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.