We’re down to the final two weeks of the season, as playoff spots continue to be clinched and mathematical eliminations occur on a near-nightly basis.
Which players will have an outsized impact on the home stretch? Which players are we most intrigued to see before the postseason (or the offseason) begins for their club? Here’s one X factor player for all 32 teams.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the most recent edition, published March 24. Points percentages are through Thursday’s games.
1. Boston Bruins
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 80.67%
Next seven days: @ PIT (Apr. 1), @ STL (Apr. 2), vs. TOR (Apr. 6)
X factor: Taylor Hall. The Bruins have so much going for them; there’s no one player that will really improve their stretch run. The Bruins do need to determine Hall’s status though. Ideally Boston would like to have one of their top wingers back in the mix before the playoffs to ensure he’s fully tuned up. The sooner Hall — absent with a lower-body injury since March 2 — can get back in, the better.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 69.59%
Next seven days: @ MTL (Apr. 1), vs. NYI (Apr. 2), vs. OTT (Apr. 4), @ NSH (Apr. 6)
X factor: Frederik Andersen. Carolina wants to be confident in its goaltending ahead of playoffs. That means having Andersen at his best. Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov have handled netminding duties throughout the season, but Andersen should still be Carolina’s No. 1. These final weeks are a critical preparatory period for Andersen.
3. New Jersey Devils
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 68.00%
Next seven days: @ CHI (Apr. 1), @ WPG (Apr. 2), vs. PIT (Apr. 4), vs. CBJ (Apr. 6)
X factor: Vitek Vanecek. New Jersey knows there’s (most likely) a first-round playoff meeting forthcoming with the Rangers. And New York has a Vezina Trophy winner in Igor Shesterkin between the pipes. This stretch drive is a valuable opportunity for Vanecek to get on top of his game. Coach Lindy Ruff will have to manage Vanecek’s workload well too, ensuring he’s primed to go save-for-save with Shesterkin.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 66.22%
Next seven days: @ OTT (Apr. 1), vs. DET (Apr. 2), vs. CBJ (Apr. 4), @ BOS (Apr. 6)
X factor: Morgan Rielly. Toronto has been rolling out an 11-7 alignment that rotates defenseman in and out of the lineup. The Leafs need back-end stability leading up to playoffs, and that leadership should come from Rielly. He’s the team’s longest-tenured player, their top defender and a valued voice in the room. Rielly’s contributions from here to postseason can’t be overlooked.
5. New York Rangers
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 65.33%
Next seven days: @ BUF (March 31), @ WSH (Apr. 2), vs. TB (Apr. 5), @ STL (Apr. 6)
X factor: Vladimir Tarasenko. New York acquired Tarasenko for exactly this time of year. It hasn’t been an entirely seamless transition for Tarasenko to play with old pal Artemi Panarin though, and these last games before playoffs can be a difference-maker for Tarasenko to showcase why the Rangers wanted him — and what he’ll wield when the calendar turns over to postseason play.
6. Vegas Golden Knights
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 66.00%
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Apr. 1), @ MIN (Apr. 3), @ NSH (Apr. 4), vs. LA (Apr. 6)
X factor: Jack Eichel. Vegas expected Eichel to boost their postseason prospects when they traded for him last season — and then the Golden Knights promptly did not reach the playoffs. Bummer. Now it’s on Eichel to make sure Vegas isn’t just in the field, but primed when it gets to the league’s second season. He has all the tools to be a game-changer and shouldn’t miss out on these final chances to improve.
7. Los Angeles Kings
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 64.00%
Next seven days: @ SEA (Apr. 1), @ VAN (Apr. 2), vs. EDM (Apr. 4), @ VGK (Apr. 6)
X factor: Joonas Korpisalo. Los Angeles made waves trading long-time goaltender Jonathan Quick and acquiring Korpisalo. But you can see why. Korpisalo opened his career in L.A. at 4-0-1 with a .929 save percentage. He’s potentially pushing Pheonix Copley for the coveted No. 1 starter’s job for playoffs. There’s a lot on the line for both netminders as the Kings finish out this regular season.
8. Minnesota Wild
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 64.67%
Next seven days: @ VGK (Apr. 1), vs. VGK (Apr. 3), @ PIT (Apr. 6)
X factor: Matt Boldy. Minnesota should have Kirill Kaprizov back for the playoffs. Until then, it’s on forwards like Boldy to keep the offense warm. Boldy is delivering too, recently recording a hat trick in Seattle and showing some consistency. That sort of play would continue to fire up the Wild’s attack and make it easy for Kaprizov to step back in — without undue pressure — when he’s ready.
9. Colorado Avalanche
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 63.51%
Next seven days: vs. DAL (Apr. 1), @ SJ (Apr. 4), @ SJ (Apr. 6)
X factor: Gabriel Landeskog. Colorado is finally, consistently showing its Stanley Cup-winning prowess. How much more dangerous would the Avalanche be if Landeskog — who has yet to play this season — could make a return before the postseason? It’s a big deal for Colorado to have him available and would be a real determining factor in their success throughout games — and playoff rounds — to come.
10. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 63.51%
Next seven days: @ ARI (March 31), @ COL (Apr. 1), vs. NSH (Apr. 3), vs. PHI (Apr. 6)
X factor: Nils Lundkvist. Dallas is deep up front but hasn’t had the defensive depth to match. Enter Lundkvist. He has a few weeks remaining to show the Stars how he can help — in the present and postseason. Dallas’ limited blue-line resources means everyone must be at their best, and Lundkvist should have more to give at 5-on-5 and in a power-play spot.
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11. Edmonton Oilers
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 63.82%
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Apr. 1)., @ LA (Apr. 4), @ ANA (Apr. 5)
X factor: Jack Campbell. Edmonton knows what it has in No. 1 goalie Stuart Skinner. What the Oilers must have certainty in also is Campbell. Skinner deserves some rest down the stretch, which would lead to more action for Campbell. He must show Edmonton he’ll be a reliable piece of the puzzle if called upon in the playoffs.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 61.84%
Next seven days: vs. NYI (Apr. 1), @ NYR (Apr. 5), @ NYI (Apr. 6)
X factor: Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay has been skidding through the end of this regular season. Cause for concern? It’s on Stamkos to make sure that’s not the case. It’s less about Stamkos addressing the Lightning’s on-ice difficulties than it is setting the example of persevering through a rough patch and coming out the other side a stronger team for it.
13. New York Islanders
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 57.24%
Next seven days: @ TB (Apr. 1), @ CAR (Apr. 2), vs. TB (Apr. 6)
X factor: Bo Horvat. New York stunningly pursued — and then extended — Horvat because of his potential to be an offensive game-changer on a team that required more scoring. The Islanders need a lot more out of Horvat though — in the regular season and playoffs. The 27-year-old hasn’t hit his stride yet, with only six goals and 11 points in 24 games for New York (after 31 and 23 in 54 for Vancouver). All eyes will be on Horvat to elevate his game in the coming weeks.
14. Seattle Kraken
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 60.81%
Next seven days: vs. LA (Apr. 1), vs. ARI (Apr. 3), @ VAN (Apr. 4), vs. ARI (Apr. 6)
X factor: Philipp Grubauer. Seattle’s glaring weakness all season has been goaltending. Grubauer is the Kraken’s starter once again, but can he hold on to the mantle and help Seattle secure its first playoff berth? What more can Grubauer show that would give the Kraken confidence he’ll be a postseason rock?
15. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 56.67%
Next seven days: vs. DET (March 31), vs. NJ (Apr. 2), vs. CGY (Apr. 5)
X factor: Mark Scheifele. Winnipeg’s playoff hopes hinge on production from core players. Scheifele has to lead the charge there. He’s had an up-and-down season, but retains all the ability to lift this Jets’ offense. If Scheifele can really turn up the heat on his scoring game, it’ll go a long way for Winnipeg’s postseason push.
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16. Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 56.00%
Next seven days: vs. BOS (Apr. 1), vs. PHI (Apr. 2), @ NJ (Apr. 4), vs. MIN (Apr. 6)
X factor: Tristan Jarry. Pittsburgh has had its problems in net all season. Chief among them has been Jarry’s availability. The Penguins’ projected No. 1 goalie has weathered injury issues and struggled when he is in the lineup. Casey DeSmith isn’t the answer if Pittsburgh wants to be a playoff contender. Jarry has to stay healthy from here and get as many reps as possible to help carry the Penguins’ postseason hopes.
17. Calgary Flames
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 55.33%
Next seven days: @ VAN (March 31), vs. ANA (Apr. 2), vs. CHI (Apr. 4), @ WPG (Apr. 5)
X factor: Jacob Markstrom. Calgary has lacked consistency throughout starter Markstrom’s up-and-down season. That roller-coaster ride has to end now. Calgary can still grab a wild-card spot, but only if Markstrom continues to play like he did this week shutting the door on L.A. in a 33-save performance. The Flames’ postseason hopes depend on Markstrom standing tall.
18. Nashville Predators
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 55.41%
Next seven days: vs. STL (Apr. 1), @ DAL (Apr. 3), vs. VGK (Apr. 4), vs. CAR (Apr. 6)
X factor: Cody Glass. Nashville’s infirmary is filled with the team’s top players, from Matt Duchene to Roman Josi. But the Predators’ push for a playoff spot is ongoing, and forwards like Glass have to be the difference that ultimately gets Nashville over the hump. Glass has a top-line role and scored a big goal against Boston earlier this week. The Predators need everything Glass has to give from here.
19. Florida Panthers
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 54.61%
Next seven days: @ CBJ (Apr. 1), vs. BUF (Apr. 4), vs. OTT (Apr. 6)
X factor: Sergei Bobrovsky. Florida has pushed its way into the playoff conversation by averaging four goals per game the last few weeks. At issue? The more than four goals per game they’re giving up. Bobrovsky has to lock down the Panthers’ crease from here in a significant way. If he can’t, there’s little chance of Florida clawing its way into the postseason.
20. Washington Capitals
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 50.66%
Next seven days: vs. NYR (Apr. 2), @ MTL (Apr. 6)
X factor: Evgeny Kuznetsov. Washington has likely played itself out of postseason contention. That would frustrate any skater, including — apparently — Kuznetsov. The Capitals’ forward shot down Russian media reports this week claiming he wants to be traded. Where Kuznetsov should do his talking though is on the ice. Washington has a handful of games left and deserves to see Kuznetsov giving them a $7.8 million-worthy effort. It hasn’t happened nearly enough this season.
The NHL’s top 10 players by position
A panel of NHL players, coaches, GMs and other front-office personnel ranked the best players at each position:
21. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 52.74%
Next seven days: vs. NYR (March 31), @ PHI (Apr. 1), @ FLA (Apr. 4), @ DET (Apr. 6)
X factor: Jordan Greenway. Buffalo is keeping its gaze on the future, and Greenway will be a part of that. The question — to be determined in these coming games — is where Greenway will fit. How big can his impact on the Sabres’ offense be? Greenway’s workload has increased slowly since he was traded. Buffalo has time now to see what the big winger’s best role in their lineup could be.
22. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 52.67%
Next seven days: vs. TOR (Apr. 1), @ CBJ (Apr. 2), @ CAR (Apr. 4), @ FLA (Apr. 6)
X factor: Cam Talbot. Ottawa needs a miracle to make the playoffs. Blue-line injuries have piled up again — both Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun are currently out — and the Senators’ best hope of replacing those lost contributions is through excellent goaltending. Hello, Cam Talbot. The veteran returned from injury this week and has to shake off any rust quickly. Ottawa will rely on him to give the team a final, fighting chance to the finish line.
23. Vancouver Canucks
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 50.00%
Next seven days: vs. CGY (March 31), vs. LA (Apr. 2), vs. SEA (Apr. 4), vs. CHI (Apr. 6)
X factor: Brock Boeser. Vancouver won’t make any major personnel decisions based off a couple weeks. But Boeser’s future with the Canucks continues to be a major storyline. What will these final games show the organization, and potential offseason trade partners, about what Boeser can offer? Will Boeser convince Vancouver to hold on to him? Or make himself even more valuable as a potential trade asset?
24. St. Louis Blues
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 50.67%
Next seven days: @ NSH (Apr. 1), vs. BOS (Apr. 2), vs. PHI (Apr. 4), vs. NYR (Apr. 6)
X factor: Colton Parayko. St. Louis will have offseason blue-line decisions to make and now is the time for highly paid players like Parayko to prove why the Blues should keep them around. Parayko’s improved lately amid what’s been a challenging season. This last gasp of the season is an opportunity for Parayko to showcase his best effort.
25. Detroit Red Wings
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 50.68%
Next seven days: @ WPG (March 31), @ TOR (Apr. 2), @ MTL (Apr. 4), vs. BUF (Apr. 6)
X factor: Dylan Larkin. Detroit can still wrap up its regular season on a high note. That’s where Larkin comes in. He’s continued to play at a high level in spite of the Red Wings diminishing postseason hopes. Seeing Larkin continue to push himself sets a tone for everyone in Detroit to do the same, and foster belief in brighter — not to mention longer — springs to come.
26. Philadelphia Flyers
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 47.97%
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Apr. 1), @ PIT (Apr. 2), @ STL (Apr. 4), @ DAL (Apr. 6)
X factor: Cam York. Philadelphia has a couple pending RFAs, and York is one of them. These last few games are York’s opportunity to show off why he’s the Flyers’ top-pairing defenseman of the future — and should be extended accordingly. Plus, York’s efforts should help keep Philadelphia competitive until the end.
27. Arizona Coyotes
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 44.67%
Next seven days: vs. DAL (March 31), vs. SJ (Apr. 1), @ SEA (Apr. 3), @ SEA (Apr. 6)
X factor: Matias Maccelli. Arizona’s on-ice play doesn’t generate the most headlines. That’s a shame for Maccelli. He’s second in rookie scoring this season and can further cement his Calder Trophy candidacy with an impressive last stretch. It would give the Coyotes a nice boost for the future to see Maccelli continuing to dominate.
28. Montreal Canadiens
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 43.42%
Next seven days: vs. CAR (Apr. 1), vs. DET (Apr. 4), vs. WSH (Apr. 6)
X factor: Denis Gurianov. Montreal’s overall mission now is securing the highest possible pick in this June’s draft. Simultaneously, the Canadiens will try to sort out what they’ve got in Gurianov. Montreal has seen multiple sides of Gurianov since trading for him, and will likely use what’s left of the regular season to decide how much to invest in the pending RFA forward.
29. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 38.00%
Next seven days: @ ARI (Apr. 1), vs. COL (Apr. 4), vs. COL (Apr. 6)
X factor: Kaapo Kahkonen. San Jose could have its goaltender of the future in Kahkonen. But that’s a pretty big “could.” Kahkonen has struggled — like many Sharks — throughout the season, and that’s called into question his candidacy for the No. 1 spot going forward. Ahead are a few potential final chances for Kahkonen to make his case.
30. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 37.33%
Next seven days: @ EDM (Apr. 1), @ CGY (Apr. 2), vs. EDM (Apr. 5)
X factor: Trevor Zegras. Anaheim has a key negotiation incoming with pending RFA Zegras. The investment both sides make to one another will reflect well — or not — on the organization. Zegras can use this time to keep hockey fun in Anaheim and show off why he deserves a large incoming payday that ensures better days ahead for the Ducks.
31. Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 36.49%
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Apr. 1), vs. OTT (Apr. 2), @ TOR (Apr. 4), @ NJ (Apr. 6)
X factor: Boone Jenner. Columbus is so decimated by injuries at this point that stalwarts like Jenner become more critical than ever. Maintaining positivity is always part of a captain’s job, and it’s imperative Jenner do that — through on- and off-ice leadership — to cap off Columbus’ season on a less-than-sour note.
32. Chicago Blackhawks
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 36.00%
Next seven days: vs. NJ (Apr. 1), @ CGY (Apr. 4), @ VAN (Apr. 6)
X factor: Jonathan Toews. Chicago isn’t looking for points. But the Blackhawks did get a big win this week when Toews returned to the fold. His presence should be a nice boost to wrap up Chicago’s regular season and will give Toews time to assess his own next chapter — whether that’s with the Blackhawks or not.