There are all kinds of pressures in hockey. Sometimes it’s there to encourage more out of a player. Other times, pressure is a positive reflection of what promise lies in potential.
The NHL has turned the page to this final month of the regular season. As it goes, we’ll be watching how one player from each club handles the weight of a little added expectation — good, bad or (maybe) ugly.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the last edition, published March 30. Points paces are through Tuesday’s games.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 0.757
Next seven days: @ WPG (Apr. 8), @ EDM (Apr. 9)
Player under pressure: Josh Manson. Manson arrived in Colorado only a few weeks ago, but the pending UFA already said he hopes to stick around long term. In that case, Manson must keep upping the ante. The 31-year-old blueliner is a depth piece for the Avs, and every shift must be meaningful. Colorado is primed for a Stanley Cup run, and how Manson contributes will begin determining his future.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 0.743
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Apr. 8), @ NSH (Apr. 9), vs. ANA (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Ben Chiarot. It’s not all picking on the new guys, I swear. Like it or not, Florida swung hard on the Chiarot trade — and both sides need a strong return. Chiarot, another pending UFA, is playing for his next contract, and with Aaron Ekblad unavailable, Florida is counting on the new arrival to fill in the gaps now and into playoffs. Great expectations and opportunity.
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 0.700
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Apr. 7), vs. NYI (Apr. 8), vs. ANA (Apr. 10), @ NYR (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Max Domi. The loss of Jesperi Kotkaniemi impacts Carolina’s forward depth, especially because Kotkaniemi was used both at center and on the wing. Enter Domi, who came over in a trade from Columbus and has been working his way into a nice role. Can Domi expand that now, and prove — with free agency looming — he can be an upper-echelon, top-nine skater every night?
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 0.659
Next seven days: @ ANA (Apr. 6), @ SJ (Apr. 7), @ SEA (Apr. 9), vs. SEA (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Ryan Carpenter. Sean Monahan had season-ending hip surgery. Calgary should give Carpenter the first crack at replacing him as fourth-line center. After rolling in and out of the Flames’ lineup, Carpenter has a golden opportunity to be a consistent contributor and with free agency looming, that’s a desirable (albeit more pressure-packed) place to be.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 0.686
Next seven days: @ DAL (Apr. 7), vs. MTL (Apr. 9), vs. BUF (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Jack Campbell. Campbell’s rib injury was woefully timed, in the middle of both a contract year and a rough stretch of individual performances. Well, the Maple Leafs’ All-Star netminder is back in the crease, just as Petr Mrazek went down long term because of a groin ailment. Campbell was fantastic in his first two games back this week; can he keep that up in a crowded April schedule? The pressure is on.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 0.674
Next seven days: @ WSH (Apr. 6), vs. BOS (Apr. 8), vs. BUF (Apr. 10), @ DAL (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Ondrej Palat. March wasn’t exactly kind to the Lightning or Palat. The pending UFA managed just four assists in 18 games, while Tampa suffered a stretch of winning just four of 11 games. The team game has rebounded, but surely the Lightning need more from Palat. Tampa knows better than most that it’s all hands on deck when the playoffs are approaching.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 0.659
Next seven days: @ STL (Apr. 8), vs. LA (Apr. 10), vs. EDM (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Cam Talbot. Everyone loves the pressure of competition. Especially when you’re a team on fire (like the Wild are). Marc-Andre Fleury has landed in Minnesota. For Talbot, it can (and should) add a little juice. He has been the Wild’s incumbent most of the season, and Fleury’s presence is added motivation to stay on top of his game. It definitely seems to be working so far.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 0.664
Next seven days: @ TB (Apr. 8), @ WSH (Apr. 10), vs. STL (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Jeremy Swayman. It has been a stellar season for Swayman, but he has hit a bit of a rough patch. The rookie goalie recorded a dissatisfying .893 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average in March. April is jam-packed for everyone, and the Atlantic Division playoff-seeding battle is real. Swayman will be a major factor in determining where Boston ends up.
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 0.676
Next seven days: vs. PIT (Apr. 7), vs. OTT (Apr. 9), vs. CAR (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Andrew Copp. Copp is facing all manner of pressure in New York. The Rangers acquired him to be that missing piece, a puts-them-over-the-top difference-maker. There’s just precious little time for Copp to build chemistry with the likes of Artemi Panarin and other potential linemates before the playoffs. Every game from now until then will require Copp’s best efforts.
10. Edmonton Oilers
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 0.613
Next seven days: @ LA (Apr. 7), vs. COL (Apr. 9), @ MIN (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Mikko Koskinen. Unlike his goalie partner Mike Smith, Koskinen isn’t signed past this season. How he performs down the stretch, individually and in helping Edmonton glide into playoffs, will help determine where his future lies. Koskinen’s past four stats, however, haven’t been great: 2-1-0, .884 SV%, 3.74 GAA. That won’t do.
11. St. Louis Blues
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 0.638
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Apr. 6), vs. MIN (Apr. 8), vs. NYI (Apr. 9), @ BOS (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Jordan Binnington. What has gone wrong for Binnington? Ville Husso took over as the Blues’ starter in net, understandable given Binnington’s last appearance resulted in four goals allowed on 13 shots. This is just the first season of Binnington’s six-year, $36 million extension. The pressure is high to offer some return on investment here.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 0.648
Next seven days: @ NYR (Apr. 7), vs. WSH (Apr. 9), vs. NSH (Apr. 10), @ NYI (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Kasperi Kapanen. Since Jan. 25, Kapanen has scored two goals and collected six points. That’s poor even without the added weight of a contract year. Kapanen had so much potential and promise when the season started. This next month (and beyond) must be where he shows it again.
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 0.597
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Apr. 7), @ MIN (Apr. 10), @ CHI (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Adrian Kempe. The Kings are (surprisingly?) well positioned in the Pacific Division race. It’s time Kempe joined the rush. Prior to Saturday’s game in Winnipeg, Kempe had scored only one non-empty-net goal in 17 tilts. That hit-and-miss production isn’t the desired vibe for one of L.A.’s offensive stars, not with another maybe-magical postseason run upcoming.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 0.578
Next seven days: vs. VAN (Apr. 6), vs. ARI (Apr. 9), @ VAN (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Jack Eichel. Times are tense in Vegas, which is facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty (among others) are still out. The Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel for a reason — to make them elite. And Eichel is the league’s most prominent current player to have never seen the postseason. Both sides benefit from Eichel finding another gear.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 0.609
Next seven days: vs. TB (Apr. 6), @ PIT (Apr. 9), vs. BOS (Apr. 10), vs. PHI (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Vitek Vanecek. We know Washington will make playoffs, but Vanecek has a key role in determining how confidently the Capitals arrive there. He just gave up four goals on 13 shots to Minnesota and has been rather unspectacular overall lately. Backup Ilya Samsonov isn’t breaking down the door to take over. This next month is crucial for Vanecek to showcase how consistent he can be and pick the Capitals back up.
16. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 0.601
Next seven days: vs. TOR (Apr. 7), vs. NJ (Apr. 9), @ CHI (Apr. 10), vs. TB (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Denis Gurianov. Dallas needs Gurianov. No team in the playoff hunt has fewer 5-on-5 goals this season than the Stars. Gurianov has had success there, sitting tied for sixth on the team in 5-on-5 points (23). Plus, Gurianov’s seven points in his past 15 games were all at even strength. The issue is Gurianov’s recent underwhelming play (and healthy scratch). Will that light a fire under him?
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 0.609
Next seven days: @ OTT (Apr. 7), vs. FLA (Apr. 9), @ PIT (Apr. 10), vs. SJ (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Mattias Ekholm. Roman Josi needs help propping up Nashville’s defense. The Preds’ playoff hopes depend on it. Since mid-March, Nashville is top 10 in goals against and top five in shots against. Their blue line has been hit by waves of injury, and those still standing — like the veteran Ekholm — are under pressure to weather this storm before Nashville capsizes.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 0.529
Next seven days: @ VGK (Apr. 6), @ ARI (Apr. 7), vs. SJ (Apr. 9), vs. VGK (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Brock Boeser. Boeser is finally off the will-he-or-won’t-he-be-traded roller coaster. Now it’s all aboard the what-will-Boeser’s-next contract-be train. How much faith can the pending RFA offer to Vancouver’s management through April that will set both sides up for a mutually beneficial negotiation? Boeser has to be feeling some weight about what’s to come.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 0.529
Next seven days: @ CAR (Apr. 8), @ STL (Apr. 9), vs. PIT (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Mathew Barzal. There’s pressure on the Islanders to finish this season with pride, as stated last week by Barzal himself. New York has had a disappointing season, and Barzal asserted that playoff-caliber hockey down the stretch will illustrate that his club is building toward chasing a Stanley Cup. Now, Barzal can follow that up by showcasing his own offensive talents in April.
20. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 0.543
Next seven days: vs. DET (Apr. 6), vs. COL (Apr. 8), @ OTT (Apr. 10), @ MTL (Apr. 11)
Player under pressure: Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois’ production has slowed lately (he has one goal and four points since mid-March), which isn’t the high note on which he wants to end this regular season. There’s another contract negotiation on the horizon for Dubois when he becomes a RFA this summer. The direction Winnipeg is heading in organizationally seems murky. It would be best if Dubois uses the next month to showcase his offensive side again. But no pressure, right?
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 0.507
Next seven days: vs. PHI (Apr. 7), @ DET (Apr. 9)
Player under pressure: Jack Roslovic. It’s not just that Roslovic is a pending RFA. It’s that the Blue Jackets aren’t going to make playoffs (again) and some overhauls feel inevitable. What will that mean for the local product? Roslovic has tallied only two goals since March 10 and is prone to defensive mistakes. Being a consistent, positive contributor in what’s left of Columbus’ season can help set up Roslovic for his next chapter. Time to take advantage.
22. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 0.479
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Apr. 6), @ PHI (Apr. 9), @ CAR (Apr. 10), @ FLA (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Trevor Zegras. Anaheim’s no longer on the playoff track. So, the pressure is on for Zegras to keep having fun and executing those highlight-reel moves as only he can. Regardless of the Ducks’ station, Zegras is very much in the Calder Trophy race, too. Keeping his spirits high the rest of the way will be huge.
23. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 0.486
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Apr. 7), @ VAN (Apr. 9), @ NSH (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Tomas Hertl. You’re right; Hertl already signed his massive eight-year extension. No more pressure there, right? Here’s the thing: Hertl is now a face of the franchise, and once again, San Jose is going to miss playoffs. Hertl has to lead the charge in showing Sharks fans there’s light at the end of this tunnel, that good players are ready to carry San Jose back to prominence in the Western Conference. The process starts now.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 0.421
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Apr. 7), vs. DAL (Apr. 10), vs. LA (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Dylan Strome. Strome has worked hard to turn his season around. Achieving top-line status will benefit the pending RFA come summer (especially with arbitration rights). Strome’s focus now is leveraging an opportunity with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat as best he can over the next dozen games, to plant himself in the best negotiating plot.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 0.350
Next seven days: @ NJ (Apr. 7), @ TOR (Apr. 9), vs. WPG (Apr. 11)
Player under pressure: Jeff Petry. Canadiens GM Kent Hughes didn’t trade Petry in March — but he hasn’t ruled out doing so come summer. So every game from now until the end of April is like an open audition for teams that might covet his services. Time to put that best foot forward.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 0.450
Next seven days: @ WPG (Apr. 6), vs. CBJ (Apr. 9), vs. OTT (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Moritz Seider. The Calder Trophy has been Seider’s to lose this season. Now, it’s crunch time. The Red Wings’ top-flight defenseman has been sensational, but Zegras and Toronto’s Michael Bunting have forced their way into the running. Detroit won’t make the playoffs, but Seider can use his final games to cement that Rookie of the Year status.
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 0.393
Next seven days: @ CBJ (Apr. 7), vs. ANA (Apr. 9), @ WSH (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Ivan Provorov. Provorov did it to himself. The Flyers’ defenseman has garnered increasingly positive attention, leading to a “more, please” situation. Consistency is the key for Provorov, and while Philadelphia’s season has gone down the tubes, there’s time for Provorov to shine in April. It would be the perfect segue into whatever Flyers management has planned for the team’s bounce-back attempt next season.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 0.386
Next seven days: vs. MTL (Apr. 7), @ DAL (Apr. 9), @ ARI (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Damon Severson. Severson should be entering the prime of his career. He’s 27 and playing a prominent role on the Devils’ blue line. But as his minus-four outing in New Jersey’s blown four-goal lead (and eventual loss) against Florida last week showed, Severson has some work to do. The defender is signed for another year but can prove his continued value through (much) better showings to the end of the Devils’ run.
29. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 0.444
Next seven days: @ CAR (Apr. 7), @ FLA (Apr. 8), @ TB (Apr. 10), @ TOR (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Colin Miller. There were no takers for Miller at the trade deadline. The 29-year-old is still a pending UFA, staring down an uncertain future. Will the Sabres have a place for him amid their crew of up-and-comers? Can he still carve out a role in the league reflective of his current salary ($3.875 million per year)? If Miller believes he can, the best place to prove it is on the ice this next month.
30. Arizona Coyotes
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 0.350
Next seven days: vs. VAN (Apr. 7), @ VGK (Apr. 9), vs. NJ (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun is technically not a free agent, but it sure seems like he’ll be relocated this summer. It has been a down season for Chychrun on the ice, and he has run into health issues. How much of an effect will that have on potential trade partners? His best course of action: Be excellent in April. But, no pressure.
31. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 0.420
Next seven days: vs. NSH (Apr. 7), @ NYR (Apr. 9), vs. WPG (Apr. 10), @ DET (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Chris Tierney. Tierney has lately been a healthy scratch for one of the league’s worst teams. He’s also a 27-year-old pending UFA. That’s a suboptimal combination. How will Tierney navigate the pressure of working his way back into a regular spot with the Senators and showing off however he can for that next contract?
32. Seattle Kraken
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 0.362
Next seven days: @ STL (Apr. 6), @ CHI (Apr. 7), vs. CGY (Apr. 9), @ CGY (Apr. 12)
Player under pressure: Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer must end this season at a better place than it started. The ups and downs he has gone thorough are well documented. He’s signed long term with the Kraken and finishing this season strong would be a boost individually and for the team. That would leave everyone feeling good about the team’s netminding for next season and beyond.