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Power Rankings: Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks are the early front-runners

Updated: October 12, 2017, 2:54 PM ET
By ESPN.com

NHL Power RankingsESPN Illustration

Our committee of 20 hockey experts has voted. Granted, it's based on a small sample size, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins no longer rule the Power Rankings roost. A young, high-scoring squad has roused its long-suffering fan base in Toronto to become the early team to beat, followed by some of the usual suspects -- and a few surprises (welcome, Vegas!).

If the first week of hockey was any indication, it's going to be a fun season. 

(How we rank: These rankings reflect which teams voters think would win head-to-head matchups. So higher-ranked teams would be favored against lower-ranked teams. A run of wins doesn't guarantee a jump, and a couple of losses doesn't guarantee a fall.)

1. Toronto Maple Leafs, record: 3-1-0

The Maple Leafs have been even better than advertised, with a thrilling overtime win against the Blackhawks worthy of particular note. And of the 20 Maple Leafs who have skated a shift thus far, 19 have at least one point.

2. Chicago Blackhawks, 3-0-1

Chicago brought the band back together this offseason. And -- how about that? -- the old Hawks have a few more hits left in them. Get to know 19-year-old rookie Alex DeBrincat (three points in four games). He has lead-singer capabilities.

3. Washington Capitals, 2-1-1

Alex Ovechkin has cooled off after his first two games -- he's now on pace for only 164 goals -- but it's hard to find a weakness on a team that seemed to have all the boxes checked off last season as well.

4. St. Louis Blues, 4-0-0

The Blues are 4-0 for the second time in franchise history, and -- even better -- their scoring is balanced, with five players at two-plus goals already. This isn't just the Vladimir Tarasenko Show (though we'd tune in for that, too).

5. Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1-1

Those who cited the Penguins' lack of depth as a weakness this preseason look spot on thus far. On the other hand, this team has a knack for creating scoring stars out of nowhere, and a PDO (a way to measure "puck luck") that is second worst in the league means that the sticks will start to heat up soon.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1-0

Artemi Panarin -- who was brought over from Chicago in one of the summer's highest-profile trades -- hasn't missed a beat with his new team, logging three assists through three games. And after it looked like Sonny Milano might have plateaued; the 21-year-old already has four goals this season.

7. Los Angeles Kings, 2-0-1

Jonathan Quick leads a stingy defense (one goal allowed in two games) and Anze Kopitar (two goals in his first two games) is scoring again. It's (kind of) like 2014 all over again.

8. Edmonton Oilers, 1-2-1

It's off to a rocky start, but this is still the Connor McDavid Show (see: hat trick on opening night) -- and this is still a team expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. No need to McWorry.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1-0

The bad news for Tampa? Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 3.66 goals-against average and .900 save percentage so far. The good news? He's going to finish with stats much better than those, and his team is 2-1-0 despite its netminder's early struggles.

10. Vegas Golden Knights, 3-0-0

The Knights are the feel-good story in sports, plus they're fun to watch -- and we're not just talking about Cirque du Soleil intermission acts and glow-in-the-dark drumlines. James Neal, by the way, is on pace for 137 goals.

11. Anaheim Ducks, 2-1-1

The Ducks are doing well while managing around injuries to key players such as defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. And hey, their streak of 29 consecutive home wins over the Flames couldn't last forever.

12. Calgary Flames, 3-1-0

The mullet has landed! Jaromir Jagr, age 45, made his Flames debut Wednesday night against the Kings, and will try to defy his age again this season. He racked up a respectable 46 points last year in his 23rd (!!!) NHL season.

13. Colorado Avalanche, 3-1-0

After a woeful 2016-17 and a summer beset by Matt Duchene drama, the Avs collected three wins in their first four games -- two on the road. Not bad for second-year coach Jared Bednar.

14. Carolina Hurricanes, 1-0-1

It has been somewhat of an inauspicious start for a team many thought would take a big step forward this season. But on the bright side, the Canes are playing a gentlemanly game this season, being whistled for the league's fewest minor penalties thus far (12 PIM).

15. New Jersey Devils, 3-0-0

Given that the Devils have a decades-long history of scoring struggles -- perhaps self-inflicted -- the fact that they've scored 16 goals in their first three games so far this season has shocked the hockey world. While their 13.2 even-strength shooting percentage leans to the unsustainable side, the injection of skill in the form of rookies Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, along with trade acquisition Marcus Johansson, has been readily apparent.

16. Detroit Red Wings, 2-1-0

After three seasons of mediocrity, goalie Jimmy Howard had a bounce-back (and injury-shortened) 2016-17 season, highlighted by a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He has picked right back up where he left off, sporting a 1.44/.961 split in two starts thus far.

17. Ottawa Senators, 1-0-2

If the goal for the Senators in the early going was to stay in the mix without Erik Karlsson on the ice, mission accomplished. As Karlsson inches closer to a return -- possibly as soon as this weekend -- Ottawa has four points through three games.

18. Philadelphia Flyers, 2-2-0

Ghost Bear is back, baby! After a sophomore slump in 2016-17, Shayne Gostisbehere has five points through four games, and the Union College product seems to have earned back the faith of coach Dave Hakstol, as he's skating more than 22 minutes per game.

19. New York Rangers, 1-3-0

Although the overall results haven't been fantastic, the Rangers' big move this summer -- landing Kevin Shattenkirk for a team-friendly cap hit of $6.65 million per season -- has gone about as well as one could hope. He has four points through four games, and has the highest average ice time of his career by nearly a minute. 

20. Nashville Predators, 1-2-0

The catfish hangover won't last long. After a tough opening stretch on the road at Pittsburgh and Boston, Nashville rebounded with a wild win in its Smashville home opener.

21. Minnesota Wild, 0-1-1

The Wild haven't won a game yet, but they also haven't had the services of Zach Parise. And goalie Devan Dubnyk, who has been a Vezina top-5 finalist four of the past five years, is still around.

22. Montreal Canadiens, 1-3-0

Montreal tends to be a strong possession team, and that's no different this season, as the Canadiens are second in the league in Corsi for percentage, at 60.4. Puck luck has been a problem, as they sport the league's worst PDO (90.7). That should turn around, especially given the addition of the electrifying Jonathan Drouin over the summer.

23. Dallas Stars, 1-2-0

The Stars are clearly suffering a hangover after winning the offseason Stanley Cup. But Tyler Seguin's shot is still functional.

24. Winnipeg Jets, 1-2-0

A dominant 5-2 win over the Oilers on Monday shows why this team could be a sneaky playoff contender -- perhaps as soon as this season.

25. Boston Bruins, 1-2-0

For a team with an aging core built around Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand, the youth movement is alive and well in Boston, with under-21 skaters Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy already tallying multiple points.

26. New York Islanders, 1-2-1

The Isles' big offseason move, trading for Jordan Eberle, appears to be paying early dividends, as the former Oiler has found quick chemistry with franchise center John Tavares.

27. San Jose Sharks, 0-2-0

The Sharks aren't used to starting 0-2 -- it hasn't happened in more than a decade. Coach Peter DeBoer might juggle his lines, but San Jose fans need not fret just yet.

28. Florida Panthers, 1-0-1

Possession stats are not the be-all, end-all for generating success. But the Panthers have to be encouraged by their team-wide Corsi for percentage thus far; they're currently at 62.7 at even strength, tops in the NHL.

29. Vancouver Canucks, 1-0-1

Reports of the Sedin twins' demise have been largely exaggerated. They're still shelling out assists, even with less ice time.

30. Buffalo Sabres, 0-2-1

The overall results haven't been fantastic through three games, but the Sabres have a legitimate young superstar to build around in Jack Eichel. And with the league's third-lowest even-strength PDO (91.6), their puck luck is bound to turn around.

31. Arizona Coyotes, 0-2-1

Arizona underwent a significant renovation this summer, bolstering its young core with a new coach (Rick Tocchet), starting goaltender (Antti Raanta) and No. 1 center (Derek Stepan). Sometimes it takes a little while to get used to the new furniture before you can appreciate it.

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