NHL Power Rankings: 1-31 poll, plus players who need to step up for every team

We're at the part of the NHL season when trends are starting to emerge. Slow starts are no longer excusable; guys have had ample opportunity to find their groove.

For this week's ESPN NHL Power Rankings, we identified a player (or area) on each team that needs to improve.

How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits polls ranking teams 1-31, and those results are tabulated to the list featured here. Teams are rated through Tuesday night's games, taking into account overall record, recent success and other factors such as injuries. The previous ranking for each team is its spot in last week's edition.

1. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 2

The Caps are cruising lately -- playing a great brand of physical hockey, and scoring a ton of goals. One area they can improve? Taking fewer penalties. Even though the penalty kill is in better shape than last season, Washington has 78 minor penalties, second most in the league. And improving there is on just about everyone.

2. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 5

The defending champs are thriving despite adversity. New forward Jacob De La Rose doesn't necessarily need to step up, but he gets a prime opportunity to do so with Alexander Steen sidelined. De La Rose needs to prove he can thrive as a grinder in Craig Berube's system.

3. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 1

Things were looking terrific for the Bruins, until this current four-game slide, including a massive blown lead against the Panthers this week. Finding secondary scoring remains a focus. And now, do we have to worry about Boston closing out games, typically a Bruce Cassidy hallmark?

4. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 3

Oliver Wahlstrom responded quite well to his AHL assignment, with a goal, an assist and eight shots in three games back in Bridgeport. We expect the rookie to step up and start contributing offensively when he gets his NHL call.

5. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 6

We know this team needs players not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl to step up offensively. (James Neal has been admirable as an addition to that tandem). How about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? He did have a two-goal night against Anaheim, but he has only six points at even strength this season.

6. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 11

Nathan MacKinnon is back in MVP mode, doing it all while his team is banged up. The new guys are contributing, and even the relatively unknown 22-year-old goaltender,Adam Werner, stood out in emergency relief. We could pick someone who needs to step up, but it would really just be nitpicking.

7. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 13

Phil Kessel has brought leadership to the locker room, and the team just posted an impressive back-to-back road sweep of the two most recent Cup champs. But Kessel has just three goals in 19 games and hasn't given the power play the boost the Coyotes thought it might receive.

8. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 19

We've been impressed by the Canadiens' improvements this season, especially on offense, as they're scoring 3.44 goals per game, and the power play, which was a sore spot last season. The Habs have taken a step back defensively, though, and their penalty killing could use a shape-up.

9. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 17

So it all seems to be coming together for Joel Quenneville in Florida, as the Panthers are looking as if they should be a playoff team. But Sergei Bobrovsky still isn't playing up to his hefty contract (.881 save percentage, 3.52 goals-against average), and he was chased by the Bruins on Tuesday.

10. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 10

There's not much to complain about regarding the Canucks, as they're still performing better than expected. Captain Bo Horvat, on the surface, is doing great (good possession numbers, fourth on the team in scoring), but of his 14 points, just six are at even strength.

11. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 16

The Flames have shuffled the lineup quite a bit after some early-season malaise. A player who doesn't look like his dominant self: Johnny Gaudreau. After finishing last season eighth in the NHL with 99 points, Gaudreau has been inconsistent, including a recent 12-game drought without a goal.

12. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 21

Philadelphia is finding its groove lately, winning four straight games recently to slide into a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers could use more from $50 million free-agent acquisition Kevin Hayes, who has just seven points in 17 games and his lowest faceoff percentage since 2015-16.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 14

The Penguins went nearly a month without a power-play goal. They've had unrelenting bad injury luck. They rarely lead early. And yet, they keep finding ways to get points. So we decided to give the Pens a pass this week.

14. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 4

Most everything is going well offensively for the Predators these days -- like, really well. But we're starting to worry again about Kyle Turris. After scoring seven points in his first nine games (a positive development) he has just one point (a goal) in nine games since.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 12

Sure, the Leafs left Michael Hutchinson out to dry -- they played terribly in front of the backup goalie, often on the back end of back-to-backs -- leading the team to waive the 29-year-old. The Leafs are in desperate need of a dependable backup. Kasimir Kaskisuo gets the next opportunity.

16. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 7

Since Oct. 12, Nino Niederreiter has just four points in 13 games. The Canes are expecting more from their middle-six winger, who scored a combined 53 points with the Canes and Wild last season.

17. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 8

Vegas is in a slump. The Knights have gone 3-4-3 over their past 10. They've relied heavily on Marc-Andre Fleury since the team's first season, but even he hasn't looked quite like himself lately, and backups Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk haven't provided much confidence.

18. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 15

The Lightning seem to be waking up after an early-season slumber, but they still expect more out of their top stars. It's surprising Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have just five goals each -- or, one more than Kevin Shattenkirk, who was bought out by the Rangers this summer.

19. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 20

The Jets' blue line was projected to be a problem this season. But their offense shouldn't be struggling like this, too. Captain Blake Wheeler has 10 points in 19 games, on pace for about half of his 91-point total from each of the past two seasons.

20. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 9

The Sabres are in danger of another collapse after scoring 12 goals in their past seven games, six of them losses. Half of those goals were scored by Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart. So pretty much everyone else needs to step up offensively (looking at you, Jeff Skinner, with two points in your past seven).

21. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 18

The Ducks have fallen back to Earth after a surprisingly good start. This team is missing its best defensive pair in Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm, but the entire defense needs to step up. They've left goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller high and dry; luckily both have been excellent, or this would look much uglier.

22. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 25

The kids are showing up for the Rangers these days, but it has been a disappointing start for one of them: 21-year-old Lias Andersson. He hasn't earned trust with coach David Quinn -- his ice time reflects that, with less than 10 minutes in each of the past three games -- and he has scored just one point in 15 games.

23. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 22

We're nearing the one-year anniversary of CEO Jim Lites' infamous tirade about the team's two biggest stars. Well, the organization is still frustrated. Coach Jim Montgomery called out the production of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin last week. (Montgomery since apologized to the team, but the emotions were real).

24. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 26

The Sharks are getting their act together, winning four straight. The return of Radim Simek has helped on defense. But if this team is going anywhere, it needs more from goaltending. Martin Jones has a .887 save percentage through 15 games, with only three of his 13 starts falling into the quality start category.

25. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 27

Can we ask an entire group to step up? The Blackhawks have a surplus of defensemen they're rotating in and out, but they're still leaky, giving up a league-high 37.1 shots per game. Good thing free-agent signing Robin Lehner has been so steady; he has already had to face 50-plus shots in two of his 10 starts.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 23

The great regression after going all-in last season has come, and it's not pretty. Plenty of players aren't putting forward their best performance. One of them is Josh Anderson, who has two points in 12 games and hasn't been playing as physically as we're used to seeing.

27. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 31

Call it the Robby Fabbri effect. The Red Wings have turned things around with three straight wins. This is a prime opportunity for another new addition -- Brendan Perlini -- to get his career back on track. He's scoreless in seven games.

28. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 24

The Devils hoped P.K. Subban would slot in as their true No. 1 defenseman, a player who would steer the point on the power play. He's not the only Devil underperforming, but it's noticeable that Subban has zero points on the man advantage this season.

29. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 30

It's hard to pick on the Senators, given what they're working with. There's probably not enough NHL-caliber talent on this roster. There is, however, enough decent personnel for a functioning power play, including young foundational pieces Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. And that's an area that has been absolutely dreadful, clicking at a 6.5% rate.

30. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 28

There are plenty of Wild players who need to step up. One under the spotlight is Jason Zucker, who was benched recently and has been called out by coach Bruce Boudreau to do more. Zucker has had some bad defensive lapses. At even strength, he has been on the ice for 10 goals for and 19 goals against.

31. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 29

The Kings are officially the NHL's bottom-feeders. There are multiple fundamental issues on this roster, but they haven't received what they've wanted from Ilya Kovalchuk, and he's being held out of the lineup as a result.

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