NHL Power Rankings: Top second-year players for this season

NHL Power Rankings

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking a look at the second year players that are set to have the biggest seasons.

A few things to keep in mind.

This is not a ranking of the best rookies from a year ago, or even necessarily a list of who will have the best overall career. This is simply a projection as to which rookies from 2019-20 are going to have the best performance this season.

• Only players who were eligible to win the Calder Trophy in 2019-20 are eligible. That is who we are considering “second year” players. We had to draw the line somewhere and make a uniform requirement. This is the line.

So, for example, even though Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood played 20 games two years ago, it did not qualify as his rookie season. He was still eligible for the Calder this past season (he finished in sixth place in the voting). That puts him on the list.

Conversely, Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin is still eligible for the Calder because he is considered a “rookie” (he only appeared in 12 regular season games last season). So he is not eligible for this list.

Those are the rules.

Now that you know them. Who makes the list?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Already an outstanding player with superstar potential. A great talent that is surrounded by a Stanley Cup caliber roster. He should have a massive season.

2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. He was neck and neck with Makar in the Calder race and quickly became Vancouver’s top defenseman. The two will be competing for the Norris Trophy for years. Given his position and role, Hughes might end up being the most impactful player out of Vancouver’s big-three.

3. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. The Rangers defense has some big question marks but Fox is not among them. The Makar-Hughes race hid how impactful he was in his rookie season, but he was not far behind them.

4. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. He will share the net with Henrik Lundqvist, but Samsonov is still the future of the position in Washington. He will also take the primary role in the present. And he will be excellent.

5. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. The Max Pacioretty trade has turned out to be a huge win for Montreal. Suzuki was one of Montreal’s best forwards a year ago and is in position for a breakout season.

[Related: Looking at five potential breakout players]

6. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets. Probably the most surprising rookie from the 2019-20 class, but he was a huge part of Columbus’ success. Expect a little regression from that .923 save percentage, but he should still be a strength for the Blue Jackets.

7. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins. Nobody paid attention to it when the Penguins traded a sixth-round pick for him. Then he went and became one of the top rookies in the league and will be a major part of their defense for the foreseeable future.

8. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. A 24-year-old rookie that scored on 20 percent of his shots is a small red flag for me. That shooting percentage is going to regress. Nobody scores that efficiently in the NHL every year. Still a very good player, but if you are expecting a 37-goal pace over 82 games again you are probably expecting too much. Maybe 25-30 per 82 games is more realistic.

9. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres. Would like to see a little more even-strength production from him, but he has become a real weapon on Buffalo’s power play.

10. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. When he plays he always makes an impact. Now the Stars just need to play him more.

11. MacKenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils. With Blackwood and Corey Crawford in net the Devils’ biggest weakness from the past two years might turn out to be their biggest strength this season.

[ProHockeyTalk’s Free Agency Tracker]

12. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. One of the many young players the Hurricanes are building around. Not quite on the level of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, but still a significant part of their long-term outlook.

13. Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks. He had the kind of inconsistencies and growing pains you would expect from a 19-year-old rookie, but he took on a bigger role in the postseason and did not look out of place. Of all the young players on the roster, he is the one that I would be most excited about for the future.

14. Joel Farabee, Philadelphia Flyers. A very strong rookie season and impressive postseason for the Flyers. Farabee has top-line potential and could be in line for a breakout year.

15. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Not every No. 1 overall pick is going to immediately be a star. Hughes struggled a lot in his rookie season, but there were still flashes of what is ahead for him and the Devils. Expect significant improvement with a season under his belt. That is the hope.

16. Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers. Speaking of growing pains, Kakko produced some of the worst underlying results of any player in the NHL a year ago. He struggled. A lot. But he is still an enormous talent and is going to be playing alongside a pretty talented group of forwards. I like that combination. He is one of the big “what ifs” in New York that could help power a breakthrough season.

17. Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings. A real bright spot in an otherwise lousy Kings season. Roy was sensational defensively and should continue to be a solid top-four defenseman.

18. Philippe Myers, Philadelphia Flyers. He was one of the Flyers’ most effective defenders a year ago and should get an even bigger role this season following the retirement of Matt Niskanen.

19. Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers. He had a very strong rookie season, and the Oilers are going to need him to be even better in the absence of Oscar Klefbom.

[Related: Which NHL team has best defensemen?]

20. Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are counting on him to be a core player, and the potential is there. With 28 games a year ago he barely makes the cut for this list. His 82-game pace at the NHL level was for 23 goals and 45 points, solid for a rookie, and he was very good in the AHL. This season could be a big step for him.

21. Cody Glass, Vegas Golden Knights. A lot of this might depend on just how big of a role he gets. The Golden Knights have some depth issues at center following the departure of Paul Stastny. Can Glass help fill that? He has big offensive potential and showed flashes of it before an injury cut his season short.

22. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets. I had high hopes for him entering his rookie season, and it got off to a fine start right up until he joined the rest of the Blue Jackets roster on the injured list.

23. Noah Dobson, New York Islanders. The trade of Devon Toews and Johnny Boychuk‘s injury opens the door for Dobson to get his shot. I think he will take advantage of it.

24. Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks. He did not make a huge impact offensively, but he is one of the Ducks’ most promising young players. They need him to take a big step forward.

25. Blake Lizotte, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are loaded with young talent, and Lizotte seemingly came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent and put together a solid rookie season. He may not be a star, but he has a strong future.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

    canadiens sabres
    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.