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December 9, 2023
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Power Rankings: Hinge players for all 31 teams down the stretch

With the 2021 NHL trade deadline in the rearview mirror, we now have a much clearer picture of what the final month of the season will look like. For this week’s power rankings, we identified the “hinge” player for every team down the stretch — as in, who could have the most outsized impact on the team in the last month?

How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 12 edition, published on April 7. Points percentages are through the games of April 13.

Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: .738
Next seven days: @ STL (Apr. 14); vs. LA (Apr. 16, 18); @ STL (Apr. 20)

Colorado’s trade deadline was all about making an already dangerous team even deeper. Even though some pressure is relieved with the additions of Jonas Johansson and Devan Dubnyk, there’s still pressure for Philipp Grubauer to stay healthy and keep performing at this high level.

Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: .698
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Apr. 15); @ PHI (Apr. 17); @ BOS (Apr. 18)

The Capitals sent a lot to Detroit (Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-rounder, a 2022 second-rounder) for Anthony Mantha. He has a lot of qualities teams covet — speed, size, strength, scoring touch — but will he translate all of that to production in a new environment of mostly established veterans?

Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: .707
Next seven days: @ LA (Apr. 14); @ ANA (Apr. 16, 18); vs. SJ (Apr. 19)

Mark Stone recently went on a 10-game stretch where he had zero goals and four points (other Golden Knights forwards were struggling too). That simply won’t fly for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Stone broke out of his slump in a comeback win against the Kings on Monday.

Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: .698
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Apr. 15); @ VAN (Apr. 17, 19)

GM Kyle Dubas clearly sees the opportunity to win two playoff rounds against North opponents and emerge to the NHL’s final four, which is why he was so active at the trade deadline. If Frederik Andersen remains out, can the trio of Jack Campbell, Michael Hutchinson and David Rittich take Toronto there?

Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: .690
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Apr. 15, 17); vs. CAR (Apr. 19, 20)

So GM Julien BriseBrois, after suggesting it would be very difficult for the Lightning to pull off anything at the trade deadline, found a way to make it work. Tampa Bay gave up a first-round pick for David Savard, who will be expected to play a huge role. He’ll begin on the top pairing with Victor Hedman.

Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: .707
Next seven days: vs. NSH (Apr. 15, 17); @ TB (Apr. 19, 20)

The Canes decided to largely stick with the group they have at the trade deadline. Carolina is still waiting on details about a Teuvo Teravainen return. The top-line winger (concussion) has been limited to 13 games, and could offer a huge boost.

Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: .690
Next seven days: @ BOS (Apr. 15, 16); @ PHI (Apr. 18); vs. NYR (Apr. 20)

The Islanders view their two new additions — Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac — as the key to finishing strong down the stretch, and getting over the playoff hump. You can’t replace captain Anders Lee with one player, but maybe you can with two.

Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: .674
Next seven days: @ TB (Apr. 15, 17); vs. CBJ (Apr. 19, 20)

Nobody is suggesting that Brandon Montour is Aaron Ekblad. But the Panthers clearly wanted a replacement for their 25-year-old top defenseman (out through at least the regular season after leg surgery). Montour, whose career stalled a bit after 123 games in Buffalo, is tasked with filling some of the void.

Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: .667
Next seven days: vs. PHI (Apr. 15); @ BUF (Apr. 17, 18); vs. NJ (Apr. 20)

It has been a frustrating season of injuries in Pittsburgh, mostly at center. “It’s been unfortunate that we’ve been hit with it all at the same position at different parts of the season,” coach Mike Sullivan told ESPN last week. Enter veteran Jeff Carter, who could provide an answer.

Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: .638
Next seven days: vs. ARI (Apr. 14); vs. SJ (Apr. 16, 17); @ ARI (Apr. 19)

The Wild stood pat on Monday, but hope they’re getting their own deadline “addition” in Marcus Foligno, who returns after missing 15 games with a broken ankle. “It’s great to have him back,” GM Bill Guerin said. “It’s like making a trade.”

Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: .631
Next seven days: @ OTT (Apr. 14); @ TOR (Apr. 15); vs. EDM (Apr. 17)

The Jets didn’t do too much at the deadline, not compared to the division-leading Maple Leafs. Winnipeg’s biggest trade at the deadline was a depth defenseman, Jordie Benn. That means the burden is still falling on goalie Connor Hellebuyck to carry the back end.

Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: .619
Next seven days: @ VAN (Apr. 16); @ WPG (Apr. 17); vs. MTL (Apr. 19)

The Oilers opted not to add much at the deadline, other than Dmitry Kulikov as a depth defenseman. That’s fine since GM Ken Holland wants to hold on to draft picks, but it means Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are once against tasked with carrying this team.

Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: .625
Next seven days: vs. NYI (Apr. 15, 16); vs. WSH (Apr. 18); @ BUF (Apr. 20)

Bruins GM Don Sweeney made a splash by acquiring Taylor Hall to help the Bruins’ offense. Even though Hall is taking on a lesser role than in Buffalo, there’s a ton of pressure on him to produce — especially if he wants to sign an extension in Boston.

Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: .557
Next seven days: @ CAR (Apr. 15, 17); vs. CHI (Apr. 19)

Predators GM David Poile didn’t end up trading any players at the deadline after all, thanks to his team’s recent resurgence into playoff position. Now the focus is on coach John Hynes, to see if they can exceed more expectations, which would mean less turnover this summer.

Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: .548
Next seven days: vs. NJ (Apr. 15, 17); @ NJ (Apr. 18); @ NYI (Apr. 20)

The Rangers view Vitali Kravtsov, the talented 2018 first-rounder, as their own deadline “addition.” Kravtsov is likely going to keep moving up the lineup, getting looks with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, as he continues his NHL transition.

Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: .577
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Apr. 14, 16); vs. OTT (Apr. 17); @ EDM (Apr. 19)

Newcomer Tyler Toffoli continues to pace the team in goals, while Josh Anderson (also in his first season in Montreal) is right behind him. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has flashed brilliance this season, but needs to find a way to more consistently end up on the score sheet.

Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: .524
Next seven days: @ PIT (Apr. 15); vs. WSH (Apr. 17); vs. NYI (Apr. 18)

The Flyers decided to re-sign Scott Laughton to a five-year extension instead of trading him. There was a lot of interest from competing teams who thought Laughton could be this year’s Blake Coleman or Barclay Goodrow, but Philly wanted Laughton around, too, as it keeps playoff hopes flickering.

Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: .537
Next seven days: vs. COL (Apr. 14); @ ARI (Apr. 17); vs. COL (Apr. 20)

The Blues didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. That means GM Doug Armstrong viewed a trio of pending free agents — Tyler Bozak, Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz — as more valuable to the team’s playoff hopes than draft picks would be for the future.

Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: .523
Next seven days: @ DET (Apr. 15, 17); @ NSH (Apr. 19)

Since the Blackhawks didn’t end up trading Nikita Zadorov, it appears they’d like the defenseman to be part of their future. He’ll have an interesting contract negotiation this summer. The physical blueliner is making $3.2 million in 2021, and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: .500
Next seven days: @ MIN (Apr. 14); vs. STL (Apr. 17); vs. MIN (Apr. 19)

After some speculation and hoopla, the Coyotes didn’t end up trading Conor Garland, their second-leading point scorer. He’ll be expected to produce offense down the stretch. It’s the last year of Garland earning under $1 million; he’s due for a raise as a pending restricted free agent this summer.

Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: .512
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Apr. 15, 17); vs. DET (Apr. 19, 20)

Tyler Seguin has missed the entire season as he rehabs a hip surgery. He’s getting closer to a return. The center will spend two weeks with the taxi squad before he’s ready to join the lineup, GM Jim Nill said. The Stars could use scoring help as they make a late push for a playoff spot.

Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: .488
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Apr. 14); @ MIN (Apr. 16, 17); @ VGS (Apr. 19)

The Sharks traded Devan Dubnyk in part because they wanted to give their younger goalies a chance. But also because Martin Jones has turned things around. Can Jones keep up the pace and lead San Jose, surprisingly, to the playoffs?

Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: .473
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Apr. 16); vs. TOR (Apr. 17, 19)

The Canucks are hoping to just get back onto the ice after a COVID outbreak has kept them out of action since March 24. A lot of focus will be on Elias Pettersson, who has been injured, hasn’t had his best season production-wise, and is up for a new contract this summer.

Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: .463
Next seven days: vs. VGS (Apr. 14); @ COL (Apr. 16, 18); vs. ANA (Apr. 20)

Another year, another emotional trade deadline for the Kings. They said goodbye to veteran Jeff Carter, a leftover from the Cup days. They were also happy to reach an agreement with Alex Iafallo on a new contract, knowing he’ll continue to play a big role going forward.

Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: .464
Next seven days: @ MTL (Apr. 14, 16); vs. OTT (Apr. 19)

Calgary’s big trade-deadline moves were trading away goalie David Rittich to Toronto and center Sam Bennett to Florida. There’s a lot of pressure on Johnny Gaudreau down the stretch. He’s on the Flames for now, but it seems increasingly likely he could get traded this summer, signifying the end of an era for this club.

Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: .443
Next seven days: @ DAL (Apr. 15, 17); @ FLA (Apr. 19, 20)

It hasn’t been the smoothest transition for Patrik Laine and the Blue Jackets, but the rest of the season is a chance to see if he should figure into Columbus’ long-term plans. Our hunch says yes, especially after goals like this.

Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: .415
Next seven days: @ NYR (Apr. 15, 17); vs. NYR (Apr. 18); @ PIT (Apr. 20)

There has been a ton of turnover on the Devils’ roster in the past two weeks, and New Jersey is left with a very young team; Andreas Johnsson is the oldest forward, at 26. These final weeks will be a critical period for Nico Hischier, the youngest captain in the league, as he is close to returning to the lineup.

Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: .409
Next seven days: vs. CHI (Apr. 15, 17); @ DAL (Apr. 19, 20)

In a shocking deadline move, GM Steve Yzerman parted with one of his core players (Anthony Mantha) and got a huge return from the Capitals. Jakub Vrana is now a Red Wing, and becomes a restricted free agent this summer, so this is his time to prove he should be a core player going forward.

Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: .372
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Apr. 14); @ MTL (Apr. 17); @ CGY (Apr. 19)

After signing a four-year, $25 million contract with Ottawa in the offseason, Matt Murray has struggled. The 26-year-old had a .880 save percentage through 22 appearances, which forced the Senators to replace their goaltending coach last week.

Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: .384
Next seven days: @ SJ (Apr. 14); vs. VGS (Apr. 16, 18); @ LA (Apr. 20)

Ryan Getzlaf has been on the Ducks since 2005-06. A few teams expressed interest in Anaheim’s captain, but he and the Ducks decided it was worth it for him to stick around, even in a rebuilding year, with basically no shot at the playoffs.

Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: .321
Next seven days: @ WSH (Apr. 15); vs. PIT (Apr. 17, 18); vs. BOS (Apr. 20)

The dust has settled after the deadline, and now all eyes are on the potential return of Jack Eichel. Interim coach Don Granato has stressed they expect him back this season; can the captain help the team finish on a high note after a rough 2021?

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