NHL Power Rankings: Players to be excited about in 2021

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we look ahead to 2021 and the players we are most excited to see over the next year.

What exactly does that mean? Well, it is obviously a pretty subjective definition but it could be a player that fits any number of descriptions.

An established superstar that can take over games and put a team on their back.

It could be a player on a new team to see if they are the missing piece.

Or maybe it is an up-and-coming young player on the verge of a breakout.

Or it could simply be a rookie making their NHL debut, be it a top draft pick, or a prospect that we have simply been waiting to see play in the NHL.

There is no set rule here.

This is NOT a ranking of the best players in the NHL, or the best players for 2021, or anything similar to that. It is simply intriguing or exciting players that we want to see play this season.

Who makes the list?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He is one of the most dominant players in hockey, a must-see every shift, and has finished in the top-eight of the scoring race in each of the past three seasons, including two in the top-five. The Avalanche look loaded on paper and are a Stanley Cup favorite entering the season. This is setting up to be a monster year for MacKinnon and the Avalanche, and we want to see what they are fully capable of. Scoring title? MVP? Stanley Cup? Conn Smythe? It is all on the table.

2. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. Since entering the NHL McDavid has averaged 1.34 points per game (110 per 82 games), which is a massive lead over the next closest player (Patrick Kane at 1.16 — a 95 point pace per 82 games). We know he is going to dominate, we know he is going to score goals that do not make any sense, but will the team around him be good enough to make it matter?

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. If not for hip surgery in September he would have had a chance to win the goal scoring crown outright this season, something no Bruins player has done since the mid-1970s (Pastrnak shared it this past season). That was also the last time a Bruins player won the scoring title or the MVP award. When he returns though he is one of the best offensive players in the league. Could he still make a run at the goal crown?

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. His first season in New York was one of the best offensive seasons in Rangers history and there is little reason to believe he will regress much this season. He was an Hart Trophy finalist a year ago, and if the Rangers sneak into the playoffs this year he could take it.

[MORE NHL Power Rankings: Top-25 players under age 25]

5. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. My dark horse in the Art Ross and MVP races this season. Part of an exciting young core in Vancouver, Pettersson has already proven to be a top-tier offensive player and one of the most electrifying players in the league with the puck on his stick. There is potential for a massive leap forward this season.

6. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Had it not been for the season being cut short he had a real shot at back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. With only 56 games this year he will not come close to those raw numbers, but he will be a contender for every major individual award.

7. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. If he wins the Rocket Richard Trophy again it would make 10 for his career, more than any player in league history. If he scores goals at the same rate he did a year ago it would give him 39 goals in 56 games. Do you know where 39 goals would leave him on the NHL’s all-time list at the end of the season? In fourth place. And within 20 of the No. 3 spot. He is getting closer to Wayne Gretzky.

8. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He scored two lacrosse goals a year ago. How many times will he attempt it this season? Because you know he will. Beyond that, he is still only 20 years old and looks like he is on the verge of taking a major leap toward superstardom. One of the most exciting young players in the game.

9. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. The league’s reigning rookie of the year. Playing on that team, in that system, with that talent he might be able to make a serious run at the Norris Trophy in just his second season.

[MORE NHL Power Rankings: The top-20 players of 2020]

10. Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers. The top pick in the 2020 NHL draft, Lafreniere joins an exciting young Rangers team that is quickly building something special. How much of an impact will he make as a rookie?

11. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. After missing all but three minutes of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run due to injury, the captain is back on the ice this season and will get to play a major role in the title defense. Let’s not forget that he is still a dominant offensive player when healthy, and with Nikita Kucherov sidelined the Lightning will need a big season from him.

12. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. I mean, he is still Sidney Crosby. The Penguins probably only have a couple of years left to contend with this core, do they take another serious run this season?

13. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. He was neck-and-neck with Makar in the Calder race a year ago, and it will not be long before long that race turns into one for the Norris Trophy.

[MORE NHL Power Rankings: The top second-year players for this season]

14. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are going to be in for a long year with that division, but I just want to see what Eichel can do next to somebody like Taylor Hall for a season.

15. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. He is not going to score 50 in 50, but is 40 a realistic goal? I think it is.

New Faces

16. Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild. The Wild have been waiting for this guy for five years, and now he is finally here. They need an All-Star offensively. He has that ability.

17. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders. He has been the best goalie outside of the NHL for years, and now we get to see what he can do in the NHL.

18. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers. Perhaps the early front-runner for the Calder Trophy. Yes, the Rangers have a lot of potentially exciting players this season.

19. Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings’ farm system is absolutely loaded, and Byfield is the most exciting prospect of the bunch. He is not going to dominate right away, but we want to see him.

20. Grigori Denisenko, Florida Panthers. A sleeper in this year’s Calder race, Denisenko brings energy, skill, and a chaotic playing style to the ice. He is one of the top prospects in the NHL and will have a chance to play a significant role with the Panthers this season. Do not be surprised if he plays his way into the rookie of the year race.

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.

Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

“Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

“I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

Nashville Predators hire Andrew Brunette after firing John Hynes

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The coaching shuffle in Nashville is complete, with Andrew Brunette officially hired as the Predators coach a little over 12 hours after the team announced that John Hynes was fired.

The moves are the first being made by incoming general manager Barry Trotz and come about six weeks after the Predators missed the playoffs.

The 49-year-old Brunette spent the past season as a New Jersey Devils associate coach under Lindy Ruff and has previous head-coaching experience.

He was promoted to interim coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2021-22 season and oversaw a team that set franchise records for wins (58) and points (122) in claiming the Presidents’ Trophy before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Brunette finished second in the Jack Adams Award voting for the NHL’s coach of the year.

He becomes just the fourth coach in the history of a Predators franchise and returns to Nashville, where Brunette played for the Trotz-coached team during its inaugural season in 1998-99. Their relationship goes back to 1993-94, when Brunette played under Trotz, who was head coach of the Washington Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.

“I feel like this is coming full circle for my career – from pulling on the jersey for the first time 25 years ago to returning now to take care of some unfinished business,” Brunette said in a statement. “It has been awesome to see how this city and its fanbase have grown since I played here and I look forward to continuing the legacy and the culture behind the bench that Barry cultivated that inaugural season.”

Trotz, meantime, has an eye on building on the Predators’ youth and offensively skilled players as he takes over as GM for David Poile, who is retiring at the end of June after 26 years overseeing the franchise.

“We want to become more of an offensive team and Andrew specializes on that side of the ice – he lived it as a player, and he coaches it as a coach, Trotz said. “He is as good of an offensive teacher and power-play coach as there is in the game today. He will be great with our young players, and I know, because of his background as a player, he will connect well with our top, skilled players.”

In Florida, Brunette coached a Panthers team that led the NHL with 337 goals and had the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.

The Predators missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the first under Hynes, who took over as coach during the 2019-20 season after Peter Laviolette was fired.

Brunette, who is from Sudbury, Ontario, spent 16 seasons playing in the NHL, ending with a one-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12. He finished with 268 goals and 733 points in 1,110 career games split among six teams, including two separate stints in Minnesota. Brunette is one of 25 players selected in the seventh round or later to appear in more than 1,000 NHL games.

Upon his retirement, Brunette spent seven seasons with the Wild in various off-ice roles, including assistant coach and assistant GM, before being hired by the Panthers as an assistant coach in 2019-2020.

Spencer Carbery hired as Capitals coach after 2 seasons as Maple Leafs assistant

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Spencer Carbery got his start in coaching in the minors with the Washington Capitals watching closely.

They liked what they saw, and they brought him back to fill the job they envisioned he would get.

The Capitals hired Carbery as their next coach, ending their search for Peter Laviolette‘s successor by landing on a favorite of the organization who in recent years had become one of the NHL’s most intriguing candidates. He now is tasked with getting Washington back in the playoffs with an aging roster and extending the organization’s run of success a few more years while Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky’s goals record.

“Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”

Carbery spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, running the power play that ranked second in the league over that time. Before the Leafs hired him, he was considered the heir apparent to Laviolette because of his time with the Capitals’ top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.

When Hershey VP of hockey operations Bryan Helmer was interviewing candidates for his head-coaching gig in 2018, he asked Carbery how long until he saw himself in that kind of role in the NHL. Carbery gave himself five years and nailed that projection.

“He did an incredible job for us when he was here, and I knew that he would be an NHL coach at one point down the road,” Helmer told The Associated Press by phone. “He wanted to make sure that he was ready to make that step. He went through the steps, and I think he’s ready for the NHL.”

Carbery coached Hershey for three years before getting the NHL promotion to Sheldon Keefe’s staff in Toronto. At the time, there wasn’t an opening for an assistant in Washington.

There is now, and Carbery at 41 usurps Keefe as the youngest coach in the league after going from a Capitals’ homegrown prospect who began with their ECHL team in South Carolina to one of the hottest names on the market. He interviewed with the San Jose Sharks for their vacancy last year and multiple others this spring.

The Capitals got him back before a rival team could scoop him up. They chose Carbery from a pool of candidates that also included former captain-turned-Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Halpern, Philadelphia associate coach Brad Shaw and others with more experience.

“I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team,” Carbery said. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years.”

Carbery’s job won’t be an easy one. Five years removed from Washington winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, the team is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and could be on the verge of changes beyond coaching.

MacLellan must decide how much to shuffle the roster, but in no way is he beginning the process of rebuilding. With Ovechkin, the 2018 playoff MVP and longtime face of the franchise, about to turn 38 and sitting 73 goals away from breaking Gretzky’s career record, the organization from owner Ted Leonsis down has set a goal of continuing to contend while the Russian star is under contract for three more seasons.

Helmer, who played with Ovechkin briefly in 2008-09, said Carbery’s relationships with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and other Leafs stars will only help him moving forward.

“It’s going to be a great mix,” Helmer said. “Spencer really stays on top of it. He expects a lot out of his players and he holds them accountable, which is a great thing. I see big things coming from Spencer and what he can do with the Caps.”

Golden Knights reach second Stanley Cup Final after Game 6 win over Stars

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — William Karlsson scored two goals and had an assist as the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to their second Stanley Cup Final with a 6-0 rout over the Dallas Stars, who had extended the Western Conference Final to six games after losing the first three.

William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Michael Amadio each had a goal and an assist for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had a goal. Carrier, Marschessault and Karlsson were all part of the inaugural 2017-18 Knights season that ended in their Cup Final.

Adin Hill stopped 23 shots for his second career playoff shutout – both against the Stars. The other was 4-0 in Game 3 last Tuesday, when the Knights were already within one win of clinching the series before Dallas overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in both Games 4 and 5.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Florida will be Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Vegas led the Western Conference in the regular season with 51 wins and 111 points. The Panthers completed a four-game sweep of Carolina in the East final last Wednesday, but their 40 wins and 92 points in the regular season were the fewest among the 16 teams that began these NHL playoffs.

Instead of having to face a do-or-die Game 7 at home against the Stars, coach Bruce Cassidy and the Knights got off to another fast start and never left any doubt about the outcome of this series that included three overtime games.

It was the most lopsided playoff loss for the Stars since the franchise moved south from Minnesota before the 1993-94 season.

“You just expect more from yourself in a game like this,” said Stars forward Joe Pavelski, the 38-year-old veteran still without a Stanley Cup after 17 seasons.

The Stars got captain Jamie Benn back after his two-game suspension for a cross-check to the neck area of Vegas captain Mark Stone early in Game 3. But Benn already had a minus-2 rating without a shot after playing only 3:46 in the first period, and finished minus-2 with only one shot his 12 1/2 minutes on the ice.

Vegas led for good when Carrier scored 3:41 into the game after a puck poked from behind the net in the vicinity of three Dallas players. Carrier skated across the front of the crease and put a backhander in the net, the ninth time this postseason the Knights scored in the first five minutes of a game.

Karlsson’s power-play goal came midway through the first period made it 2-0, and after a penalty that likely had prevented him from scoring.

Nicolas Roy took a shot that deflected off Jake Oettinger’s glove and popped up in the air behind the goalie. Karlsson was charging into the crease when Stars defenseman Esa Lindell raised his stick and swatted the puck out of play, drawing a delay of game penalty.

With the man advantage, Reilly Smith took a shot from the circle to the left, which was deflected in front by Roy and then off Oettinger’s extended skate before Karlsson knocked in the rebound.

After Kolesar made it 3-0 in the first, and Marchessault scored his ninth goal in the second, Karlsson’s franchise record 10th goal for a playoff series extended the lead to 5-0 only two minutes into the third period.

Oettinger had been 3-0 when the Stars were facing elimination this postseason, including Game 7 in the second round against Seattle before stopping 64 of 68 shots the past two games against the Knights.

That was after Vegas had scored three goals on five shots in the first 7:10 to chase him from Game 3, which was the only lopsided game in the series until the finale. Two of their three regular season game went to shootouts.

Dallas was only the fifth team to force a Game 6 in an conference final or NHL semifinal after being down 0-3, and the first since the Stars lost to Detroit in a sixth game in 2008. Only two teams got to a Game 7, which both lost – the New York Islanders to Philadelphia in 1975; and the New York Rangers to Boston in 1939.

Vegas avoided a Game 7 at home against the Stars and coach Peter DeBoer, who is 7-0 in such do-or-die games, including the Seattle series finale two weeks ago. DeBoer was the Vegas coach for its only Game 7 wins – in the second round in 2020 against Vancouver and 2021 in the first round against Minnesota. But he was fired by the Golden Knights after they missed the playoffs last season for the only time in their short existence.