Stanley Cup playoffs Power Rankings: The X factor for each team


The Stanley Cup playoffs are finally upon us, which means our power rankings have dwindled down to a sweet 16. The matchups are set and the anticipation is high. We're ready to drop the puck already. For this week's edition -- voted, as always, by ESPN's panel of experts -- we looked at an X factor for each team, a player who could make or break his team's first-round series.

How we rank: We use a panel of voters, and these rankings reflect which teams voters think would win head-to-head matchups. Higher-ranked teams are favored over lower-ranked teams. A run of wins doesn't guarantee a jump, and a couple of losses doesn't guarantee a fall.

Previous rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22 | Week 23 | Week 24 | Week 25 | Week 26

1. Nashville Predators

Record: 53-18-11
Week 26 Ranking: No. 1

Nashville's best asset is its depth, which is why we sometimes don't fully appreciate that the Predators have a stud defenseman by the name of P.K. Subban. He has the ability to shut down any opponent's top offensive players -- and get in their heads.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 54-23-5
Week 26 Ranking: No. 5

Steven Stamkos' health is the big question here, as the No. 1 center missed four of Tampa Bay's past seven regular-season games because of a lower-body injury. We don't have to remind you how important Stamkos is to the Lightning. Remember how his torn meniscus last season pretty much cost Tampa Bay a playoff spot?

3. Winnipeg Jets

Record: 52-20-10
Week 26 Ranking: No. 3

It's unfair to opponents that Patrik Laine, the sharp-shooting winger, gave Alex Ovechkin chase for the goal-scoring crown until late in the season, is on Winnipeg's second line. We think the soon-to-be 20-year-old is poised to become a breakout star of the postseason. (Plus, he already has a decent playoff beard.)

4. Washington Capitals

Record: 49-26-7
Week 26 Ranking: No. 6

Coach Barry Trotz says he thinks Philipp Grubauer can be the guy in goal for the Caps -- and the 26-year-old German netminder has been strong down the stretch. But benching Braden Holtby, who has started 59 of Washington's past 60 playoff games, is a bold move. The goaltender position as a whole is the X factor here.

5. Boston Bruins

Record: 50-20-12
Week 26 Ranking: No. 2

Boston's run to the postseason has been all about the fusion of veterans and youth. But one vet -- the second-oldest man in this playoffs, trailing only Minnesota's Matt Cullen -- stands above the rest. Never underestimate the presence of 41-year-old Zdeno Chara, especially come playoff time.

6. Vegas Golden Knights

Record: 51-24-7
Week 26 Ranking: No. 4

William Karlsson hasn't just shattered expectations, he has sent shards all across the league. After all, the center scored 43 goals after recording only six last season for Columbus. While Vegas' leading scorer has maintained his pace after a sizzling debut, Wild Bill has only five games' worth of playoff experience. If Vegas advances, it will be because Karlsson keeps it up, even as the spotlight gets brighter.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 47-29-6
Week 26 Ranking: No. 7

Remember when Jake Guentzel had nine goals in the Penguins' first 11 playoff games last year as a rookie? And then got hot again in the Stanley Cup Final? Guentzel has been a streaky player during his second season with Pittsburgh. That's fine, as long as he heats up at the right time again.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 49-26-7
Week 26 Ranking: No. 8

The Leafs have above-average depth at forward -- and, of course, a stud No. 1 center in Auston Matthews, who seems to be hitting his stride at the right time (with 10 points in his past six games). The real difference-maker for the Maple Leafs will be their defense, which has been shoddy at times this season.

9. Anaheim Ducks

Record: 44-25-13
Week 26 Ranking: No. 15

The Ducks went 10-1-1 over their final 12 games, and defenseman Josh Manson looked great during that stretch since returning from an upper-body injury. That is welcome news for Anaheim, considering that it needs some blueliners to step up with Cam Fowler (shoulder) probably out for the first round.

10. San Jose Sharks

Record: 45-27-10
Week 26 Ranking: No. 10

Is Joe Thornton coming back, or what? Jumbo Joe missed the past 35 games of the regular season, and although the Sharks have fared OK without him, they're much better when he's in the lineup. He is skating with the team but isn't expected to play in Game 1.

11. Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 45-30-7
Week 26 Ranking: No. 11

The Capitals have one of the most explosive forward groups in the league. The Blue Jackets counter with one of the most dynamic defense pairings in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. We bet those two will be on the ice a lot against Ovechkin's line. Game on.

12. Los Angeles Kings

Record: 45-29-8
Week 26 Ranking: No. 12

Anze Kopitar is a Hart Trophy candidate this year. He might win the Selke, too. The reason the center is getting so much awards love? Kopitar tallied 31 more points (with 92) than his closest teammate (Dustin Brown). Secondary scoring will be the X factor for Los Angeles.

13. Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 42-26-14
Week 26 Ranking: No. 9

It's always about the goaltending in Philly. And, once again, that's what we're eyeing as the Flyers bank on Brian Elliott to return to form quickly after coming back from injury. One stat that stands out: Elliott has been terrible against Pittsburgh this season (5.31 GAA, .864 save percentage in two appearances).

14. Minnesota Wild

Record: 45-26-11
Week 26 Ranking: No. 14

We know what a big loss Ryan Suter is. He shouldered so many minutes and so much responsibility for the Wild. That blow will be softened somewhat if Minnesota gets Jared Spurgeon back soon. Spurgeon is practicing with the club again but awaiting medical clearance.

15. New Jersey Devils

Record: 44-29-9
Week 26 Ranking: No. 13

Sure, it has been the Taylor Hall show in New Jersey, as the winger has willed this team into the playoffs. But the Devils' success in pulling off an upset might hinge on how the kids perform (we're talking about Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher, of course).

16. Colorado Avalanche

Record: 43-30-9
Week 26 Ranking: No. 16

Without their No. 1 defenseman and No. 1 goaltender, the Avalanche are looking a bit thin on the back end. Nikita Zadorov can sometimes play enforcer for the Avalanche, and he'll need to play nasty against a gritty Predators team.