NHL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, players under most pressure

ByRyan S. Clark ESPN logo
Friday, March 17, 2023

Playoff races are getting tighter. So is the race for teams that are jockeying for position ahead of the NHL draft lottery. Because this is what happens when the NHL is in the midst of its final full month of the season.

Don't forget the players. There are a number of them who are also going to be under watch for one reason or another -- either in those playoff races or as they approach free agency. That's why for this week's edition of NHL Power Rankings, we have identified the players who are under the most pressure as the regular season draws to a close.

How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another -- taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule -- and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the most recent edition, published March 10. Points percentages are through Thursday's games.

1. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 1

Points percentage: 79.85%

Next seven days: @ MIN (March 18), @ BUF (March 19), vs. OTT (March 21), vs. MTL (March 23)

Can the whole team be the answer? And that's a serious question. Are the Bruins really about to go wire-to-wire and win it all? What they've done places them in the discussion to be one of the all-time great regular-season teams that can be an all-time great team should it win a championship. Of course, there is that caveat about how the past nine Presidents' Trophy recipients haven't won the Stanley Cup. The Bruins know this because it has happened to them twice since the 2013-14 season. Plus, we just saw it recently in 2018-19, when the 128-point Lightning were eliminated in the first round. Is this the team that becomes the next Icarus or does it torch everything and everyone in its path?

2. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 2

Points percentage: 72.73%

Next seven days: @ TOR (March 17), @ PHI (March 18), @ NYR (March 21), vs. NYR (March 23)

Jesse Puljujarvi has a rather strong case. The Hurricanes were already without Max Pacioretty for the rest of the season and announced earlier this week Andrei Svechnikov would also miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Losing two top-six forwards within months is a serious blow to any team, let alone one challenging for the Stanley Cup. It's not to suggest Puljujarvi can be the quick fix. But any offensive contributions he could provide would be welcomed.

3. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 4

Points percentage:69.85%

Next seven days: @ FLA (March 18), @ TB (March 19), vs. MIN (March 21)

There are a few options here, starting with Timo Meier. The Devils parted with quite a bit to get him, with the idea that the pending RFA can help them in the interim and possibly in the future. But there's also this prospect named Luke Hughes, who potentially gives the Devils another puck-moving option the second he leaves the University of Michigan. It could also be pending RFA Jesper Bratt, who has a chance for what would be his first 30-goal campaign.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 3

Points percentage: 66.42%

Next seven days: vs. CAR (March 17), @ OTT (March 18), @ NYI (March 21), @ FLA (March 23)

Matt Murray's reintroduction into the Leafs' lineup after missing more than a month with injury has had a rocky start. He has allowed more than four goals per game over his first three outings, two of which were Leafs losses. While the Leafs are playing for seeding at this point, Murray gaining consistency could be vital to his team's playoff chances. He has two Stanley Cups and more than 50 games of postseason experience, whereas Ilya Samsonov has one playoff win in eight games.

5. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 7

Points percentage: 65.22%

Next seven days: vs. CBJ (March 19), @ VAN (March 21), @ CGY (March 23)

By scoring four goals and eight points in his first nine games, Ivan Barbashev has helped the Golden Knights find a temporary solution to the hole left by captain Mark Stone. Losing Stone left the Golden Knights without one of the premier two-way forwards in the league. It appears Barbashev, a pending UFA, could be the one who bridges that gap. And if so, it is going to make his offseason a rather interesting one.

6. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 8

Points percentage: 64.49%

Next seven days: vs. VAN (March 18), vs. CGY (March 20)

The Pheonix Copley-Joonas Korpisalo tandem has had only six games together. But the Kings have won five of those games, with the one loss coming in overtime. It might be a small sample size, but it's one that has allowed the Kings to enter the Ides of March with seven wins in their past 10 games and to move within three points of the Golden Knights for the conference and division lead.

7. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 6

Points percentage: 63.04%

Next seven days: @ CGY (March 18), vs. SEA (March 21), vs. PIT (March 23)

Prior to Max Domi's arrival, the Stars had six players account for 67% of their goals. Domi gives them another top-nine forward who can not only score but can also create for others. They're far more prolific than they were last season, when they scored the fewest regular-season goals by a playoff team. But they also know the value of getting contributions from as many sources as possible.

8. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 11

Points percentage: 64.71%

Next seven days: vs. PIT (March 18), vs. NSH (March 19), vs. CAR (March 21), @ CAR (March 23)

Is it Patrick Kane? Is it Vladimir Tarasenko? Let's go with both. The Rangers were already a Stanley Cup contender before adding two top-six wingers with four titles between them to create the sort of lineup that should make them one of the most formidable teams in the entire NHL. The Rangers' additions of Kane and Tarasenko amplify the expectation the East is going to be a gauntlet for the team that makes it to the Stanley Cup Final.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 5

Points percentage: 63.77%

Next seven days: vs. MTL (March 18), vs. NJ (March 19), @ MTL (March 21), @ OTT (March 23)

This one has less to do with pressure, and more to do with circumstances. What Alex Killorn has done this season reinforces why he is important to the Lightning's lineup, and how their ability to draft and develop beyond the first round remains a staple of their overall success. He's having his strongest offensive campaign and has a chance to set a new career high in points. But ... he's also a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that is slated to have $2.4 million in cap space ahead of next season.

10. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 10

Points percentage: 63.24%

Next seven days: vs. BOS (March 18), vs. WSH (March 19), @ NJ (March 21), @ PHI (March 23)

Some wondered how the Wild would score goals without star forward Kirill Kaprizov. They've answered that by averaging 5.67 goals in their first three games without him. Even if it is just three games, it's proof the Wild are capable of scoring more. If they can remain at anything close to that level of proficiency once Kaprizov returns, and possibly add Gustav Nyquist too? That could change the expectations for a roster that currently has the fewest goals of a Western Conference team in a playoff spot.

11. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 13

Points percentage: 62.69%

Next seven days: @ DET (March 18), vs. CHI (March 20), vs. PIT (March 22)

Bowen Byram is healthy, and that fact alone is massive considering the Avalanche's season has been shaped by injuries. The Avs have seen Byram tap into his promise to be a minutes-eating defenseman who can facilitate possession and be trusted in a number of areas. What Byram does over the final month will play a role in where the Avs are seeded. It could also play a part in them repeating as Stanley Cup champs. But as for how much it could cost them to retain the pending RFA? That's one of the many questions the Avs will need to answer this offseason.

12. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 12

Points percentage: 60.87%

Next seven days: @ SEA (March 18), vs. SJ (March 20), vs. ARI (March 22)

Evan Bouchard is quarterbacking the most dangerous power-play unit in the league, while also operating as a top-four defenseman. Up until now, it hasn't been the season most were expecting given Bouchard is averaging 0.40 points, compared to 2021-22 when he averaged 0.53 points. But it's possible a new role leads to Bouchard finding continuity in his game and perhaps impacts his upcoming contract talks as a pending RFA.

13. Seattle Kraken

Previous ranking: 9

Points percentage: 61.03%

Next seven days: vs. EDM (March 18), @ DAL (March 21), @ NSH (March 23)

Philipp Grubauer opened March with four straight wins. Even though he has lost his past two starts, this has been one of his strongest months in an up-and-down season. Grubauer's consistency is crucial, given that the Kraken are trying to secure a playoff spot at a time in which goaltending is at the forefront. Martin Jones has lost six of his past eight starts while Chris Driedger continues to rehabilitate from a torn ACL he sustained last season. If Grubauer can offer continuity, it could provide the Kraken with the sort of balance that makes the already daunting task of getting into the playoffs more manageable.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 15

Points percentage: 57.35%

Next seven days: @ NYR (March 18), vs. OTT (March 20), @ COL (March 22), @ DAL (March 23)

Tristan Jarry's latest performance saw him allow four goals in the first period, continuing a tough March. Jarry has a 4.73 goals-against average and a .832 save percentage in his first five games this month. In fact, he's allowed four goals in four of his past five games. The Penguins have still won seven of their past 10, but getting a consistent Jarry will help them retain their grip on the first wild-card spot.

15. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 14

Points percentage: 57.25%

Next seven days: @ NSH (March 18), @ STL (March 19), vs. ARI (March 21), @ ANA (March 23)

It's not just one player under pressure with the Jets. They've seen deadline acquisitions such as Vladislav Namestnikov and Nino Niederreiter make instant impacts. But the Jets have also seen themselves slip down the standings. As of March 15, they had won three of their past 10 games, and occupied the final Western wild-card spot. Sure, they could still be in the hunt for one of the three Central Division spots. But the surging Predators are within four points of them and have played three fewer games.

16. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 16

Points percentage: 55.71%

Next seven days: @ SJ (March 18), vs. TOR (March 21)

Bo Horvat is the clear answer -- whether or not he scores. The Islanders are 23rd in scoring, averaging 2.91 goals per game. It's part of why they traded for Horvat, who was on pace for a 50-goal season when he arrived. He had three goals and five points in his first five games. But he has had only one point -- an assist -- in his past seven games. And even though the Isles have won six of their past 10, they are still trying to hold off a handful of teams for the final wild-card spot.

17. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 19

Points percentage: 56.82%

Next seven days: vs. WPG (March 18), @ NYR (March 19), @ BUF (March 21), vs. SEA (March 23)

The Preds are staying in the playoff race with Filip Forsberg on injured reserve while Ryan Johansen is out for at least nine more weeks. They also traded Tanner Jeannot, Mattias Ekholm, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. How are they still in the mix? Juuse Saros has developed the reputation of being a goalie who can keep teams in games, and he's done just that. He'll be critical to their final spot in the standings.

18. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 21

Points percentage: 55.15%

Next seven days: vs. NJ (March 18), @ DET (March 20), @ PHI (March 21), vs. TOR (March 23)

Cap complications made it practically impossible for the Panthers to make a move at the trade deadline. It's what makes Anthony Duclair coming back from offseason surgery in late February so important -- Duclair opened with three points in his first six games. His continued contributions will aid in their quest to land one of the East's wild cards.

19. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 18

Points percentage: 55.07%

Next seven days: vs. DAL (March 18), @ LA (March 20), @ ANA (March 21), vs. VGK (March 23)

This has been Jacob Markstrom's most challenging season with the Flames. But what he has done through mid-March is have one of his strongest sequences of the campaign. While he's 3-3-1 this month as of March 15, Markstrom has a 2.26 GAA and a .925 save percentage. That's the best GAA and save percentage he's had during any month this season -- he'll continue to be in the spotlight if the Flames' scoring woes persist.

20. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 23

Points percentage: 52.90%

Next seven days: vs. STL (March 17), @ MIN (March 19), vs. CBJ (March 21), vs. CHI (March 23)

Figuring out what the Capitals have with Rasmus Sandin is one of the club's biggest questions. He opened his tenure with nine points in his first six games, while averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game since being traded from the Maple Leafs. It's possible that Sandin's contributions could help the Caps answer another large question about their playoff chances, given they are just five points out of the final wild-card spot.

21. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 20

Points percentage: 53.73%

Next seven days: @ PHI (March 17), vs. BOS (March 19), vs. NSH (March 21)

There may not be one player under the most pressure, but a multitude. The Sabres have lost five of their last six games, and each defeat hurts their playoff chances. They have games in hand on the teams with which they're battling, but they need to start winning some of these "extra" games.

22. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 17

Points percentage: 51.47%

Next seven days: vs. TOR (March 18), @ PIT (March 20), @ BOS (March 21), vs. TB (March 23)

The Senators are still in play for a wild-card spot, and one person who could help get them there is Mads Sogaard. Injuries are why Sogaard, who had only two games of NHL experience prior to this season, was thrust into the role of being a No. 1 goaltender. He started 4-0-1 with a 2.33 GAA and a .922 save percentage, only to lose three of his past four starts while allowing more than four goals in each outing. If he can regain his earlier consistency, the Senators could stay in the fight for a postseason berth until the end.

23. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 22

Points percentage: 51.49%

Next seven days: vs. COL (March 18), vs. FLA (March 20), @ STL (March 21), vs. STL (March 23)

The Red Wings might have too much to overcome to reach the postseason after losing seven of their past 10. If so, the focus could be on next season and beyond. Does that mean the Red Wings could call up defenseman Simon Edvinsson? The No. 6 pick from the 2021 draft has spent his first North American season playing in the AHL, where he has five goals and 27 assists through 50 games.

24. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 24

Points percentage: 47.02%

Next seven days: @ WSH (March 17), vs. WPG (March 19), vs. DET (March 21), @ DET (March 23)

How do forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Jakub Vrana fit into the Blues' plans going forward? Kapanen was claimed off waivers and has scored two goals and three points in eight games. As for Vrana, who arrived in a trade, he has four goals in his first five games with the Blues.

25. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 25

Points percentage: 47.01%

Next seven days: @ LA (March 18), @ ANA (March 19), vs. VGK (March 21), vs. SJ (March 23)

The Canucks are tied for the eighth-fewest points in the NHL and have been forced to think about their future. Filip Hronek appears to be part of that future. He arrived in a trade that saw the Canucks get a 25-year-old top-four defenseman at the expense of parting with the first-round pick they received in the Bo Horvat trade. Now it is a matter of seeing how Hronek, who is currently injured, can impact a franchise that's aiming for what it hopes can be a better future.

26. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 29

Points percentage: 45.65%

Next seven days: vs. CHI (March 18), @ WPG (March 21), @ EDM (March 22)

Can Matias Maccelli catch Matty Beniers in the rookie points race? Even though Maccelli missed several games due to injuries, he sits 11 points behind Beniers, while the Ducks' Mason McTavish is between them. Maccelli has six points in his past seven games, and the idea he could overtake Beniers is not too far-fetched.

27. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 27

Points percentage: 43.48%

Next seven days: @ TB (March 18), vs. TB (March 21), @ BOS (March 23)

Denis Gurianov already has four goals and five points in nine games with the Canadiens since coming over in a trade with the Stars. It's a contrast to the two goals and nine points he had with the Stars over 43 games. What happens going forward could get interesting considering that the 25-year-old Gurianov is a pending RFA.

28. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 26

Points percentage: 44.03%

Next seven days: vs. BUF (March 17), vs. CAR (March 18), vs. FLA (March 21), vs. MIN (March 23)

What becomes of James van Riemsdyk in the offseason? He was rather open prior to the trade deadline about how he likes the coaching staff and the growth the Flyers have shown this season. Could he remain with the Flyers going into next season, or does he sign with a team closer to Cup contention?

29. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 32

Points percentage: 39.71%

Next seven days: @ ARI (March 18), @ COL (March 20), @ WSH (March 23)

The trade deadline lends itself to presenting opportunities to players who did not get a ton of minutes in one place but stand to get playing time elsewhere. Could that be the case for Joey Anderson? He's already averaging nearly two full minutes more per game with the Blackhawks compared to earlier this season with the Maple Leafs. The extra time has contributed to him scoring four points in his first nine games.

30. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 30

Points percentage: 39.71%

Next seven days: vs. CBJ (March 17), vs. VAN (March 19), vs. CGY (March 21), vs. WPG (March 23)

All Troy Terry did this season was reinforce what he did last season, when he broke out to amass 67 points. Terry is on pace for another 60-point season despite missing seven games. So how much is all that worth to the Ducks and for how many years, considering Terry is a pending RFA who is central to their youth movement?

31. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 28

Points percentage: 37.68%

Next seven days: vs. NYI (March 18), @ EDM (March 20), @ VAN (March 23)

Erik Karlsson's renaissance campaign has led to a number of questions. One of them being: Does he break the 100-point mark? He'd be the first defenseman to do so since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. Then, there's this one: Even though he's on a lottery team, has Karlsson done enough to become a three-time Norris Trophy winner?

32. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 31

Points percentage: 36.57%

Next seven days: @ ANA (March 17), @ VGK (March 19), @ WSH (March 21)

Moving on from Joonas Korpisalo opened the door for the Blue Jackets to further evaluate what they have with Daniil Tarasov. He's under contract for two more seasons after this one and could use the remainder of the year to give the Blue Jackets a stronger feel for what a tandem featuring Elvis Merzlikins and Tarasov could look like going forward.