NHL Power Rankings: As Oilers start climb, we’re talking about players we like

Welcome back to the Power Rankings, where we’ve chosen to focus on the positive.

This week, without much movement at the top and no preseason Cup contenders hitting the skids, we’re picking one guy on each team that we like. No other prerequisites. Being good at hockey helps, but … eh. For the time being, that’s secondary. There’s more to life than spreadsheets and calculators and whatnot.

Last week: 1
Sean’s ranking: 1
Dom’s ranking: 1

There’s a million different reasons to love David Pastrnak. He’s on pace for his second straight 60-goal season, is putting up some Hart-worthy numbers, has some serious off-ice swag, and just a great all-around vibe. He’s one of the best players in the league and of the coolest too.

Our reason? His nickname is Pasta and we love pasta. Pasta should have a podcast where he goes to a pasta place with an opponent on the road and they just chat about life — call it Pasta Pals. We’d listen.

Last week: 2
Sean’s ranking: 2
Dom’s ranking: 3

An easy way to rise up this particular set of rankings: Stepping up in tough spots. Brayden McNabb has played major minutes this season because of absences along the rest of Vegas’ blue line, and he deserves some credit.

Last week: 3
Sean’s ranking: 3
Dom’s ranking: 2

Some of the reasons we like certain players are obvious: They’re good at hockey and do cool stuff on the ice that makes you say “Wow!”

We like Mason Marchment because if there was ever a live action Super Mario movie, he would be the first choice to play Waluigi, objectively the best Mario character. The resemblance is uncanny.


Last week: 4
Sean’s ranking: 6
Dom’s ranking: 4

It took longer than it should’ve, but Adam Fox has finally parlayed his Norris-caliber play into free bagels. Because he likes them. Nothing more relatable than that.

Last week: 7
Sean’s ranking: 5
Dom’s ranking: 5

Jack Johnson is not only a Stanley Cup champion, he also created the hit song Banana Pancakes. There are a lot of champions around the league, but there isn’t another hit songwriter.

Last week: 5
Sean’s ranking: 4
Dom’s ranking: 8

Quinn Hughes? Elias Pettersson? J.T. Miller? One of three co-leaders in points this season? Nah. Call us when they ever score a goal as nice as this one.

As long-time readers know, we hold a special fondness for The Michigan and anyone who pulls it off. We’re still waiting patiently for Nils Hoglander to do it in the NHL, and when he does it’s going to be electric.

Last week: 6
Sean’s ranking: 7
Dom’s ranking: 6

It’s officially (and finally) fun to watch Quinton Byfield play in the NHL. He’s racking up points (13 in 15 games) and playing on a play-driving first line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe.

Last week: 10
Sean’s ranking: 8
Dom’s ranking: 7

For years, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been a go-to for anyone looking to make a joke about seemingly washed-up defensemen. In his first season with Florida, though, he’s performing admirably in first-pair minutes while Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad recover from offseason surgeries. The Panthers might have sunk without him.

Last week: 13
Sean’s ranking: 9
Dom’s ranking: 10

We’re big fans of any player with rocket skates, especially when it comes from a slightly unexpected source. Rasmus Kupari owning the league’s fastest speed so far this season at 24 mph certainly qualifies.

Last week: 9
Sean’s ranking: 10
Dom’s ranking: 9

There’s a pretty strong correlation between “Guys We Like” and “Guys On First Name Basis.” Sid. Connor. Auston. Tage. (Quinn!)

It’s a universal sign of “this guy rules” and it of course applies to Dougie. He’s been his same ol’ self this season: Five goals and 12 points in 15 games, amazing offense, questionable defense. The usual. Nothing less. Nothing more. You know what you get with Dougie and what you get is an elite defenseman, consistently one of the league’s very best.

Last week: 8
Sean’s ranking: 11
Dom’s ranking: 11

Time to get scientific. Plenty of times this season, when we’ve landed on a Hurricanes game, Stefan Noesen has done … something. On Wednesday, it was wiring one past Flyers goalie Carter Hart. Of course, that was the only goal Carolina scored in that game, which is part of the reason they slipped this week. Noesen is a versatile player, but he probably shouldn’t be your sole source of offensive production.

Last week: 11
Sean’s ranking: 12
Dom’s ranking: 12

There might not be a player in the league right now with better vibes than William Nylander. He exists within his own aura of chilled cool, completely unfazed by anything around him. Whether it’s looming contract talks, a swarm of defenders trying to take the puck off him, or your confused uncle still saying they need to trade him for a defenseman with some snarl — it all rolls off him. To the rest of the league, the Leafs as an entity can be pretty annoying. Nylander is the exception to the rule — he’s impossible to hate.

Also, make some time for Nylander’s Swedish origin story from Jonas Siegal, it’s good stuff.

Last week: 18
Sean’s ranking: 13
Dom’s ranking: 14

Enjoyed this a few days ago from Josh Yohe. Lars Eller remains one of the most defensively reliable forwards in the league. There’s always space for a fella like that.

Last week: 112
Sean’s ranking: 15
Dom’s ranking: 113

Stuart Skinner went out, had three solid games in a row and reminded everyone that the Oilers — if they get half-decent goaltending — should not be counted out, pathetic start be damned. And we appreciate that.

Last week: 14
Sean’s ranking: 14
Dom’s ranking: 15

Brandon Hagel (eight goals, eight assists) plays each game like a man determined to prove that his contract wasn’t an overpay. Integrity matters.

Last week: 16
Sean’s ranking: 16
Dom’s ranking: 16

John Gibson (.927 save percentage, fifth in the NHL in GSAx) is finally playing up to his reputation. That’s good for him, good for the Ducks and good for the trade market.

Last week: 28
Sean’s ranking: 18
Dom’s ranking: 17

Give it up for Dylan Strome, an early Cy Young candidate (seven goals, zero assists) who has felt underrated for a while now.

Last week: 17
Sean’s ranking: 17
Dom’s ranking: 18

Logan Cooley’s name has the word “cool” in it, so he immediately gets points for that. We’re still waiting for him to do anything nearly as cool as his goal down under, but it’s certainly coming soon. His skill is on display every night.

Last week: 15
Sean’s ranking: 19
Dom’s ranking: 20

Alex DeBrincat has fit like a glove with Detroit. The Short King Wing started off red hot and looks in line for a huge season suiting up next to Dylan Larkin every night. We love when a guy finds his forever home, especially when it’s a lil’ guy who just fills the net.

Last week: 20
Sean’s ranking: 20
Dom’s ranking: 19

Filip Gustavsson (.872 save percentage, a league-worst minus-8.03 GSAx) is graciously giving everyone else in The Athletic NHL fantasy league a shot at beating Sean each week.

Last week: 24
Sean’s ranking: 22
Dom’s ranking: 21

There was something very endearing about this nugget on Jake Sanderson from Ian Mendes. He seems to be very serious about adopting the nickname “Snake,” given to him by assistant coach Jack Capuano — and also, somehow, made it well into his 20s without anyone ever calling him that.

Last week: 22
Sean’s ranking: 21
Dom’s ranking: 24

A huge chunk of the Blues’ well-being hinges on Robert Thomas bouncing back from a weird post-extension season in 2022-23, and he’s managed to do that thus far, partially because he’s shooting the puck himself more frequently. He’s one of the league’s better playmakers, and averaging two extra shots per 60 won’t hurt anyone.

Last week: 19
Sean’s ranking: 23
Dom’s ranking: 23

Tage? Tage.

Last week: 29
Sean’s ranking: 25
Dom’s ranking: 22

On a defense group that features Rasmus Andersson, MacKenzie Weegar, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, it takes a lot of gusto for your agent to say you’re the best one on the team. It’s an even spicier take when you’re Nikita Zadorov: a career third-pair defenseman.

We have nothing but respect for that kind of self-confidence. The way he’s been unafraid to call out how pathetic the rest of his team has been most of the season has also been admirable.

25. Philadelphia Flyers, 8-7-1

Last week: 25
Sean’s ranking: 24
Dom’s ranking: 26

The Flyers have put together a surprisingly likable team this year so there are a lot of options. We can’t resist a misfit toy putting it together on a new team though. Shoutout to Sean Walker who is crushing it in a top-four role after being a salary cap dump last summer. Walker has seven points in 16 games and a 59 percent expected goals rate. Good for him!

Last week: 14
Sean’s ranking: 26
Dom’s ranking: 25

Sebastian Aho soldiers on, despite never having a shot at being the best hockey player named “Sebastian Aho.” Gutsy. Courageous.

Last week: 21
Sean’s ranking: 27
Dom’s ranking: 27

Brandon Tanev’s commitment to the bit is unparalleled. In a league that takes itself too seriously, his annual Saw A Ghost headshot remains a national treasure.

Last week: 23
Sean’s ranking: 28
Dom’s ranking: 29

Goal Caufield is elite at scoring goals in general. Change the clocks to say “overtime,” though, and he becomes Wayne Gretzky in his prime. Maybe better.

Last week Caufield scored his seventh career overtime winner in just 136 games, smashing the previous record held by Frank Finnigan by 86 games. Any time you can obliterate a record held by a guy who sounds like he was born in the 19th century, you must be doing something right. Caufield is just automatic in the extra frame.

Last week: 26
Sean’s ranking: 30
Dom’s ranking: 28

An upper-body injury is going to cost Tommy Novak some time, but he still deserves a spot here. He didn’t play an NHL game until he was 24, caught fire at the end of last season and was following it up.

Last week: 30
Sean’s ranking: 29
Dom’s ranking: 31

Nick Foligno — now there’s a man who understands his job.

Last week: 27
Sean’s ranking: 31
Dom’s ranking: 30

The American Dream? It’s job security in a high-paying field regardless of performance. Jarmo Kekalainen is living the dream, baby! We salute you, Jarmo!

(Adam Fantilli, who set a franchise record with 10 shots Thursday night, is nice too).

Last week: 31
Sean’s ranking: 32
Dom’s ranking: 32

The San Jose Sharks are a special group, but as long as Tomas Hertl is there this is an easy choice. One of the most fun-loving players in the league is unfortunately a man on his own island this year, but what he’s doing despite the lack of help is extremely impressive. The Sharks may only have 21 goals this season (!), but Hertl somehow has a point on 11 of them. He’s doing his part.

(Photo: Lawrence Scott / Getty Images)

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