There have been some significant surprises during the 2023-24 NHL season thus far: the Edmonton Oilers being the first team to fire its head coach (thanks to hanging out near the bottom of the standings); the Vegas Golden Knights encountering anything but a Stanley Cup hangover; the Vancouver Canucks being all over the scoring leaderboard and early-season awards ballots.
What have been the biggest positive surprises for each team? That’s what we aim to explore this week, along with unveiling a new 1-32 order in the Power Rankings, led by a new team at No. 1.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors each send in a 1-32 poll based on the games through Wednesday, which generates our master list here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the previous edition, published Nov. 10. Points percentages are through Thursday’s games.
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 86.67%
Next seven days: vs. MTL (Nov. 18), @ TB (Nov. 20), @ FLA (Nov. 22)
Boston surprised us all — again! — by rocketing up the standings and then refusing to budge. The Bruins defied all preseason predictions and projections about their age and depth and loss of key personnel. Boston is a beast once more. We should have seen that coming.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 79.41%
Next seven days: @ PHI (Nov. 18), @ PIT (Nov. 19), @ DAL (Nov. 22)
Vegas has been almost entirely healthy to start this season — and frankly, that’s a surprise. Has any team dealt with compounding injuries like the Golden Knights’ in seasons past? In the early going this season, Vegas is at basically full strength — and holds a top spot in the standings to prove it.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 82.14%
Next seven days: @ NJ (Nov. 18), @ DAL (Nov. 20), @ PIT (Nov. 22)
New York is enjoying some of Jonathan Quick’s best work in years — and that’s a surprise. Less than a year ago Los Angeles was parting ways with a goaltender who appeared past his prime. Hold that thought. The 37-year-old Quick has had a remarkable resurgence with the Rangers, to the tune of a 4-0-1 record, .928 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. Bully for the Blueshirts.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 73.53%
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Nov. 18), vs. SJ (Nov. 20), @ COL (Nov. 22)
Vancouver is the surprise of the season, full stop. Who would have thought Elias Pettersson was ready to pop off, Quinn Hughes would be a Norris Trophy front-runner, Thatcher Demko would be exceptional and the Canucks themselves would be one of the NHL’s best teams? And all at once! Vancouver has pulled out all the (shocking) stops.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 76.67%
Next seven days: vs. COL (Nov. 18), vs. NYR (Nov. 20), vs. VGK (Nov. 22)
Dallas is getting a surprising star turn from Wyatt Johnston. He came out of the gate averaging nearly a point per game to lead the Stars in scoring as we approach the quarter mark. Johnston is also a strong performer on the penalty kill, even tallying shorthanded goals in consecutive games.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 70.00%
Next seven days: vs. STL (Nov. 18), @ ARI (Nov. 20)
Los Angeles took a chance on Cam Talbot. It has played out surprisingly well for them. The veteran netminder has put a down year in Ottawa behind him and whipped up a shockingly good start through 10 games for the Kings (7-3-1, .923 SV%, 2.21 GAA). Talbot has been through his share of turmoil, but a rebirth in L.A. is paying dividends.
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 65.63%
Next seven days: @ ANA (Nov. 17), vs. EDM (Nov. 20), vs. BOS (Nov. 22)
Florida has played primarily without two of its top defenseman (Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour) and yet the Panthers have remained surprisingly stout defensively. They’re top 10 in goals against (averaging fewer than three per game), and Sergei Bobrovsky has been on point in the crease. Florida deserves ample credit for its unexpected goal-prevention fortitude.
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 66.67%
Next seven days: @ DAL (Nov. 18), @ NSH (Nov. 20), vs. VAN (Nov. 22)
Colorado has had something going in net with Alexandar Georgiev. Granted, he and the Avalanche at large have hit the skids recently, but that doesn’t totally diminish how surprisingly well Georgiev started (6-2-0, .915 SV%, 2.40 GAA) in his new environment. If Colorado can shore up its defensive play, expect Georgiev to bounce back into form, too.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 60.00%
Next seven days: vs. DET (Nov. 17), vs. MIN (Nov. 19)
Toronto has ached for consistency from William Nylander. Well, consider this season thus far as Nylander answering that bell. The winger surprisingly emerged as the club’s top scorer (with 22 points through 15 games) and has shown genuine defensive effort and timely playmaking. Nylander used to be all hot and cold; this season he’s unexpectedly even keeled, and it has been everything for Toronto.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 59.38%
Next seven days: vs. TOR (Nov. 17), vs. NJ (Nov. 22)
Detroit announced itself with a surprisingly strong early push that showed off not only the Red Wings’ enviable scoring depth (Alex DeBrincat has fit in seamlessly, thanks for asking) but also their ability to tap into the defensive habits that were missing in previous campaigns. The inevitable ebbs and flows will happen, but that unexpected opening salvo showed the Red Wings have potential to make a push for the playoffs this season.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 56.25%
Next seven days: vs. PIT (Nov. 18), vs. EDM (Nov. 22)
Carolina has been waiting on the best of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and by gosh, this might be it. Kotkaniemi was the Hurricanes’ surprising points leader through 13 games, and he has paired that offensive prowess with sound defensive play. Dare we anoint Kotkaniemi a bona fide two-way center now? He certainly looks the part.
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 56.25%
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Nov. 17), vs. STL (Nov. 19), vs. MTL (Nov. 22)
Anaheim boasts a striking rookie talent in Leo Carlsson. The 18-year-old’s surprisingly positive start included becoming the youngest Ducks player in history to score a hat trick, to go along with his nearly point-per-game output. There are growing pains for any freshman, but Carlsson hasn’t looked a bit out of place on the game’s biggest stage.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 60.00%
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Nov. 17), vs. ARI (Nov. 18), @ TB (Nov. 22)
Winnipeg’s depth has been its surprisingly stabilizer — and greatest asset. While Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele can put up points; others like Nino Niederreiter, Mason Appleton and Cole Perfetti have been linchpins in helping the Jets stay upright through early-season ups and downs. Winnipeg appears to have a good base in place.
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 64.29%
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Nov. 18), vs. BUF (Nov. 22)
Washington has been boosted by a surprising youth movement. Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas are leading a charge of emerging stars who have put Washington back on a winning path (compared to earlier this season when they were not). Given Alex Ovechkin still walks among them, we didn’t anticipate Washington’s future stepping to the forefront. But it’s been a real positive.
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 56.67%
Next seven days: @ LA (Nov. 18), @ ANA (Nov. 19), @ ARI (Nov. 22)
St. Louis has shown a surprising amount of pop lately, like in a dynamic 8-2 win over Colorado (which included hat tricks from Brayden Schenn and Pavel Buchnevich). That was the Blues’ fourth win in five games and has them tracking in a positive direction following a disappointing 2022-23. Helping that cause? An unexpectedly strong start from Jordan Binnington (.923 SV%, 2.52 GAA). The Blues’ top tender being back in tip-top shape is everything.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 56.67%
Next seven days: vs. NYR (Nov. 18), @ DET (Nov. 22)
New Jersey owns the league’s best power play — thanks to a surprising series of newcomers. Tyler Toffoli — acquired via trade — along with rookie defenseman Luke Hughes (and, of course, his brother Jack prior to injury) plus assistant coach Travis Green — who replaced the departing Andrew Brunette — have powered the Devils’ special teams to lofty heights. Where would New Jersey be without its potent power play?
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 53.33%
Next seven days: @ CAR (Nov. 18), vs. VGK (Nov. 19), vs. NYR (Nov. 22)
Pittsburgh has one veteran defenseman playing surprisingly well this season — and we’re not talking Erik Karlsson. Kris Letang has taken a back seat to the Penguins’ other star blueliner, and somehow that’s propelled Letang toward some of his most efficient — and entertaining — hockey. Whether it’s killing penalties, closing out wins or simply patrolling the blue line with ease, Letang looks a decade younger than his 36 years.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 52.94%
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Nov. 18), vs. BOS (Nov. 20), vs. WPG (Nov. 22)
Tampa Bay got Andrei Vasilevskiy back at practice this week in surprisingly short order after his back surgery eight weeks ago. The Lightning are at their best with Vasilevskiy between the pipes, and it’s a shot in the arm for the team to see him recovering at a (slightly) accelerated speed.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 56.25%
Next seven days: @ WPG (Nov. 18), vs. LA (Nov. 20), vs. STL (Nov. 22)
Arizona may be the most fun surprise of the season simply because expectations were decidedly low from the outset. But these Coyotes have no quit, and the likes of Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Sean Durzi and Logan Cooley have made Arizona a team that has a real chance to win each night. That’s a nice boost from recent lackluster seasons.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 53.13%
Next seven days: vs. VGK (Nov. 18), vs. CBJ (Nov. 19), @ NYI (Nov. 22)
Philadelphia can be scattered. Joel Farabee is their surprising calm in a storm. The 23-year-old is no longer on the cusp but fully arrived as an offensive presence with confidence and skill to spare. The future looks bright for Farabee with the Flyers.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 47.06%
Next seven days: @ BOS (Nov. 18), @ ANA (Nov. 22)
Montreal is stacked with young stars, but veteran Sean Monahan has been the biggest surprise. Putting injury troubles behind him has allowed Monahan to look better than he has in years, and that productivity — kicking in at nearly a point-per-game pace — is helping keep the Canadiens in contention every game.
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 46.88%
Next seven days: @ CGY (Nov. 18), vs. PHI (Nov. 22)
New York has benefited from Noah Dobson’s surprising breakout. The 23-year-old has taken a serious step over last season and not only averages nearly a point per game (to lead the Islanders in scoring), but looks good defensively doing it while eating up over 25 minutes per game to boot.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 46.88%
Next seven days: @ WPG (Nov. 17), @ CHI (Nov. 19), @ WSH (Nov. 22)
Buffalo has some serious talents — and J.J. Peterka is proving to be among them. It’s been a breakout season for the Sabres’ forward, from his consistent production (10 points in 15 games) to timely playmaking to smart defensive skills. Basically, Peterka appears to be the whole package — and that’s positivity Buffalo needs to believe in.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 40.00%
Next seven days: vs. OTT (Nov. 18), vs. TOR (Nov. 19)
Minnesota is having a moment with Marco Rossi. The 22-year-old came into this season expected to take on a bottom-six role, but Rossi surprisingly worked his way into a top-line rotation. Through 15 games Rossi had already bested all previous career marks with five goals and eight points. Bet the Wild didn’t see that production coming so soon.
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 50.00%
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Nov. 18)
Ottawa has been through quite a bit already this season. What Mathieu Joseph has accomplished amid those struggles is worth generating some positivity. Joseph tallied 12 points in his first 13 games (11 at even strength) and has improved his all-around game to the point where coach DJ Smith can trust him almost anywhere.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 44.44%
Next seven days: @ VAN (Nov. 18), vs. CGY (Nov. 20), vs. SJ (Nov. 22)
Seattle has an unlikely hero on its hands with Eeli Tolvanen. He’s brought the Kraken consistency in an otherwise tumultuous campaign, and his chemistry with Jaden Schwartz is divine. Tolvanen could be a catalyst in Seattle working its way back into playoff contention this season.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 43.75%
Next seven days: vs. NYI (Nov. 18), @ SEA (Nov. 20), @ NSH (Nov. 22)
Calgary has a surprising performer on its hands with rookie Martin Pospisil. The freshman forward made his NHL debut this month and collected two goals and three points in his first four games. Pospisil overcame a litany of injuries to finally realize this NHL dream. That’s the kind of positive energy these Flames need to tap into throughout the years ahead.
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 35.71%
Next seven days: @ NSH (Nov. 18), vs. BUF (Nov. 19), @ CBJ (Nov. 22)
Chicago is all about Connor Bedard. But don’t sleep on the surprisingly important contributions from Corey Perry. He’s top three in points for the Blackhawks while bringing good energy to 5-on-5 play and special teams. Not to mention, he can be nasty when he wants to be. Perry has been more than expected.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 36.67%
Next seven days: @ TB (Nov. 18), @ FLA (Nov. 20), @ CAR (Nov. 22)
Edmonton is lacking in good surprises this season, but Evan Bouchard might fall kitty-corner to that category. He has produced offensively (three goals and 12 points in 13 games), and Bouchard’s defensive play has eclipsed most of his teammates’. That’s something!
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 33.33%
Next seven days: vs. CHI (Nov. 18), vs. COL (Nov. 20), vs. CGY (Nov. 22)
Nashville loaded up on veterans this offseason and Ryan O’Reilly has been cream of that crop. The veteran’s surprisingly stellar start (eight goals and 12 points in 14 games) had to be the best-case scenario these Predators had envisioned in signing O’Reilly. His adaptability and elite-level output has been welcomed.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 35.29%
Next seven days: @ WSH (Nov. 18), @ PHI (Nov. 19), vs. CHI (Nov. 22)
Columbus has to like what Jack Roslovic is doing. The Blue Jackets forward has endured ups and downs early in his career to finally appear settled and productive in a consistent role that’s led to more responsibility and ice time. If Roslovic can keep that up, he might Columbus’ most surprising storyline of the entire season.
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 20.59%
Next seven days: @ VAN (Nov. 20), @ SEA (Nov. 22)
San Jose beating Edmonton for its second win of the season (which came in consecutive games!) has to be the surprising high point in an otherwise historically challenging season. Granted, it’s been a terrible season for the Oilers, but besting Connor McDavid & Co. in any season is something on which to hang one’s hat.