The NHL season doesn’t start for another two months — not until October 4 — but with rosters mostly set by now, we can rank the 31 teams by positional strength in terms of forwards, defencemen and goaltenders.
These rankings, based on projected depth charts from Dailyfaceoff.com for the upcoming season, are sure to spark debate during the dog days of summer. It is always a fun exercise but, at the end of the day, this is one person’s opinion and not everybody will agree.
Please note, these rankings are only for the 2017-18 campaign and not for the teams’ future potential at each position. Several prospects are listed as roster extras, but their impact in the present is all that matters.
This is the first of a three-part series, ranking the teams’ forwards from worst to first.
31) Vegas Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault-Vadim Shipachyov-James Neal
David Perron-Cody Eakin-Reilly Smith
Erik Haula-William Karlsson-Oscar Lindberg
Will Carrier-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Teemu Pulkkinen
Alex Tuch/Tomas Nosek/Brendan Leipsic/Stefan Matteau/Paul Thompson/T.J. Tynan/Keegan Kolesar/Cody Glass/Nick Suzuki/Reid Duke/Tomas Hyka
ANALYSIS: Expansion teams are always lacking in high-end talent and the Golden Knights will be no different when it comes to their forwards, but they are arguably deeper up front than the next two or three teams. Vegas could attack in waves and be more balanced than others, but the Golden Knights are likely going to struggle to score in general. The key here will be Shipachyov’s adjustment to the North American game and whether his playmaking skills can translate from Russia to set up his linemates for 25-plus goals each. If successful, the Golden Knights might outscore some teams. If not, it could be a long, low-scoring inaugural season.
30) Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov-Evgeny Dadonov
Henrik Haapala-Vincent Trocheck-Radim Vrbata
Colton Sceviour-Denis Malgin-Nick Bjugstad
Jayce Hawryluk-Derek MacKenzie-Micheal Haley
Owen Tippett/Jared McCann/Connor Brickley/Alexandre Grenier/Maxim Mamin/Sebastian Repo/Chase Balisy/Dryden Hunt
ANALYSIS: Decimated by key injuries last season, the Panthers have since lost a lot of forward depth and now can’t afford for their go-to players to get hurt again. If Barkov or Huberdeau go down for any length of time, it’s probably game over for Florida. Banking on two European signings — Dadonov and Haapala — in their top six is a risky proposition for the Panthers, and their bottom six is really in shambles. Bob Boughner has his work cut out for him with this group and he wasn’t exactly an offensive dynamo in his playing days — quite the opposite, as a hard-nosed defenceman.
29) New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall-Nico Hischier-Kyle Palmieri
Adam Henrique-Travis Zajac-Marcus Johansson
Miles Wood-Pavel Zacha-Stefan Noesen
Blake Coleman-Brian Boyle-Nick Lappin
John Quenneville/Joseph Blandisi/Blake Speers/Michael McLeod/Brian Gibbons/Bracken Kearns/Blake Pietila
ANALYSIS: There are two first overall picks on New Jersey’s top line — Hall (2010) and Hischier (2017) — but the supporting cast still leaves a lot to be desired. Hischier is unproven and not considered a generational talent like the two previous No. 1 picks in Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, while Hall has been somewhat injury-prone and has yet to score 30 goals in a season through six full NHL campaigns. He only netted 20 goals in 72 games last season and will need to develop instant chemistry with Hischier to top 70 points for just the second time in his career. Johansson should be a decent addition and Zacha could take a big step forward, but this group has the look of a lottery team again.
28) Arizona Coyotes
Max Domi-Derek Stepan-Anthony Duclair
Clayton Keller-Dylan Strome-Tobias Rieder
Brendan Perlini-Christian Dvorak-Jamie McGinn
Lawson Crouse-Nick Cousins-Jordan Martinook
Brad Richardson/Christian Fischer/Emerson Etem/Michael Latta/Zac Rinaldo/Tyler Gaudet/Nick Merkley
ANALYSIS: The Coyotes are going young this season, though they did bring in Stepan for some stability down the middle. Strome and Keller should be ready to step in and perhaps play starring roles, while Domi and Duclair will need to regain their rookie form in order for Arizona to have any hope of a playoff berth. Dvorak, Perlini and Crouse are all sophomores, which just goes to show how young this lineup is going to be. Rick Tocchet will be doing as much babysitting as he’ll be doing coaching in his first season in the desert, but this group will be fun to watch win or lose.
27) Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar-Henrik Zetterberg-Anthony Mantha
Gustav Nyquist-Frans Nielsen-Dylan Larkin
Andreas Athanasiou-Riley Sheahan-Darren Helm
Justin Abdelkader-Luke Glendening-Luke Witkowski
Evgeny Svechnikov/Tyler Bertuzzi/Martin Frk/Matt Lorito/Ben Street/Eric Tangradi/Axel Holmstrom/Givani Smith/Michael Rasmussen
ANALYSIS: Here’s a team in transition that should score more than last season, but it might be a marginal improvement under Jeff Blashill. Zetterberg isn’t getting any younger, but Mantha, Larkin and Athanasiou should pick up that slack, while Tatar and Nyquist are capable of stepping it up too. Sheahan can’t get any worse, and a few of those prospects knocking on the door — fresh off winning the Calder Cup with Detroit’s AHL affiliate — could become pleasant surprises. If Todd Nelson takes over as coach at some point, that change could spark the Red Wings’ offence, but otherwise expect more mediocrity for the most part.
26) Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser
Reid Boucher-Brandon Sutter-Sam Gagner
Michael Chaput-Markus Granlund-Derek Dorsett
Alex Burmistrov/Nikolay Goldobin/Anton Rodin/Brendan Gaunce/Jake Virtanen/Jonathan Dahlen/Elias Pettersson/Jayson Megna/Griffen Molino/Joseph Labate/Zack MacEwen/Cole Cassels
ANALYSIS: Eriksson should have a better second season in Vancouver and will likely get another chance alongside the Sedin twins under new coach Travis Green. Horvat may struggle to lead this team in scoring again, especially if the Sedins stay healthy and enjoy a resurgence. Boeser could be a sleeper for the Calder and Gagner should help generate more offence from a third scoring line. The Canucks have enough offensive-minded forwards to roll four scoring lines if Green so desires, but Vancouver will very much need to score by committee and get that power play going to avoid being a lottery team again.
25) Los Angeles Kings
Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Mike Cammalleri
Adrian Kempe-Nick Shore-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Nic Dowd-Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan/Andy Andreoff/Jonny Brodzinski/Michael Mersch/Austin Wagner/Spencer Watson/Gabe Vilardi/Mike Amadio/Alex Iafallo/Bokondji Imama
ANALYSIS: That second line will make or break this season for the Kings, with Kopitar needing to bounce back in a big way after scoring just 12 goals and 52 points last season — both career-lows (besides the lockout year). His wingers have both reached the 80-point plateau in their careers, with Gaborik boasting three 40-goal seasons and Cammalleri topping out at 39. However, they combined for only 20 goals — 10 each — last season and together managed to match Kopitar’s mediocre total of 52 points. That trio will need to total at least 150 points in 2017-18 for the Kings to be in the playoff picture. The top line, affectionately known as That 70s Line, should produce consistently again, but L.A.’s bottom six isn’t going to do much damage unless Kempe breaks out and drives his own scoring line like Kopitar did in his younger years. Maybe Pierre Turgeon can work some magic as this team’s “offensive coordinator,” but there doesn’t appear to be much firepower up front.
24) Colorado Avalanche
Sven Andrighetto-Matt Duchene-Nathan MacKinnon
Gabriel Landeskog-Tyson Jost-Colin Wilson
Nail Yakupov-J.T. Compher-Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Joe Colborne/Gabriel Bourque/Rocco Grimaldi/A.J. Greer/Andrew Agozzino/Felix Girard/J.C. Beaudin
ANALYSIS: If Duchene gets traded before the season to address the defence, then Colorado will drop at least a few spots in these rankings. As is, the Avs’ forward group looks pretty good on paper and has quite a bit of upside. Granted, Colorado will be relying on a lot of youth in its rebuilding process, but Duchene and Landeskog are much better than their numbers from last season and MacKinnon still has point-per-game potential. Those three would need to lead the way, but Rantanen scored 20 goals as a rookie on a terrible team and should be a key contributor going forward. It looks like Jost and Compher will be thrust into significant roles as rookies, though Jost could still end up returning to junior and playing for a Memorial Cup. Andrighetto was productive as a trade-deadline acquisition and the Avs have rounded out their top nine with the off-season additions of Wilson and Yakupov. The latter has been a bust thus far, but Yakupov will get every opportunity to score and succeed with very little expectations in Colorado. There are a ton of question marks here, but based on talent alone, the Avs are worthy of this ranking if Duchene stays in the fold.
23) Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner-Victor Rask-Teuvo Teravainen
Sebastian Aho-Jordan Staal-Elias Lindholm
Lee Stempniak-Derek Ryan-Justin Williams
Brock McGinn-Marcus Kruger-Joakim Nordstrom
Phil Di Giuseppe/Josh Jooris/Andrew Miller/Andrew Poturalski/Lucas Wallmark/Aleksi Saarela/Valentin Zykov/Sergey Tolchinsky/Julien Gauthier/Nicolas Roy/Warren Foegele/Janne Kuokkanen/Martin Necas
ANALYSIS: A team that many see trending up, the Hurricanes don’t have any star forwards, but they have plenty of depth up front and should score by committee. Skinner scored 37 goals last season — sixth most in the NHL — so some may see him as a star, but he’ll need a similar encore to earn that status. Aho debuted with 24 goals and 49 points, so he should be good for at least 25 and 50, barring a sophomore slump. Lindholm and Teravainen have breakout potential but have been inconsistent to date. Staal, Rask and Williams could also flirt with 50 points, possibly giving Carolina seven forwards with 50-plus. If that comes to fruition, the Hurricanes are probably a playoff team, but it will be easier said than done.
22) New York Rangers
Jimmy Vesey-Mika Zibanejad-Rick Nash
Chris Kreider-Kevin Hayes-Mats Zuccarello
Pavel Buchnevich-J.T. Miller-Michael Grabner
Matt Puempel-David Desharnais-Jesper Fast
Lias Andersson/Adam Tambellini/Boo Nieves/Steven Fogarty/Malte Stromwall/Robin Kovacs/Ryan Gropp/Dawson Leedahl/Daniel Catenacci/Cole Schneider/Paul Carey
ANALYSIS: Another score-by-committee club, the Rangers are even deeper than Carolina but also lack star power and could miss Stepan centering their top line. The Rangers could lead the league in 20-goal scorers this season — with as many as nine or even 10 — but they might not have a single 30-goal scorer. Rick Nash could be that guy, but he’s been so hit and miss in recent seasons. The Rangers should be one of those teams rolling four scoring lines and look for breakout years from Zibanejad, Buchnevich and perhaps Vesey.
21) Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty-Alex Galchenyuk-Brendan Gallagher
Artturi Lehkonen-Phillip Danault-Jonathan Drouin
Paul Byron-Tomas Plekanec-Ales Hemsky
Andreas Martinsen-Torrey Mitchell-Andrew Shaw
Peter Holland/Michael McCarron/Daniel Carr/Byron Froese/Charles Hudon/Jacob De La Rose/Nikita Scherbak/Martin Reway/Chris Terry/Daniel Audette/Jeremiah Addison
ANALYSIS: Still lacking a true No. 1 centre, the Canadiens did land a budding Francophone in Drouin but lost a Russian scorer in Alex Radulov. Marc Bergevin decided to keep Galchenyuk, at least for now, while also adding the injury-prone Hemsky to flank his Czech compatriot Plekanec. They could give Montreal a third scoring line, but Hemsky only played 15 games last season and they combined for just 14 goals and 35 points. Both will be expected to exceed those numbers individually, but that could be asking a lot at this stage of their careers. Gallagher should bounce back and Lehkonen showed lots of promise as a rookie. Pacioretty is pretty consistent, but this season could hinge on the production of Drouin and Galchenyuk. Claude Julien will try to press the right buttons with them like he did with David Pastrnak in Boston last season.
20) Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala-Nick Bonino-Craig Smith
Scott Hartnell-Calle Jarnkrok-Pontus Aberg
Austin Watson-Frederick Gaudreau-Colton Sissons
Cody McLeod/Miikka Salomaki/Vladislav Kamenev/Yakov Trenin/Emil Pettersson/Tyler Moy/Trevor Smith
ANALYSIS: For making a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators aren’t all that deep up front as of today. Nashville’s top line emerged as one of the NHL’s best trios last season, but the next three lines are below average by league standards. This is a team that could really use Duchene, especially after Mike Fisher’s retirement. Fiala will be coming off a badly broken leg whenever he returns, Bonino is new to the fold and Hartnell is coming back to Nashville on his last legs. Smith took a step back last season too, but he should still be in his prime going forward. Some of those young playoff heroes — Sissons, Aberg and Gaudreau — will need to provide secondary scoring for the Predators over the course of an 82-game season. Again, easier said than done.
19) Ottawa Senators
Mike Hoffman-Kyle Turris-Mark Stone
Clarke MacArthur-Derick Brassard-Bobby Ryan
Zack Smith-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Alex Burrows
Ryan Dzingel-Nate Thompson-Tom Pyatt
Colin White/Chris DiDomenico/Nick Paul/Max Reinhart/Ben Sexton/Francis Perron/Logan Brown/Filip Chlapik/Max McCormick
ANALYSIS: Very similar to the Rangers, the Senators will score by committee again and get the edge in these rankings based on better centre depth. Turris and Brassard are more established than Zibanejad, Hayes and Miller. Pageau is another one of those playoff heroes who now needs to sustain that success over a full season. Hoffman, Stone and Ryan are all capable of scoring 30 goals, with the latter a lot like Nash in New York. A healthy MacArthur would make Ottawa that much better, and White could force his way into a regular role on a scoring line as a rookie. Guy Boucher’s defensive system will hold this group back from posting any real big offensive numbers.
18) Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano-David Krejci-David Backes
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Spooner-Peter Cehlarik
Noel Acciari-Riley Nash-Tim Schaller
Kenny Agostino/Anders Bork/Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson/Danton Heinen/Austin Czarnik/Sean Kuraly/Jake DeBrusk/Zach Senyshyn
ANALYSIS: Somewhat like Nashville, with a dynamic top line but some chemistry and depth concerns beyond that in Boston. Marchand and Pastrnak had huge seasons and will be hard-pressed to repeat their totals. The Bruins do have a bunch of promising prospects on the cusp of contributing and it’ll be interesting to see how Bruce Cassidy deploys the rest of his lineup. That bottom six could have several different looks and four scoring lines isn’t out of the realm of possibility in Boston either. Time will tell which kids step up, but the Bruins won’t be an offensive powerhouse by any means.
17) New York Islanders
Anders Lee-John Tavares-Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier-Matt Barzal-Josh Bailey
Andrew Ladd-Brock Nelson-Josh Ho-Sang
Nikolay Kulemin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Jason Chimera/Shane Prince/Alan Quine/Steve Bernier/Michael Dal Colle/Connor Jones/Tanner Fritz
ANALYSIS: Another young team that would be lower in these rankings if not for a superstar leading the charge in Tavares. This could be Tavares’ last season with the Islanders — he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, if not extended or traded in the meantime — but he’s a top-10 forward in the league and singlehandedly kept the Islanders in the teens here. Tavares could have his best season yet, flanked by Lee and Eberle to form a potent top line. The Islanders have an offensive-minded coaching staff with Doug Weight and Scott Gomez, so expect their influence to trigger an uptick in scoring. Those line combinations have plenty of upside, but Barzal, Beauvillier and Ho-Sang are still wet behind the ears and could experience growing pains. Ladd should be better in his second season with the Islanders, but Bailey won’t be as good if he’s no longer wingmanning it for Tavares. That depth chart looks good on paper, but if any of those kids struggle, Chimera can fill in admirably and might still earn a regular role in training camp.
16) Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Zucker
Marcus Foligno-Mikko Koivu-Tyler Ennis
Chris Stewart-Joel Eriksson Ek-Landon Ferraro
Luke Kunin/Kyle Rau/Sam Anas/Christoph Bertschy/Cal O’Reilly/Kurtis Gabriel/Mario Lucia/Zack Mitchell
ANALYSIS: No real stars here, especially with Staal, Koivu and Parise all past their prime, but the Wild will be rolling four scoring lines and Bruce Boudreau’s teams always seem to light it up in the regular season. Granlund and Niederreiter could take another step towards stardom, while Zucker and Coyle should continue to produce at a decent clip. Foligno and Ennis are wild-cards, coming over from Buffalo, while Eriksson Ek and Kunin could make immediate impacts as rookies. Minnesota should boast a balanced attack and will be tough to stop if that veteran trio contributes as much or more than last season.
15) Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Valtteri Filppula-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Matt Read
Jordan Weal-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise
Oskar Lindblom/Scott Laughton/Taylor Leier/Mike Vecchione/Mikhail Vorobyov/Phil Varone/Greg Carey/Colin McDonald/Corban Knight/Danick Martel
ANALYSIS: The Flyers will once again be carried by their big three — Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds — but this should be a much deeper group than last season, even without Brayden Schenn. It will be a very competitive training camp in Philadelphia, with the rest of the depth chart to be determined. The bottom six could look a lot different than this projection, with Lindblom expected to factor in somewhere as a rookie. He could outperform Patrick, the prized rookie as this year’s second overall pick, but a handful of those extras are legitimate contenders to crack the opening-night roster. Filppula and Lehtera could end up in depth roles as veterans, while Raffl, Read and Weise will be in tough to stay in the lineup. Konecny and Weal have nice upside with the right linemates, and the hiring of Kris Knoblauch as an assistant coach — coming from OHL offensive juggernaut Erie — could give the Flyers an added boost.
14) Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin-Alexander Wennberg-Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno-Brandon Dubinsky-Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano-Boone Jenner-Oliver Bjorkstrand
Matt Calvert-Lukas Sedlak-Jordan Schroeder
Pierre-Luc Dubois/Markus Hannikainen/Tyler Motte/Zac Dalpe/Vitaly Abramov/Kevin Stenlund/Calvin Thurkauf/Alex Broadhurst
ANALYSIS: Lots to like here in the top nine, and Dubois will likely slot in there somewhere too as another Calder candidate. Panarin gives the Blue Jackets a different dynamic up front and could sustain his 70-point production providing he clicks with Wennberg. If John Tortorella loads up his top line with Atkinson, that trio could become one of the league’s best despite not being the biggest names as of today. It could be similar to Nashville’s top line, but Columbus would have the benefit of more depth. Bjorkstrand could break out this season and Anderson has more to offer too. Milano and Dubois are exciting rookies, while Foligno, Dubinsky and Jenner are Torts-type players. It’s a good mix, combining to make Columbus a tough matchup for most teams.
13) Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik
Kris Versteeg-Sam Bennett-Troy Brouwer
Curtis Lazar-Matt Stajan-Freddie Hamilton
Spencer Foo/Mark Jankowski/Marek Hrivik/Luke Gazdic/Garnet Hathaway/Daniel Pribyl/Hunter Shinkaruk/Emile Poirier/Morgan Klimchuk/Dillon Dube/Andrew Mangiapane
ANALYSIS: That second line was a pleasant surprise for the Flames last season and will need a repeat performance to justify this ranking. Gaudreau and Monahan will continue to be a dynamic duo on the top line, but Calgary’s success may be defined by Tkachuk’s sophomore season and whether Bennett finally breaks out as a third-year player. If Tkachuk and Bennett take steps in the right direction, the Flames will have their share of firepower. Foo and Jankowski are promising rookies, and Lazar is another wild-card who could benefit from a fresh start and a change of scenery from Ottawa. Quite a few question marks in Calgary, but also quite a bit of depth.
12) Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Patrick Sharp-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Tommy Wingels
Lance Bouma-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco
Laurent Dauphin/John Hayden/Vinnie Hinostroza/Jordin Tootoo/David Kampf/Kyle Baun/Alex DeBrincat/Alexandre Fortin
ANALYSIS: Kane and Toews keep Chicago from falling into the teens in these rankings, but the Blackhawks are going to need more out of their kids in terms of secondary scoring this season. Saad is a downgrade from Panarin offensively and Sharp probably won’t be able to match Marian Hossa’s output either. So Schmaltz, Hartman, Kero and Jurco, among others, will need to pick up that slack. DeBrincat could be promoted if Sharp struggles in his return from an injury-plagued campaign, but Joel Quenneville will likely be firing up the blender in training camp to find the right line combinations. Regardless, the Blackhawks aren’t going to be as potent up front as in recent seasons.
11) St. Louis Blues
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Alex Steen-Brayden Schenn
Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitrij Jaskin
Magnus Paajarvi-Ivan Barbashev-Beau Bennett
Kyle Brodziak/Oskar Sundqvist/Zach Sanford/Wade Megan/Chris Thorburn/Samuel Blais/Tage Thompson/Klim Kostin/Conner Bleackley
ANALYSIS: The Blues should be better offensively this season, with the acquisition of Schenn and the return of Fabbri. This top six looks pretty potent and the bottom six is definitely above average too. Lots to like when looking at St. Louis’ depth chart, even if Tarasenko is the only elite talent. That third line would be heavy and hard to play against at both ends, with the Blues getting contributions from everybody. Even the fourth line, with Paajarvi and Barbashev gaining valuable experience in this year’s playoffs.
10) San Jose Sharks
Mikkel Boedker-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson-Logan Couture-Jannik Hansen
Joonas Donskoi-Tomas Hertl-Timo Meier
Marcus Sorensen-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward
Kevin Labanc/Ryan Carpenter/Danny O’Regan/Barclay Goodrow/Rourke Chartier/Adam Helewka/Noah Rod/Filip Sandberg/Rudolfs Balcers/Brandon Bollig
ANALYSIS: No more Patrick Marleau and that projected second line doesn’t scream offence, with Couture flanked by a couple of two-way wingers. Peter DeBoer still has lots of options up front, with the entire third line here capable of playing in the top six, while Tierney and Labanc also have offensive upside. The Sharks can roll four scoring lines and should still be a top-10 offence, providing Thornton doesn’t lose another step in his return from knee surgery.
9) Buffalo Sabres
Evander Kane-Ryan O’Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Benoit Pouliot-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Jason Pominville
Nicolas Deslauriers-Johan Larsson-Jacob Josefson
Alexander Nylander/Seth Griffith/Evan Rodrigues/Sean Malone/C.J. Smith/Nic Baptiste/Justin Bailey/Hudson Fasching/Casey Mittelstadt
ANALYSIS: Most will say this is overrating the Sabres, but call it the Eichel factor. Much like the McDavid factor for Edmonton last season, if Eichel can stay healthy, he could be a top-10 scorer in the league this season. Nylander could be a Calder sleeper if he steals that spot alongside Eichel and Reinhart in training camp. That would give the Sabres a terrific top six and bumping Pouliot to the bottom six wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Phil Housley is another rookie head coach who preaches offence, so he might go with four scoring lines too. That could mean Pouliot on the fourth line with Larsson and Josefson or one of the other extras, essentially bumping Deslauriers to the press box in favour of Nylander. Not a bad idea, and not a bad group in general. This is actually a very underrated group by the majority of pundits, with Buffalo potentially improving more than any other team in terms of goals for from last season. The Sabres were fifth worst in that category, but could crack the top 10 this season.
8) Anaheim Ducks
Rickard Rakell-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Nick Ritchie-Antoine Vermette-Patrick Eaves
Logan Shaw-Chris Wagner-Ondrej Kase
Dennis Rasmussen/Jared Boll/Derek Grant/Nic Kerdiles/Sam Steel/Kevin Roy/Kalle Kossila/Max Jones/Corey Tropp
ANALYSIS: More proven than Buffalo and now a bit better than San Jose, the Ducks will stay in the top 10 as long as Getzlaf stays productive. Anaheim should end up with at least six 20-goal scorers, assuming Kesler doesn’t regress and Perry bounces back to some degree. Rakell and Silfverberg are capable of 30-plus, Eaves proved to be a good fit in earning his extension and Ritchie is a breakout candidate. Anaheim’s top nine stacks up well with most teams, but this fourth line is average at best. Randy Carlyle could experiment with a couple prospects alongside Kase in training camp, testing out Steel and Jones or Kerdiles and Roy in those roles occupied by Shaw and Wagner on the depth chart. Steel could also audition in Vermette’s spot, but Steel will likely be heading back to the Memorial Cup host Regina Pats at some point.
7) Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick Marleau-Auston Matthews-William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman-Nazem Kadri-Connor Brown
Leo Komarov-Dominic Moore-Matt Martin
Kasperi Kapanen/Josh Leivo/Kerby Rychel/Frederik Gauthier (IR)/Nikita Soshnikov/Andreas Johnsson/Tobias Lindberg/Carl Grundstrom/Miro Aaltonen/Eric Fehr/Colin Greening/Ben Smith/Chris Mueller/Trevor Moore/Dmytro Timashov/Jeremy Bracco
ANALYSIS: The Leafs are for real and their top six will be among the league’s best now that Marleau’s addition has bumped Hyman down the depth chart. Matthews, Marner and Nylander will need to avoid the sophomore slump, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern with Mike Babcock guiding this ship. The second line had great chemistry all last season, so that shouldn’t change unless one or both of Bozak and van Riemsdyk are traded. The third line has good upside, but Hyman’s spot isn’t safe there either, with the likes of Kapanen, Leivo and Rychel perhaps offering more offence alongside Kadri and Brown. Toronto would be one of the teams still icing a checking-style fourth line if this depth chart comes to fruition, but Komarov also has chemistry with Kadri as a third-line candidate. If Hyman drops to the fourth line, maybe Babcock goes with a more offensive approach and plays him with Kapanen and Leivo or Rychel, while relegating Moore and Martin to the press box. The top six appears set for the Leafs, but the bottom six will be sorted out in training camp.
6) Winnipeg Jets
Nik Ehlers-Mark Scheifele-Patrik Laine
Kyle Connor-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault-Nic Petan-Marko Dano
Shawn Matthias-Adam Lowry-Joel Armia
Andrew Copp/Brandon Tanev/Michael Sgarbossa/Buddy Robinson/Jack Roslovic/Chase De Leo/JC Lipon/Brendan Lemieux/Jansen Harkins/Michael Spacek/Mason Appleton/Kristian Vesalainen
ANALYSIS: The Jets are also for real — right there with the Leafs, essentially interchangeable in these rankings — and Paul Maurice shouldn’t hesitate to go with four scoring lines. This top nine has the potential to really light it up, and that fourth line would certainly chip in too. Roslovic led the farm team in scoring and will push for a spot in camp, perhaps bumping Matthias to the press box. Winnipeg is going to be so fun to watch again this season — especially that top line — and this could totally be a playoff team if Maurice doesn’t hold the Jets back.
5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Steven Stamkos-Brayden Point
Chris Kunitz-Vladislav Namestnikov-Ryan Callahan
Yanni Gourde-Cedric Paquette-J.T. Brown
Cory Conacher/Erik Condra/Adam Erne/Matthew Peca/Taylor Raddysh/Anthony Cirelli/Mitchell Stephens/Mathieu Joseph/Brett Howden/Michael Bournival/Tye McGinn/Carter Verhaeghe
ANALYSIS: The Triplets top line is tried, tested and true, but Jon Cooper will have to find the right fits for the rest of this depth chart in training camp. A healthy Stamkos has the potential to be a top-10 scorer, especially if Cooper decides to break up the Triplets and pair Stamkos with Kucherov like he did at times last season before Stamkos got hurt. Stamkos and Kucherov on the top line, Palat and Johnson on the second line is another nice set up for Tampa. Point, Namestnikov, Killorn, Gourde and even prospects like Raddysh, Joseph and Howden will get looks to round out the top six. Callahan is apparently healthy again and Kunitz was a strong playoff performer for Pittsburgh, so they could anchor the third line together. If Namestnikov slots in as a top-six winger, perhaps another prospect like Peca, Cirelli or Stephens gets to audition between those veterans. Cooper can experiment at will, but whatever combinations he decides to go with, the Lightning will surely be a high-scoring club again.
4) Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Andre Burakovsky
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Tom Wilson
Nathan Walker-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Tyler Graovac/Riley Barber/Chandler Stephenson/Liam O’Brien/Travis Boyd/Zach Sill/Anthony Peluso/Wayne Simpson
ANALYSIS: Depleted from last season — without Johansson and Williams in their top six — the Capitals still have more elite talent than most and arguably the league’s best top line. The depth isn’t there anymore, so Washington is down a few spots from topping these rankings prior to last season, but it’s hard to argue against the Capitals as a top-five offence. Kuznetsov really has to step up and be consistent as a secondary scorer this season, especially if the 25-year-old is flanked by two younger talents in Burakovsky (22) and Calder candidate Vrana (21). That trio has the potential to become something special, but they could also be a defensive liability for Barry Trotz. The third line should be decent, with all three of those players capable of improving on their numbers from last season. The fourth line will be a work in progress and the Capitals could be in trouble if any member of their top line gets hurt. Injuries could sink Washington this season, but a healthy group here still ranks in the top five.
3) Dallas Stars
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alex Radulov
Mattias Janmark-Martin Hanzal-Jason Spezza
Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie-Devin Shore-Tyler Pitlick
Brian Flynn/Adam Cracknell/Remi Elie/Jason Dickinson/Denis Gurianov/Roope Hintz/Gemel Smith/Mark McNeill/Justin Dowling/Cole Ully
ANALYSIS: The Stars badly underachieved last season, largely due to injuries to their top forwards (and awfully inconsistent goaltending). Both Benn and Seguin were recovering from off-season surgeries and clearly weren’t performing up to their potential, but they are healthy and motivated again now. They will also likely be flanked by Radulov, a big fish from this year’s free-agent pond who could give Dallas the league’s highest-scoring top line in 2017-18. Based on this depth chart, the Stars should also have one of the league’s best third lines and a fourth line with offensive upside too. The question mark here is the second line, with Janmark still recovering from a serious injury and Hanzal another newcomer through free agency. Spezza may be shifting to the wing, but he’ll have to take those two under his wing in showing them the Stars’ way. If that trio clicks and produces, Dallas could make a case for No. 1 in these rankings.
2) Edmonton Oilers
Patrick Maroon-Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jesse Puljujarvi
Drake Caggiula-Ryan Strome-Jussi Jokinen
Anton Slepyshev-Mark Letestu-Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira/Iiro Pakarinen/Ty Rattie/Mitch Callahan/Joseph Gambardella/Kailer Yamamoto/Tyler Benson/Joey LaLeggia/Brad Malone/Grayson Downing/Greg Chase
ANALYSIS: The Oilers boast the reigning Hart, Lindsay and Art Ross winner, the league’s leading scorer from last season in McDavid, which automatically assures them a top-five spot in these rankings. Edmonton also has Leon Draisaitl, providing he’s re-signed and doesn’t hold out into the season for a new contract. Peter Chiarelli swapped Jordan Eberle for Strome in a cap-savings move that could be viewed as a downgrade, but Strome is entering a contract year and should be motivated to cash in. He’s also more versatile than Eberle, and the Oilers added more versatility by signing buyout victim Jokinen. Maroon might struggle to score as many goals, but Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins should both score more than last season. Caggiula and Slepyshev could take steps forward as well, and Edmonton’s wild-card is Puljujarvi, who is no longer Calder eligible after scoring just one goal (and eight points) in 28 games as an 18-year-old last season. Remember, Draisaitl only scored two goals (and nine points) in 37 games as a 19-year-old, then broke out for 19 goals and 51 points the following season. Puljujarvi has similar potential and upside. Yamamoto might challenge for a roster spot, but Edmonton is deep enough up front that the Oilers can probably let him develop further in junior. Todd McLellan has lots of options in overseeing arguably the league’s best forward group from top to bottom.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Conor Sheary
Patric Hornqvist-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Carl Hagelin-Carter Rowney-Bryan Rust
Scott Wilson-Greg McKegg-Ryan Reaves
Tom Kuhnhackl/Josh Archibald/Zach Aston-Reese/Daniel Sprong/Dominik Simon/Garrett Wilson/Jean-Sebastien Dea/Teddy Blueger/Tom Sestito
ANALYSIS: Results speak for themselves and the two-time defending champs are blessed with two of the NHL’s elite talents in Crosby and Malkin, who anchor the league’s best top six. That said, Pittsburgh’s bottom six is below average right now, with concerns at third-line centre and a weak fourth line despite the toughness that Reaves will bring. Mike Sullivan could go with a kid line instead, should top prospects Aston-Reese and Sprong prove to be NHL-ready in training camp. The Penguins are still shopping for a proven third-line centre, which might mean re-signing Matt Cullen if he doesn’t retire, but Pittsburgh is also rumoured to be in the running for Duchene. If that happens, the three-peat will be a very real possibility. There are all kinds of rumours surrounding Pittsburgh right now, with some suggesting a Jordan Staal reunion and others speculating that Kessel could be traded. Jim Rutherford will find a way to improve the Penguins’ forward depth before the season starts or certainly at the trade deadline, but as long as Crosby and Malkin are leading the charge, Pittsburgh can stake its claim to the top of these rankings.