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NHL power rankings: Can anyone dethrone the two-time reigning champs?

DallasStars.com's Scott Burnside gives his initial wave of picks for the best and worst around the league

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

Who doesn't love a good ranking? Best restaurants? Best dive bars? (Wonder why I started with those examples?) But we especially love a good hockey ranking. Best? Worst? Every week, we'll produce our Terrific 10 and the Forgettable Five based on current level of play.

With the start of the 2017-18 regular season in full swing, we give our first Terrific 10 and Forgettable Five.

 

Terrific 10

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: It's a rule, if you're the defending Stanley Cup champions you go to No. 1 in the rankings. Doubly so when you win back-to-back Cups, as the Pens did last spring. Big-time turnover in the roster adds some uncertainty to the equation, but still a guy named Sidney Crosby and sidekicks Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. So, for now, this is where the Pittsburgh Penguins deserve to be.

2. Nashville Predators: See the above rule for Stanley Cup finalists. We will miss the ultimate pro Mike Fisher, but love the addition of Nick Bonino to bolster the middle of what should, once again, be a very-good Nashville squad coming off its deepest playoff run ever. Loss of Ryan Ellis is huge, but not huge enough to knock the Preds out of the second spot. At least to start.

3. Edmonton Oilers: Is it possible the Oilers take a step back after their first playoff appearance in a decade last spring? If it weren't for a guy named Connor McDavid, we might say so. But McDavid is locked and loaded with a shiny, new $100-million contract and Leon Draisaitl, also locked up long-term, are poised to become the league's top one-two punch if they're not there already.

4. Washington Capitals: Yes, there's been significant upheaval with the two-time defending Presidents' Trophy winners, and Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren't getting any younger. But Braden Holtby, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Andre Burakovsky are young talents that will help keep the Caps at or near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Interesting to see how the surprising Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad swap works out, but like Panarin's role with the Blue Jackets, and assuming defending Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky bounces back after a subpar playoff, the Blue Jackets are the real deal and should take another step forward.

6. Calgary Flames: Rooting for good-guy Mike Smith to be a rock for the Flames in goal, and if he is look out for a heated renaissance of the Battle of Alberta with the talented Flames dogging the Oilers atop the Pacific Division. If the 35-year-old can't get it done, getting a new arena won't be the only controversy in town.

7. Anaheim Ducks: Sure, the Ducks will miss Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen early in the season, and the long-term absence of Ryan Kesler after off-season hip surgery is huge, but this is a Ducks team that let Nashville off the hook in the Western Conference final, and is poised to be at or near the top of the Western Conference standings. Big year for Corey Perry to bounce back.

8. Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are a trendy pick to fall out of contention after back-to-back first-round playoff exits. Last time that happened, in 2011 and 2012, the Blackhawks bounced back to win Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015 with a trip to a Western Conference final in between. Just saying. Look for Patrick Sharp to return to form after injuries marred last season in Dallas.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning: Surely this is the season captain Steven Stamkos puts the injury jinx behind him for good. If so, and if Andrei Vasilevskiy really is ready for full-time starter's duties in goal, the Lightning could be trending toward another run at the Stanley Cup after missing the post-season last year. Could Nikita Kucherov challenge for a scoring title? Yes. Yes he could.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs: History tells us a young team like Toronto that surges forward one year can take more than a step back. And that may yet happen to a talented young Leafs team that pushed Washington to six games in the first round of the playoffs. But Auston Matthews is as promised and adding Patrick Marleau, while probably at least a year longer than the Leafs will ultimately like (the veteran winger signed a three-year deal worth $18.75 million) should put the Leafs not just be in the hunt for a second straight post-season berth but a shot at the Atlantic Division crown.

 

Forgettable Five (In Descending Order)

27. Detroit Red Wings: Wings missed the playoffs last spring for the first time since 1991, and given the uncertainty surrounding this roster, a playoff spot next spring looks like a longshot. Goaltending remains in flux, the leaderships core is aging and breaking down and the next generation of stars that has consistently appeared just in time to keep the Red Wings a contender for roughly two decades has not materialized as they move into new digs at Little Caesars Arena.

28. Vancouver Canucks: A team still searching for an identity will be better with rookie head coach Travis Green behind the bench. But the Canucks are still a year or two away from being a legitimate playoff team, and seem destined to be a draft-lottery team. Big question, what does the future hold for the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, the quintessential pros, as they enter the final year of their deals?

29. Colorado Avalanche: The Avs were a whopping 21 points worse than the second-worst team in the NHL last season which means even if they're a lot better this year (and they have to be, right?), they still have a million miles to go. Still, good news that Semyon Varlamov is healthy, and there's been a big influx of young talent that should help start this team down a different path.

30. New Jersey Devils: The Devils ended up with Nico Hischier with the No. 1 pick in June, and Hischier appears to have played himself into a top-six role for the Devils. And top collegiate defenseman Will Butcher chose the Devils as his landing spot. But let's be brutally honest. There wasn't much in the cupboard when Ray Shero took over for Lou Lamoriello as GM in New Jersey and with the news that Travis Zajac will be lost long-term thanks to a pectoral injury, the growing pains will continue at The Rock this season.

31. Vegas Golden Knights: We know the league set up a very expansion-friendly system for the league's 31st team, but the reality is that the Golden Knights aren't very good down the middle, not particularly mobile on the blue line and look to struggle to score which is pretty much every expansion team's lot in life. Big question is how much of this roster GM George McPhee turns over at the trade deadline?

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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