Leveling up is always satisfying, whether it’s unlocking new options on a video game, getting the next generation of an appliance or gaining enough miles to get on the plane before everyone else. Every team in the NHL, even the terrible ones, have players who appear to have leveled up so far this season. We take a look at those players in this week’s Power Rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings are voted on by a panel of hockey experts here at ESPN.
Previous ranking: 1
Ryan Hartman. This is the kind of offensive output that GM David Poile wanted when he used a first-round pick to acquire Hartman, who has seven goals and four assists in 25 games. He has bounced around the lineup, but he’s on pace for over 20 goals as a depth piece (and physical presence) for the Preds.
Previous ranking: 3
Ryan McDonagh. Lightning coach Jon Cooper says he thinks that McDonagh, in his first full season with the Bolts, should be a Norris Trophy candidate. Keep that 0.72 points-per-game average intact and it might just happen.
Previous ranking: 2
Mitch Marner. We all knew Marner was good. But now that he has played the majority of his minutes with the offense-juicing talents of John Tavares, he has looked incredible: 33 points in 25 games, and a 1.32 points-per-game average. The Toronto media is taking all of this in stride, projecting him as a Hall of Famer.
Previous ranking: 9
Jeff Skinner. One of our easiest choices here. The left wing has clicked with Jack Eichel, the best center with whom he has ever played, and the result is 19 goals in 25 games. That follows a season when he scored 24 in 82 games. Hooray for changing scenery, No. 1 centers and contract years!
Previous ranking: 10
Mikko Rantanen. Last season, Nathan MacKinnon got all the love for the prowess of the Avalanche’s top line. This time, it might be Rantanen, who has an astounding 40 points in 24 games, including 30 assists. Ho-hum, nothing to see here. Just a dude on a 137-point pace.
Previous ranking: 12
Tom Wilson. I asked Alex Ovechkin if more people should appreciate Wilson’s offensive game, which has him at six goals in eight games since returning from suspension. “It’s nothing new,” he said. Well, luckily, Ovi isn’t authoring the Power Rankings this week, so I still say it’s a level up for the Department of Player Safety’s favorite son.
Previous ranking: 6
Mikko Koivu. Apparently someone realized that to win the Selke Trophy — which Koivu should have done last season — you need to be an offensive force. To, you know, prove you’re great defensively. Anyway, he has 20 points in 23 games, a rather torrid start offensively. He had 15 points at this juncture last season.
Previous ranking: 4
Timo Meier. His goal scoring has cooled off just a bit, but he’s still at 13 goals and 10 assists in 25 games, on track for his best offensive campaign.
Previous ranking: 5
Patrik Laine. On a team that has seen its share of leveling down so far offensively, Laine’s 19-goal explosion through 23 games has him threatening a 70-goal pace this season. Which probably isn’t going to happen. Or maybe it could. The NHL’s a weird place these days.
Previous ranking: 8
Pierre-Luc Dubois. Say what you will about Jarmo Kekalainen as a general manager, but the guy knows his way around the NHL draft. Dubois, drafted third overall in 2016, has 22 points in 24 games in his sophomore season, and looks like the top-line center he was drafted to become.
Previous ranking: 11
Previous ranking: 7
Matt Grzelcyk. The young blueliner has performed admirably in the wake of the team’s horrific stretch of injuries to its defense. Grzelcyk’s ice time has jumped by four minutes per game, and he remains on the plus side of shot attempts and goal differential.
Previous ranking: 14
Brett Howden. He literally leveled up, going from Moose Jaw in the WHL last season to the Rangers this season, and has 13 points in 24 games as a rookie.
Previous ranking: 15
Jason Spezza. He’s never going to be Jason Spezza again, but after posting 26 points in 78 games last season, he’s got 15 points already in 26 games this season. So it’s a case of leveling down significantly, then nudging back up.
Previous ranking: 18
Sebastian Aho. Not only is the burgeoning star playing at a point-per-game pace, he’s doing so as the explosive center the Canes have needed for so long.
Previous ranking: 13
Previous ranking: 16
Scott Mayfield. The 26-year-old defenseman is getting about two minutes more ice time per game than in previous seasons, and he’s producing at a pace (10 points in 21 games) that is exponentially better than the rest of his career.
Previous ranking: 29
Cody Eakin. The Knights were basically “Team Level Up” last season, which means more than a few of them are regressing this season. (Looking at you, William Karlsson‘s goal scoring.) But Eakin has taken advantage of some injuries and roster fluctuation to post 16 points in 23 games, increasing his ice time by a minute per game. He had 27 points in 80 games last season.
Previous ranking: 21
Jake Guentzel. His average ice time has jumped by almost two minutes (18:14) and the 24-year-old has responded with 11 goals in 24 games. His career best came last season, with 22 goals in 82 games, so he’s primed to blow past that level.
Previous ranking: 27
Brandon Montour. The Ducks are a possession mess this season, yet the 24-year-old defenseman’s numbers are respectable when compared with the rest of his teammates. His ice time is up by nearly two minutes (22:20) and he has 12 points in 27 games.
Previous ranking: 23
Alex Chiasson. Look, you know he’s not going to shoot 38.5 percent this season. We know he’s not going to shoot 38.5 percent this season. But it doesn’t change the fact that through 18 games, he’s shooting 38.5 percent this season, and he has 10 goals, threatening his previous career high of 13, as a rookie with Dallas in 2013-14.
Previous ranking: 17
Ummmm … uh … well, defenseman Robert Hagg already has matched his points total (nine) from last season, and is playing a minute more per game. That’s something, right?
Previous ranking: 20
Jake Virtanen. Show me another player who is within two goals of his career best in just 27 games (eight goals this season) and has sparked a meme in which fans shotgun beer when he scores (witness “Shotgun Jake“).
Previous ranking: 19
Darcy Kuemper. Overall, the goaltending has been the best part of the Coyotes, and Kuemper has a .914 save percentage in 11 games as the backup to Antti Raanta. Alas, the Coyotes still have a team shooting percentage of 7.8, which is why they’re in this pickle.
Previous ranking: 25
Kyle Palmieri. He has always had a scoring touch, having hit 30 in 82 games with the Devils in 2015-16. But his 12 goals in 23 games is the best pace of his career.
Previous ranking: 22
Mike Hoffman. It’s too bad the Panthers are a flop this season, because Hoffman’s 23 points in 23 games is one of the better redemption arcs of the season, given his infamous departure from Ottawa.
Previous ranking: 24
Henri Jokiharju. Again, another literal level up. He went from the WHL to the Blackhawks (by way of Finland’s national teams) and has been an effective (and cost-effective!) defenseman this season, playing over 20 minutes per contest.
Previous ranking: 26
Andreas Athanasiou. The scoring flourish is finally catching up with the blazing speed, as Athanasiou has 11 goals in 21 games for the Wings. His career best is 18 goals in 64 games, and he is well ahead of that pace.
Previous ranking: 28
Thomas Chabot. A shining light in the turbulent storm that are the Senators, the defenseman has 29 points in 25 games, only eight of them coming on the power play.
Previous ranking: 30
Ryan O’Reilly. There are a lot of levels here: levels of irony, that is. You have O’Reilly, miserable in Buffalo, getting traded to St. Louis. You have the Blues basically collapse while the Sabres surge to the top of the league. You have O’Reilly on pace for a career-best 96 points, on a team where literally everyone else regressed. Hockey, am I right?
Previous ranking: 31