NHL Power Rankings: The Lower-Middle Tier (24-19)

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It’s time for part two of my NHL power rankings! In case you missed it, you can find part one (31-25) of my rankings here. I have two sets of teams that are the “middle of the pack,” and this is the first part of that group. Let’s take a look at teams that I ranked 24th to 19th! There really isn’t a whole lot that separates some of the teams as we get higher, so these rankings just kept getting tougher and tougher.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

Projected lineup:

Saad (18-17-35)-Toews (20-32-52)-D Sikura (N/A)

DeBrincat (28-24-52)-Schmaltz (21-31-52)-Kane (27-49-76)

Ejdsell (0-1-1)-Anisimov (20-11-31)-Hayden (4-9-13)

Kunitz (13-16-29)-Kruger (1-5-6)-Kampf (4-7-11)/Highmore (2-0-2)/Martinsen (1-0-1)

 

Keith (2-30-32)-Seabrook (7-19-26)

Gustafsson (5-11-16)-Rutta (6-14-20)

Manning (7-12-19)-Davidson (4-3-7)/Dahlstrom (0-3-3)/Jokiharju (N/A)

 

Crawford (16-9-2 record, 2.27 GAA, .929 SV%, 2 shutouts)

Ward (23-14-4 record, 2.73 record, .906 SV%, 2 shutouts)

 

 

Overview: Sure, having Saad, Toews, DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Kane and Keith is nice, but the team outside of those players is pretty bad. The projected bottom six looks to be pretty disappointing, and this team is one major injury away from being finished. The offense is top heavy and lacks depth, the defense as a whole is underwhelming, and who knows whether or not Corey Crawford can stay healthy for an entire season. And if he doesn’t who knows how Ward will handle a starters workload in a new system and a new city. Hint: He can’t, especially not if his preseason performance has anything to say about it. I want to note that Brandon Davidson is on a professional tryout, and with the injury to Connor Murphy, he has a good chance of turning that into a guaranteed deal. He should probably be on their bottom pairing, at least until Gustav Forsling returns from wrist surgery. The Blackhawks should again be towards the bottom of the Western Conference, but Kane and the other solid core pieces could keep this team afloat, if they stay healthy. Don’t get any hopes for the playoffs, though, especially not with two aging goalies that are either not good enough to be a starter or can’t stay healthy enough to do so.

 

  1. Buffalo Sabres

Projected lineup:

Skinner (24-25-49)-Eichel (25-39-64)-Reinhart (25-25-50)

Sheary (18-12-30)-Mittlestadt (1-4-5)-Okposo (15-29-44)

Sobotka (11-20-31)-Berglund (17-9-26)-Pominville (16-18-34)

Larsson (4-13-17)/Rodrigues (7-18-25)-Girgensons (7-8-15)-Thompson (3-6-9)

 

Scandella (5-17-22)-Ristolainen (6-35-41)

Dahlin (N/A)-Bogosian (0-1-1)

Beaulieu (1-8-9)-McCabe (3-9-12)/Hunwick (4-6-10)

 

Hutton (17-7-3 record, 2.09 GAA, .931 SV%, 3 shutouts)

Ullmark (1-2-0 record, 1.99 GAA, .935 SV%, 0 shutouts)

 

Overview: Buffalo added a lot of talent this offseason. Offensively, they acquired dangerous goal scorer Jeff Skinner, Connor Sheary, and look to also add Casey Mittlestadt into the mix. I think Mittlestadt will struggle initially as he adjusts to the NHL game. He is very small and he is probably going to take a bit of a beating in the NHL. Young winger Alex Nylander might be ready as well, but for now I left him out. Sobotka and Berglund were acquired in the O’Rielly trade, but they won’t be anything more than bottom six players. Adding Dahlin to the defense is huge, but their defensive core looks extremely shaky. Scandella is a nice player to have, but they don’t have a sure top pairing defender to put next to Ristolainen (who I don’t think is really good enough to be a top pairing defenseman anyways). Carter Hutton was the top unrestricted free agent goalie option, and Buffalo was smart in adding him. His numbers will likely come back down to earth a little bit, but this Buffalo team isn’t looking terrible. Center depth could prove to be an issue if someone gets injured. Buffalo likely won’t quite be contending for the playoffs, but if everything goes their way they could be in the wildcard hunt.

 

  1. Arizona Coyotes

Projected lineup:

Keller (23-42-65)-Stepan (14-42-56)-Panik (14-21-35)

Perlini (17-13-30)-Galchenyuk (19-32-51)-Hinostroza (7-18-25)

Grabner (27-9-36)-Dvorak (15-22-37)-Strome (15-18-33)

Crouse (1-0-1)/Cousins (12-7-19)-Richardson (3-12-15)-Fischer (15-18-33)

 

Ekman-Larsson (14-28-42)-Demers (6-14-20)

Chychrun (4-10-14)-Hjalmarsson (1-8-9)

Goligoski (12-23-35)-Connauton (11-10-21)

 

Raanta (21-17-6 record, 2.24 GAA, 0.930 SV%, 3 shutouts)

Kuemper (12-7-5 record, 2.52 GAA, 0.920 SV%, 4 shutouts)

 

Overview:

The Coyotes are a young team that could surprise a lot of people this season. Clayton Keller was one of the NHL’s top rookies, but was overshadowed by even stronger seasons by Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and New York’s Matthew Barzal. Adding Alex Galchenyuk should prove to be a solid move, and Galchenyuk has the potential to be a consistent 25-30 goal scorer in the right situation. If Strome, Dvorak, and the other young players keep growing, this could be one of the most dangerous offenses in the Western Conference in time. Adding 27 goal scorer Michael Grabner in free agency doesn’t hurt either. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and Chychrun is a young defender with loads of potential. The rest of the defense isn’t terrible, but they could use an upgrade in the top four. Antti Raanta was scorching hot when he got healthy last year, and he should again have a strong season between the pipes for Arizona. Kuemper was very good with Los Angeles at the start of last year, but he struggled with Arizona. That goalie tandem could prove to be extremely good, or it might prove to just be mediocre again. Arizona is finally getting better, and I’m expecting them to be right there in the hunt for a wildcard spot this season.

 

  1. New Jersey Devils

Projected lineup:

Hall (39-54-93)-Hischier (20-32-52)-Palmieri (24-20-44)

Johansson (5-9-14)-Zajac (12-14-26)-Bratt (13-22-35)

Wood (19-13-32)-Zacha (8-17-25)-Noesen (13-14-27)

Coleman (13-12-25)-Boyle (13-10-23)-Anderson (N/A)

 

Greene (3-10-13)-Vatanen (4-28-32)

Butcher (5-39-44)-Severson (9-15-24)

Mueller (0-4-4)-Lovejoy (2-6-8)/Santini (2-8-10)

 

Schneider (17-16-6 record, 2.93 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 shutout)

Kinkaid (26-10-3 record, 2.77 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 shutout)

 

Overview: The Devils surprised everybody when they surged to 97 points to make the playoffs last year. Nobody really predicted it. Taylor Hall had a career year, and was named the NHL’s MVP as a result. Overall, the forwards are solid. Getting Marcus Johansson back for a full season will be huge for the top six, but I’d argue that the team would be smart to add another top six forward or even two. The defense is also overall solid, but they could use another top four guy to push Andy Greene to the bottom pair. The biggest question is probably goaltending. Cory Schneider has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, but last year he battled injuries and was outplayed by backup Keith Kinkaid when he was healthy. If Schneider can return to his elite form, this team is in solid shape. I think that they have a good shot to return to the playoffs, but I could also see them falling out if another Metro or Atlantic team plays well. I’m not sold on the depth here, and I think the Metro Division is going to be tough to earn a playoff spot in. In the end, I think the Devils’ hopes are going to lie on Taylor Hall’s shoulders, and I have a tough time seeing him replicating his career year from a year ago. They’ll be in the hunt all season, but it might be tough for a playoff return.

 

  1. Carolina Hurricanes

Projected lineup:

Zykov (3-4-7)-Aho (29-36-65)-Svechnikov (N/A)

Kuokkanen (N/A)/Foegele (2-1-3)-Staal (19-27-46)-Williams (16-35-51)

Ferland (21-20-41)-Necas (N/A)-Teravainen (23-41-64)

McGinn (16-14-30)-Wallmark (1-0-1)/Martinook (6-9-15)-Di Giuseppe (5-8-13)/Maenalanen (N/A)

 

Slavin (8-22-30)-Hamilton (17-27-44)

de Haan (1-11-12)-Pesce (3-16-19)

van Riemsdyk (3-13-16)/Fleury (0-8-8)-Faulk (8-23-31)

 

Darling (13-21-7 record, 3.17 GAA, .888 SV%, 0 shutouts)

Mrazek (14-13-6 record, 3.03 GAA, .902 SV%, 4 shutouts)

 

Overview: The Hurricanes are in an interesting spot. They have Valentin Zykov, Martin Necas, and Andrei Svechnikov all set to play key roles, but they’ve played a combined 13 games in the NHL. Now, young forwards Janne Kuokkanen and Warren Foegele are both making strong cases for a roster spot in the top nine. They also have a very inexperienced group of centers. Sebastian Aho has yet to play a full season at the position. Necas has one game of NHL experience. And then there are questions around who will center the fourth line. Michael Ferland will be a nice addition to the top nine, and Jordan Staal and Justin Williams are still there as veteran leaders. The defense is one of the best in the NHL after acquiring Hamilton and signing de Haan. Justin Faulk could potentially be traded after a shaky season, but the team seems committed to keeping him in the lineup. Trevor van Riemsdyk just signed an extension, and Haydn Fleury was disappointing last season, so Fleury could end up in Charlotte with Trevor Carrick as the extra defenseman. The Hurricanes’ hopes will yet again rely on goaltending, which is scary. Scott Darling had one of the historically worst seasons by a “starting” goaltender, and Mrazek wasn’t much better. If Darling or Mrazek can bounce back and run with the starting job, this team has hope. But I’m extremely skeptical on whether or not they’ll be good enough to end the NHL’s longest playoff drought in the tough Metropolitan Division.

 

  1. Calgary Flames

Projected lineup:

Gaudreau (24-60-84)-Monahan (31-33-64)-Neal (25-19-44)

Tkachuk (24-25-49)-Backlund (14-31-45)-Lindholm (16-28-44)

Bennett (11-15-26)-Ryan (15-23-38)-Frolik (10-15-25)

Lazar (2-10-12)/Hathaway (4-9-13)-Jankowski (17-8-25)-Czarnik (0-4-4)

 

Giordano (13-25-38)-Brodie (4-28-32)

Hanifin (10-22-32)-Hamonic (1-10-11)

Kulak (2-6-8)/Andersson (N/A)-Stone (3-7-10)

 

Smith (25-22-6 record, 2.65 GAA, .916 SV%, 3 shutouts)

Gillies (3-5-1 record, 2.88 GAA, .896 SV%)/Rittich (8-6-3 record, 2.92 GAA, .904 SV%, 0 shutouts)

 

Overview: The Flames made a huge trade with the Hurricanes this offseason, sending defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forward Micheal Ferland along with defensive prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin. Calgary also hired former Hurricanes head coach and added Derek Ryan. I think that trade left Calgary a little worse today, but the trade could work out well for them in the future. Adding James Neal is also a big pickup for the Flames’ offense. The defense should be good if everyone can stay healthy. Goaltending is an issue, however. Mike Smith is extremely average, and Gillies is not a reliable backup to Smith. This team will need Smith to be a little better this year. I think Calgary is going to be right there in the thick of the playoff hunt, but I’m not nearly as high on them or their offseason moves than some people seem to be. The Western Conference is going to be very, very interesting this year and we’ll likely only see three playoff teams from the Pacific Division.

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