NHL Power Rankings: The rise of offensive defensemen
One interesting phenomenon to start this season is the rise of the high-scoring defenseman, as in blueliners that lead their team in points. There are more than a handful of them across the NHL with some of them an indictment on the forward group, and some of them playing at an elite level.
Take John Carlson in Washington, for instance. He’s got five goals and 15 assists in 11 games to lead the NHL in points (20) and set the pace for a Capitals team that includes Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nick Backstrom among other high-powered offensive weapons. It’s certainly becoming more of a trend to see D-men as teams' leading scorers when it was almost unheard of 5-10 years ago, but it feels even more noticeable this season than ever before.
So let’s salute all of those coaches opening things up offensively and pushing their D-men to join a four- or five-man attack. Because it’s working and it’s making teams even more high-powered offensively as we’re seeing with the teams at the top of the power rankings.
Now on to the power rankings:
31. Ottawa Senators
(1-6-1, last week: 31)
Ottawa has scored the fewest goals in the league (17) to this point and the Sens are a minus-12 in goal differential already. It is going to be another ugly year for the Senators.
30. Detroit Red Wings
(3-6-0, last week: 25)
Anthony Mantha continues to go on a scoring tear for the Red Wings to start the year, but there just isn’t enough talent around him right now.
29. New York Rangers
(2-4-1, last week: 14)
The Rangers have lost five games in a row and suddenly look like they are not out of the rebuilding woods as it seemed they were after the first few games this season.
28. Minnesota Wild
(3-6-0, last week: 28)
Devan Dubnyk is struggling and Brad Hunt is leading the team in points right now. No wonder Jason Zucker (four points and a minus-2 in nine games) threw Bruce Boudreau under the bus last week.
27. New Jersey Devils
(2-4-2, last week: 30)
Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald was added to the Devils coaching staff on the bench and they all of a sudden won a couple of games. Interesting to see how that works, isn’t it?
26. San Jose Sharks
(3-5-1, last week: 26)
A 3.46 goals against average and an .894 save percentage for Martin Jones, who is off to a rough start to this year along with a Sharks team not living up to the hype.
25. Dallas Stars
(3-7-1, last week: 29)
How is a team with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and Joe Pavelski only averaging 2.09 goals for as the worst offense in the NHL? It almost defies explanation, but it certainly explains their lousy record.
24. Chicago Blackhawks
(2-3-2, last week: 25)
Only the Senators have scored fewer goals than the Blackhawks this season. How far the once mighty have fallen with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith on this team.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
(3-3-1, last week: 15)
Carter Hart isn’t quite living up to last year’s lofty rookie standards, but the Flyers are treading water and watching as youngsters like Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are taking hold of the team.
22. Los Angeles Kings
(4-5-0, last week: 22)
The Kings are a minus-7 goal differential, so they still have some work to do. But Anze Kopitar is off to a great start and at least they are now getting more out of Ilya Kovalchuk as well.
21. Winnipeg Jets
(5-6-0, last week: 18)
Nobody in the Western Conference has allowed more goals than the 36 given up by the Jets to this point in the season. Do you think they could use Dustin Byfuglien right about now?
20. Tampa Bay Lightning
(4-3-1, last week: 11)
It’s amazing that the rich got richer with the Lightning signing Kevin Shattenkirk on the cheap, and now he clearly has something to prove. Slow start for the Bolts, but they are still dangerous as they showed in the win over the Bruins.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets
(4-3-2, last week: 24)
Not exactly unexpected, but the Blue Jackets are struggling offensively and defensively right now after the mass exodus of their players. It will be a surprise if this gets much better this season.
18. New York Islanders
(5-3-0, last week: 21)
The Isles have won four games in a row to drag themselves out of the basement and get back into the mix in the Metro Division.
17. Calgary Flames
(5-5-1, last week: 16)
How are the Flames only averaging 2.55 goals per game right now? They are much better than a middle-of-the-road offensive team and that’s the way they are currently playing.
16. Montreal Canadiens
(4-3-2, last week: 19)
The Habs have been up and down, but they took both ends of a home-and-home series against the reigning Cup champ Blues over the last couple of weeks. That’s pretty good.
15. St. Louis Blues
(4-2-3, last week: 7)
Don Cherry’s advice to the Blues: You need to play “Sweetheart hockey” during the regular season, and then you can turn into the rugged, physical team in the playoffs. Sounds like sound advice to me.
14. Florida Panthers
(4-2-3, last week: 22)
The Panthers are picking things up offensively and they have yet to get anywhere close to the best out of Sergei Bobrovsky. A pretty decent start for a Panthers team looking to things next level this season.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
(5-4-2, last week: 9)
Nobody in the NHL has allowed more than the 38 goals allowed by Toronto this season. The Maple Leafs aren’t going to do much unless they tighten things up defensively.
12. Arizona Coyotes
(5-2-1, last week: 23)
Nick Schmaltz is leading the Coyotes with nine points through their first eight games of the season. That is not something I would have imagined at the start of the year.
11. Anaheim Ducks
(6-4-0, last week: 10)
Anaheim is one of the best defensive teams, allowing just 2.20 goals per game, and one of the most anemic offenses, scoring just 2.40 goals per game. That is a tough way to live and enjoy sustained success.
10. Nashville Predators
(5-3-1, rank last week: 6)
The Preds are deep, they are talented, they are stocked on the back end and they have two of the best goalies in the NHL working together. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be extremely good this season.
9. Vancouver Canucks
(6-3-0, rank last week: 17)
While everybody focuses on the young forward stars out in Vancouver, Jakob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are playing extremely well between the pipes for the Canucks right now.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
(6-4-0, rank last week: 8)
The Penguins are doing admirably well without Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk, but the question is how long they can hold it up for.
7. Vegas Golden Knights
(7-4-0, rank last week: 12)
Marc-Andre Fleury has all seven wins for the Golden Knights and they are top-10 in goals against with Mark Stone leading the way offensively. It’s all going according to plan for a solid Western Conference team.
6. Carolina Hurricanes
(6-3-0, rank last week: 1)
The Canes have lost two in a row as a road trip through California is bringing them back down to Earth. The nine goals allowed in those two losses tell the tale.
5. Edmonton Oilers
(7-2-1, rank last week: 5)
The Oilers are giving every other super line a run for their money right now with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and James Neal absolutely tearing stuff up for Edmonton. They are finally living up to their potential.
4. Boston Bruins
(6-1-2, rank last week: 9)
Speaking of next level, David Pastrnak and his 10 goals in nine games qualify as well. For the second straight season, Pasta has been on the menu every single night to open the season.
3. Washington Capitals
(7-2-2, rank last week: 13)
Who knew John Carlson was going to explode on the scene offensively this year? Five goals and 20 points in 11 games is next-level for the quality defenseman. Looks like he wants serious Norris consideration this year.
2. Colorado Avalanche
(7-1-1, rank last week: 2)
A great start for the Avs, but the Mikko Rantanen injury news is hanging like a cloud over the Colorado hockey team right now. The radio silence on it isn’t very encouraging.
1. Buffalo Sabres
(8-1-1, rank last week: 4)
The Sabres have won six of their last seven games and Jack Eichel is taking his game to another level. Buffalo started off well last year too, so we’ll check back in a few more weeks from now and see where they are.