NHL power rankings 2021-22: Predictions for every team’s MVP entering opening night
It’s October. The leaves are falling. The weather is getting getting chillier and when you flip on the TV there will be hockey on it.
Yes, the NHL is back and the 2021-22 season is officially here.
Beginning on Oct. 12 with the Lightning raising their latest Stanley Cup banner to the rafters and the Golden Knights hosting the league’s 32nd — and newest — franchise the Kraken, there will be jam-packed action between now and the end of June 2022. Who will hoist the Cup is anyone’s guess but we cant’e help but ponder one question: will the Lightning three-peat?
It’s a clean slate for every team with hopes riding that their stars will carry the day. Our power rankings entering opening week focuses on each team’s most valuable player heading into the 2021-22 season. These are the extraordinary stars that will make or break the fortunes for all 32 teams.
NHL power rankings 2021-22
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Offseason power ranking: 1
MVP prediction: Andrei Vasilevskiy. Some things remain the same. Some things have changed. The Lightning are going for a three-peat but there’s been a slight shift in personnel. Gone is the entire third line of Yanni Gourde (picked by Seattle in the expansion draft), Barclay Goodrow (traded to the Rangers) and Blake Coleman (signed via free agency with the Flames). In are eternal pest Corey Perry up front and Zach Bogosian (2020 Cup winner) on the blue line. Vasilevksiy is a workhorse and while the coaching staff has said they want to avoid him burning out, he’s a critical component to how this team works. In the last two regular seasons, he’s played in (and started) 94 games along with an impressive .920 save percentage and eight shutouts. Only Connor Hellebuyck (who has the same save percentage) has played in more games (103).
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2. Colorado Avalanche
Offseason power ranking: 2
MVP prediction: Cale Makar. At just 22 Makar is already building an impressive resume: 2020 Calder Trophy winner; 2021 Norris Trophy finalist. He was limited to just 44 games last season but collected 44 points while averaging 24:19 of ice time. The Calgary kid led all defensemen in 2021 (min. 800 minutes), with a Corsi For percentage of 60.88, which basically translates to, “The Avalanche dominated play when he was on the ice.”
3. New York Islanders
Offseason power ranking: 4
MVP prediction: Mathew Barzal. If you can’t pick Barry Trotz, you might as well go with the next best thing. Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring every season including his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in 2017-18. A dynamic force, he’s got all-world speed, quickness and skill.
4. Vegas Golden Knights
Offseason power ranking: 7
MVP prediction: Robin Lehner. In two of the last three seasons, Lehner has joined forces with his goalie partner to win the William M. Jennings Trophy after allowing the fewest goals. There’s no reason to think he won’t do the same now with Laurent Brossoit. He’s now firmly planted in Nevada as the No. 1 option between the pipes and should have a big season with the increased workload.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Offseason power ranking: 9
MVP prediction: Auston Matthews. After a Rocket Richard Trophy in 2021 despite a bad wrist — his second straight (third career) 40-plus goal season — Matthews is poised for another big year. He’ll miss a handful of games to start the season but expect him to be relied on heavily in 2021-22 by coach Sheldon Keefe.
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6. Edmonton Oilers
Offseason power ranking: 6
MVP prediction: Zach Hyman. Yes, it’s easy to go with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, but hear me out. The addition of Zach Hyman is not only the biggest move from the offseason but will be the biggest boost to the Oilers’ top-six. The winger not only is a net-front presence and someone who will go into the corner, but can serve on special teams with the best of them. His gain will not only be felt in Alberta but his loss will be felt in Toronto too. Think of Hyman as most valuable in the sense of changing Edmonton’s fortunes, even if McDavid or Draisaitl continue leading the way.
7. Boston Bruins
Offseason power ranking: 3
MVP prediction: David Pastrnak. Pastrnak scored a co-Rocket Richard-worthy 48 goals in 2019-20 (shared with Alex Ovechkin). He’s got a wicked shot and, sure, his numbers dropped last season to 48 points in 48 games, but there’s no reason to think “Pasta” won’t be twirling big numbers this season.
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8. Carolina Hurricanes
Offseason power ranking: 11
MVP prediction: Frederik Andersen. Yes, Andersen struggled last year but now we know after watching the Amazon docuseries, “All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs,” there was the knee injury and a loss of confidence by the team in Andersen and maybe Andersen in himself. An All-Star goalie in 2020, a change of scenery should help spark him as he’s slotted in as the No. 1 guy in Carolina. He’s also got a team in front of him that posted the fifth-fewest goals against per game last season thanks to a solid defensive core led by Lady Byng winner Jaccob Slavin.
9. Winnipeg Jets
Offseason power ranking: 10
MVP prediction: Connor Hellebuyck. As Hellebuyck goes, so go the Jets. An absolute workhouse, between 2018-19 and the 2021 season, Hellebuyck led the NHL in ice time at 9,577:31 minutes, which was almost 1000 more than Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 8,852 minutes. He also faced the most shots in each of those three seasons but had the fifth-best save percentage (.917) and third-best GSAA (39.19).
10. Montreal Canadiens
Offseason power ranking: 5
MVP prediction: Cole Caufield. It’ll be a Calder Trophy for the youngster which will, in turn, be an MVP-team-worthy performance. The reigning Hobey Baker winner, he’s coming off a 10-game regular-season stint (four goals, assist) and Stanley Cup run that saw him finish third on the Canadiens in points (12).
11. Washington Capitals
Offseason power ranking: 12
MVP prediction: Alex Ovechkin. Could there be anyone else? He may miss some time to start the season due to a lower-body injury but Ovechkin is on a mission to best Wayne Gretzky’s career goal total and there’s no way he’s stopping now.
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12. Florida Panthers
Offseason power ranking: 13
MVP prediction: Aleksander Barkov. Signed go an eight-year, $10 million AAV extension, Barkov is one of the best two-way centers in the game. The 2021 Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward, he also potted 58 points in 50 games.
13. Chicago Blackhawks
Offseason power ranking: 8
MVP prediction: Marc-Andre Fleury. Patrick Kane, Seth Jones, a healthy Jonathan Toews. All important but the Blackhawks finally have some stability in between the pipes in the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner. If Fleury can be Fleury, the Blackhawks will push for a postseason spot.
14. Minnesota Wild
Offseason power ranking: 14
MVP prediction: Kirill Kaprizov. GM Bill Gueron says that Kaprizov has the “it factor” and after what he did last season, there’s no reason to think he won’t replicate it. The 2021 Calder Trophy winner, scored 51 points in 55 games last year and was dazzling.
15. Seattle Kraken
Offseason power rankings: 16
MVP prediction: Philipp Grubauer. How his numbers will look is anyone’s guess since it’s a brand-spanking-new team in front of him but he does bring along an impressive resume. Last season he went 30-9-1 with a 1.95 GAA, a .922 save percentage and seven shutouts to earn a Vezina Trophy finalist nod. Of course, in front of him were the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Makar; however, Grubauer is no slouch. He has a career .920 save percentage.
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16. New York Rangers
Offseason power ranking: 22
MVP prediction: Alexis Lafreniére. If you’ve seen Lafreniére play, then you know he is uber-talented. If you saw the Rangers play last year, you know then-coach David Quinn didn’t really surround Lafreniére with the weapons to truy bring out his best. Enter new coach Gerard Gallant and the No. 1 pick from 2020 has been skating on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Expect big things from Lafreniére.
17. St. Louis Blues
Offseason power ranking: 15
MVP prediction: Ryan O’Reilly. One of the top two-way centers in the league, as evident from his Selke Trophy in 2019, Selke finalist nod in 2020 and a top-five finish in 2021, O’Reilly will be relied on heavily this season. He scored 54 points in 56 games last season thanks in part to a 53.7 Corsi For percentage. With Jaden Schwartz gone and Vladimir Tarasenko’s status (does he still want a trade?), coach Craig Berube will need his captain to come up big-time this season.
18. Dallas Stars
Offseason power ranking: 17
MVP prediction: Tyler Seguin. After a season that saw him play in just three games down the stretch after hip surgery kept him out for the majority of the 2021-22 season, Seguin is healthy and ready to go. He’s a key cog to the Stars’ success. Since being traded to the Lone Star state thru the 2019-20 season, he’s scored the most points for the franchise (514 points in 538 games). Jamie Benn is second at 495 points in 551 games.
19. Vancouver Canucks
Offseason power ranking: 20
MVP prediction: Elias Pettersson. Pettersson missed 30 games down the stretch and is ready to get back to sniping pucks in 2021-22.
“It was an unfortunate injury,” he said back in mid-August. “I’m extremely hungry for revenge. I haven’t played a single game since March 2. I’m really looking forward to play games again.”
Translation: Watch out NHL, Pettersson is back.
20. New Jersey Devils
Offseason power ranking: 19
MVP prediction: Dougie Hamilton. Adding Hamilton to the blue line was critical to the Devils rebuild. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy balloting last season thanks to 42 points in 55 games with the Hurricanes. He’ll add skill and point-production from the backend. In 2021, he had 56.03 percent of the shot attempts at 5v5 and a 62.12 Goals For percentage.
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21. Pittsburgh Penguins
Offseason power ranking: 18
MVP prediction: Sidney Crosby. His status to start the season on time may be up in the air following wrist surgery but he’s still one of the best in the game. A visionary on the ice, Crosby scored 62 points in 55 games last season and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. There is no reason to think he won’t put up similar numbers this season.
22. Ottawa Senators
Offseason power ranking: 24
MVP prediction: Tim Stützle. As the Brady Tkachuk drama continues and he remains unsigned, all eyes will be on his buddy Stützle. In his rookie season, he posted 29 points in 53 games and there’s no reason to think he won’t build on that more in 2021-22. Selected third overall in 2020, he is a stud pure and simple and a superstar in the making.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Offseason power ranking: 21
MVP prediction: Ryan Ellis. One of the Flyers’ biggest offseason moves was acquiring the blueliner Ellis before free agency opened. It helped to bump up the defense that struggled mightily in 2021, allowing an NHL-worst 3.52 goals against per game. Plus, with Jakub Voracek back in Columbus, he’s now the top Gritty look-alike now in Philadelphia and that’s pretty darn valuable.
24. Los Angeles Kings
Offseason power ranking: 26
MVP prediction: Anze Kopitar. The Kings are aiming to end their postseason drought and make the postseason for the first time in four seasons. A strong mix of veterans and young studs will fill out the roster over the season but how this team does will ride on the shoulders of the captain, Kopitar. Last season he scored 50 points in 50 games and has exactly 1,000 career points in 1,129 career games — all in L.A.
25. Calgary Flames
Offseason power ranking: 23
MVP prediction: Jacob Markstrom. If Markstrom does what Markstrom does (best numbers were two years ago with Vancouver when he boasted a .918 save percentage and 11.4 Goals Saved Above Average) and coach Darryl Sutter does what he does (ride his No. 1 netminder) there will be no doubt who the MVP is. Calgary didn’t do much in the offseason to bump up its offense so don’t be surprised that that started 43 of the Flames’ 56 games last year will bear the brunt of a lot of shots.
26. Nashville Predators
Offseason power ranking: 27
MVP prediction: Roman Josi. His offensive numbers dropped a bit year-over-year from 2019-20 to 2020-21, going from 65 points in 69 games to 33 points in 48, respectively. But he’s still a play driver as he not only gets the puck out of his own end, he then creates offense efficiently. If he can return to his career-best numbers in 2019-20 (68.3 CF/60 and 0.32 goals created per game), the Predators will easily climb this list.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets
Offseason power ranking: 25
MVP prediction: Patrik Laine. A guy who scored 138 goals in his first four seasons, Laine has struggled as of late, lighting the lamp just 12 times in 2021. But, now he is firmly planted in Columbus after shifting south from Winnipeg a couple of games into last season. Could this season see a rejuvenate Finn? This preseason goal could be a good indicator.
28. Detroit Red Wings
Offseason power ranking: 28
MVP prediction: Alex Nedljkovic. Acquired via a trade that no one really saw coming, Nedeljkovic will be backstopping a much different club in Motown. Last season, the Hurricanes gave up 28.2 shots per game (tied for sixth-fewest) and the Red Wings gave up 31.9 (seventh-most). A finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2021, he is still eligible in 2021-22.
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29. Anaheim Ducks
Offseason power ranking: 30
MVP prediction: Trevor Zegras. He’s a star. Plain and simple. Last season he scored 13 points in 24 NHL games after leading the United States to gold at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship with 18 points in seven games. Zegras is a guy to watch out for in the Calder Trophy race.
30. Arizona Coyotes
Offseason power ranking: 31
MVP prediction: Jakob Chychrun. Arizona has a new bench boss in 2021 after they hired Hockey Canada’s Andre Tourigny in the offseason. He won’t have a ton of talent to work with but Chychrun is a young star on the blue line. A strong contender to play for Canada at the Olympics, the 23-year-old posted a 52.8 CF% last season while also posting 1.9 points-per-60.
31. San Jose Sharks
Offseason power ranking: 29
MVP prediction: Kevin Labanc. There won’t be much to be happy about in the Bay Area. The Sharks didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason and this team has struggled of late. New York City native Labanc should have a solid year with a full slate of games in front of him. He potted 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 55 games last year which was good for a 0.04 increase in his points-per-game stats from 2019-20 to 2021 (0.47 to 0.51). In the last 82-game season (2019-20), he posted career-highs with 17 goals and 56 points.
32. Buffalo Sabres
Offseason power ranking: 32
MVP prediction: Dylan Cozens. After a freshman season that saw him score 13 points in 41 games, the centerman is expected to get top-six minutes. He told reporters after Tuesday’s preseason game: “After a long summer, I think I want to come in and dominate right away.” There’s no reason to think the Yukon native won’t. At the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, he scored 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in seven games for the silver-medal winning Canadians. Only four players have scored more at the tournament for Canada including two Hall of Famers (Wayne Gretzky) and Eric Lindros.
Analytics provided by Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.
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