NHL Power Rankings: Best new face for all 31 teams

NHL

With two weeks of games in the book in the 2021 NHL season, some teams are pulling away from the pack, while others need to jump-start their season fast; such is the unforgiving nature of a condensed season.

We’re also getting a sense of which players are going to make a impact this season. For this week’s ESPN power rankings, we identified the best newcomer on every team, whether it’s a hot-starting rookie or a free agent or trade addition who is already paying dividends.

How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account past results and offseason additions — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 1 edition, published on Jan. 20.

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Previous ranking: 2
Record: 5-1-1
This week: vs. STL (Jan. 28); @ SJ (Feb. 1)

While Zach Whitecloud got a taste of the NHL last season, he’s a newcomer to the Golden Knights’ regular rotation this season. The 24-year-old has been a beast so far, with coach Peter Deboer saying the defenseman is on “an amazing trajectory.”

Previous ranking: 1
Record: 3-1-0
This week: @ CAR (Jan. 28); vs. NSH (Jan. 30, Feb. 1)

The only true new player in the Lightning’s lineup this season is rookie defenseman Callan Foote (son of Adam), a top prospect. Tampa Bay is slowly easing Foote into the rotation; he was sheltered in his first start but saw more action the second time around.

Previous ranking: 6
Record: 6-2-0
This week: @ EDM (Jan. 29, Jan. 30)

After a decade with the Flames (which earned him a tribute video on the JumboTron and stick taps on Sunday) defenseman T.J. Brodie is now in Toronto. Leafs fans are loving the fact that Morgan Reilly has a solid defensive partner.

Previous ranking: 12
Record: 4-0-2
This week: vs. CGY (Jan. 28, Jan. 30); vs. VAN (Feb. 1, Feb. 2)

GM Marc Bergevin brought in a ton of high-profile newcomers this season, but the fact that Tyler Toffoli — a coveted free agent this summer — scored five goals in his first six games has Habs fans all sorts of giddy.

Previous ranking: 4
Record: 4-0-3
This week: vs. NYI (Jan. 28); vs. BOS (Jan. 30, Feb. 1)

Through his first six games as a Capital, Justin Schultz has been on the ice for nine Caps goals, while opponents have just scored three. The two-time Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh should help his former rivals become steadier on D.

Previous ranking: 3
Record: 4-3-0
This week: vs. SJ (Jan. 28); @ MIN (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); vs. MIN (Feb. 2)

In a game against the Kings last week where the Avalanche dressed seven defenseman, Devon Toews still logged nearly 26 minutes. That should give you a sense of what the coaching staff thinks of their new defenseman.

Previous ranking: 9
Record: 3-0-0
This week: vs. DET (Jan. 28); @ CAR (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ CBJ (Feb. 2)

Rookie Ty Dellandrea already has the trust of the coaching staff, which was especially notable in his second game, when he was used on the power play, penalty kill and in a defensive zone faceoff as the Stars clung to a one-goal lead late in the third.

Previous ranking: 8
Record: 4-1-1
This week: vs. PIT (Jan. 28); @ WSH (Jan. 30, Feb. 1)

The minute Craig Smith signed with the Bruins, it felt like a perfect fit. And sure enough, the longtime Predators winger has developed chemistry with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic on Boston’s third line.

Previous ranking: 5
Record: 4-2-1
This week: @ NJ (Jan. 28); vs. NYI (Jan. 30, Jan. 31)

With largely the same roster returning, we have to focus on Erik Gustafsson. It’s been a rocky start for the defenseman, though he was always viewed as a high-risk (for defensive lapses) and high-reward (offensive potential) player. He’s been on the ice for a team-high seven goals at 5-on-5.

Previous ranking: 19
Record: 4-2-1
This week: @ BOS (Jan. 28); @ NYR (Jan. 30, Feb. 1); vs. NJ (Feb. 2)

The Penguins eventually would like Kasperi Kapanen to play wing to Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel (plum assignment!), and he’s working his way there after getting a delayed start to the season with a quarantine following visa issues.

Previous ranking: 15
Record: 4-3-0
This week: vs. LA (Jan. 28); vs. COL (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ COL (Feb. 2)

There are other players on the Wild to talk about besides Kirill Kaprizov, but it’s simply not as fun. The NHL transition has seemed like a cinch for the 23-year-old former KHL All-Star; his creativity and confidence are sky-high.

Previous ranking: 7
Record: 4-2-1
This week: @ VGS (Jan. 28); @ ANA (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); vs. ARI (Feb. 2)

Torey Krug‘s offensive production might not be there yet, but he’s showing why he was always underrated defensively. It will be interesting to see if Krug and Colton Parayko stay together on the top pairing, or if Craig Berube shakes things up.

Previous ranking: 17
Record: 5-2-0
This week: vs. EDM (Jan. 28); vs. VAN (Jan. 30); vs. CGY (Feb. 1, Feb. 2)

The Jets needed defensive help this season, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made an underrated signing with Derek Forbort. He’s been solid for the Jets and made a quick impression by single-handedly saving a goal in his first game.

Previous ranking: 10
Record: 3-3-0
This week: @ WSH (Jan. 28); @ PHI (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); vs. BUF (Feb. 2)

The Islanders didn’t welcome too many new faces this offseason, which means all the spotlight is on rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin. While Semyon Varlamov is still the 1A in Long Island, Sorokin is flexing his potential with saves such as this:

Previous ranking: 21
Record: 3-5-0
This week: vs. TOR (Jan. 28, Jan. 30); vs. OTT (Jan. 31, Feb. 2)

Tyson Barrie was the big free-agent addition on the blue line, but quietly, Slater Koekkoek has become one of the steadiest members of Edmonton’s defensive core. He’s not going to wow you with puck movement, but the toughness is there.

Previous ranking: 11
Record: 2-1-0
This week: vs. TB (Jan. 28); vs. DAL (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ CHI (Feb. 2)

Factually, Vincent Trocheck joined the team last season, but he got only seven games in before the season was paused. So it’s been nice to see the former Panther off to a hot start, with two goals in his first three games, including this beauty:

Previous ranking: 26
Record: 3-2-1
This week: vs. PHI (Jan. 28); @ BUF (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ PIT (Feb. 2)

If you’re looking for a sleeper in the Calder Trophy race, may we introduce you to Ty Smith of the Devils? The defenseman opened his NHL career with a five-game point streak, which matches what 2020 winner Cale Makar achieved last season.

Previous ranking: 16
Record: 3-0-0
This week: @ CBJ (Jan. 28); @ DET (Jan. 30, Jan. 31)

It’s hard to separate the two since Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe have paired with captain Aleksander Barkov on Florida’s new top line (in a small sample size). But both newcomers have been effective so far.

Previous ranking: 23
Record: 2-2-3
This week: vs. FLA (Jan. 28); @ CHI (Jan. 29, Jan. 31); vs. DAL (Feb. 2)

Michael Del Zotto is on his seventh NHL team in 12 years, but a reunion with John Tortorella is just what he needed to get back on track. Del Zotto, who joined Columbus on a tryout, gives some offensive boost to a team always looking for more goals.

Previous ranking: 18
Record: 3-3-0
This week: vs. CHI (Jan. 27); @ TB (Jan. 30, Feb. 1)

The Predators are always searching for more scoring, and they’re hoping they found some middle-of-the-lineup help with Luke Kunin. Scoring two goals in his first two games is a great start.

Previous ranking: 14
Record: 2-1-1
This week: @ MTL (Jan. 28, Jan. 30); @ WPG (Feb. 1, Feb. 2)

Here’s the easiest way to endear yourself to a new fan base: Block eight shots against your former team. That’s just what Christopher Tanev did in his second outing as a Flame. The Canucks sure do miss him.

Previous ranking: 24
Record: 3-4-0
This week: @ COL (Jan. 28); vs. VGS (Feb. 1)

Ryan Donato has had some strong individual efforts so far — which is good, because when the Sharks traded for him, they envisioned a big role. He scored two goals in his first six games and is still a dynamo in shootouts:

Previous ranking: 27
Record: 3-2-2
This week: @ MIN (Jan. 28); vs. ANA (Feb. 2)

Andreas Athanasiou could be getting a career rehab in Los Angeles. He scored three goals over his first three games but is definitely getting a little puck luck, considering those were the first three shots he took.

Previous ranking: 20
Record: 3-5-0
This week: vs. OTT (Jan. 27, Jan. 28); @ WPG (Jan. 30); @ MTL (Feb. 1, Feb. 2)

The most exciting newcomer for the Canucks is rookie Nils Hoglander. The 20-year-old Swede, a 2019 second-round pick, has shown a ton of confidence early and looks to have earned a permanent spot in the top six.

Previous ranking: 30
Record: 3-2-2
This week: @ ARI (Jan. 28); vs. STL (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ LA (Feb. 2)

The big offseason get for the Ducks was veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. As promised, he’s been a minutes-eating defenseman on the top pairing with Hampus Lindholm while manning the point on the power play.

Previous ranking: 25
Record: 3-3-1
This week: vs. NYR (Jan. 28); vs. NJ (Jan. 30, Jan. 31); @ NYI (Feb. 2)

Taylor Hall has been exactly what the Sabres coveted, a skilled playmaker who can keep up with Jack Eichel. Said Flyers coach Alain Vigneault: “Probably one of the best duos as far as skill set in the National Hockey League.”

Previous ranking: 13
Record: 1-4-1
This week: @ BUF (Jan. 28); vs. PIT (Jan. 30, Feb. 1)

K’Andre Miller, the 2018 first-rounder, might have been a surprise to make the team out of camp, but he has earned the trust of coach David Quinn. Miller’s most common defensive partner has been Jacob Trouba on the Rangers’ first pairing.

Previous ranking: 22
Record: 2-4-1
This week: vs. ANA (Jan. 28); @ STL (Feb. 2)

Derick Brassard became the 10th member of the 2006 draft class to record 300 career assists. The veteran center has been a solid addition to the Yotes’ lineup. Through six games, Arizona outscored teams 7-3 when Brassard was on the ice.

Previous ranking: 31
Record: 2-3-2
This week: @ NSH (Jan. 27); vs. CBJ (Jan. 29, Jan. 31); vs. CAR (Feb. 2)

The Blackhawks have ruled the European free-agent market over the past few years — Chicago scouts have unearthed quite a few diamonds in the rough — so perhaps it’s no surprise Pius Suter scored his first, second and third NHL goals … in one game.

Previous ranking: 29
Record: 1-4-1
This week: @ VAN (Jan. 27, Jan. 28); @ EDM (Jan. 31, Feb. 2)

In his first season as an NHL regular, Josh Norris is proving he can be an NHL center; but better yet, he has shown tremendous chemistry with Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson. Through five games, the trio has a Corsi for percentage of 67.33%.

Previous ranking: 28
Record: 2-4-1
This week: @ DAL (Jan. 28); vs. FLA (Jan. 30, Jan. 31)

The Red Wings’ blue line got a significant overhaul this season, but forward Bobby Ryan has made the biggest early impact. The veteran became the first player in franchise history to score four goals in their first three appearances with the team.

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