situations (Troy Brouwer and Green) but – ultimately – that doesn’t matter. Ovechkin and Backstrom are the NHL’s best goal producers on the man advantage. Ovechkin tallied 25 power-play goals last season, the rest of the team managed a combined power-play goal tally of 35.
Excellent defenseman John Carlson is ready and waiting to step into Green’s power-play skates and the resulting powerhouse unit will rank first again after the upcoming season.
Likely primary PP unit: Andre Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie – Ovechkin with Carlson as the D-man.
Outside but looking in at the top five: Expect the Canucks, the Flyers, and the Sharks to all do well next season.