NHL Power Rankings: 31 players who need a strong final stretch

ESPN Illustration

The trade deadline has passed, and the scramble for a playoff spot -- especially in the West -- has ramped up. For this week's Power Rankings, we identify the player under the most pressure for the rest of the season.

How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits polls ranking teams 1-31, and those results are tabulated to the list featured here. Teams are rated through Tuesday night's games, taking into account overall record, recent success and other factors such as injuries.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 1

Veteran winger Ryan Callahan is probably putting some pressure on himself after being told he was the 13th forward earlier in the month. He has one year left on his contract, with a $5.8 million cap hit.

2. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 2

GM Brad Treliving decided not to reinforce his goaltending at the trade deadline. All eyes are on the duo of David Rittich and Mike Smith to see if they can hold up their end of the bargain, or if goaltending will be a liability for the high-octane Flames.

3. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 3

The Sharks have been competitive for so long, but they'd like to win one already, especially for 39-year-old Joe Thornton, who is re-signing now on a year-by-year basis. GM Doug Wilson has put enough pieces around him.

4. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 4

Local boy Charlie Coyle gets a chance to revive his career after stalling in Minnesota. There's decent pressure on the forward considering Boston gave up on a promising young talent (Ryan Donato) to get him.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 6

John Tavares chose his hometown team in free agency because he wanted to help Toronto snap a 52-year Stanley Cup drought. Well, the Cup window is now open.

6. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 7

Reigning Calder winner Mathew Barzal inherited the No. 1 center role when Tavares left and surely wants to outperform him in the latter's return to Long Island on Thursday. Barzal has only 10 points in his past 20 games, with no multipoint games.

7. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 5

Patrik Laine appears to be breaking out of his slump now, and he has a new center in Kevin Hayes. But the Finnish sniper (who hits restricted free agency this summer) can't endure another stretch like his recent 28-game dry spell, during which he scored only two goals.

8. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 8

Wayne Simmonds was brought in for his physicality, but most Predators fans are hoping he can fix the club's ailing power play. Since 2013-14, only Alex Ovechkin has more power-play goals than Simmonds.

9. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 9

The Caps were looking for "this year's Michal Kempny" at the deadline and settled on unheralded Nick Jensen. The former Detroit defenseman immediately signed a four-year extension, which heightened expectations.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 12

There's pressure on this entire team to win now, even for the players GM Jarmo Kekalainen just grabbed at the deadline. That includes Matt Duchene, who is now on his third team in as many seasons.

11. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 11

The Blues turned it around with goaltending from Jordan Binnington, but also when Vladimir Tarasenko's bad puck luck improved. There's decent pressure for the Russian sniper (30 points over his past 22 games) to keep his foot on the gas.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 10

It hasn't always been the easiest season for Evgeni Malkin, whose 0.35 goals per game pace is below his career average of 0.47. The Pens' No. 2 center needs to turn it up as his team fights for a playoff spot.

13. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 15

Micheal Ferland was a trade candidate, but Carolina decided to hang on to the winger as their own "rental." He needs to back up the move with continued offense; if he does, he'll get a big payday in free agency.

14. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 13

This team is on the playoff bubble, but everyone involved in the power play is feeling some heat. It has been disastrous this season, ranking second worst in the league at 12.7 percent.

15. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 14

With a max eight-year extension agreed to already (and an over-the-top welcoming party greeting him at 2:58 a.m. at the airport), all eyes are on how Mark Stone performs in the desert.

16. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 19

Kevin Fiala fizzled out of favor in Nashville because of inconsistency. Paul Fenton always believed in him, though, and Fiala will want to prove he's worth the player for whom he was traded, Mikael Granlund.

17. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 16

The trade deadline acquisition to help generate offense (Mats Zuccarello) is already out four weeks. That puts an extra burden on stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who were called out by their team CEO earlier in the season.

18. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 17

Wayne Simmonds was the emotional heartbeat of this team, so to make sure the Flyers trend in the right direction for the rest of the season, they'll count on Claude Giroux's leadership.

19. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 20

Semyon Varlamov has had a shaky season so far. So has Philipp Grubauer. One (or both) of these goaltenders needs to ratchet up his game so the Avs can make a late push for the playoffs.

20. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 23

The team has been depleted by injuries. Now the onus could fall on some newly healthy players, such as Christian Dvorak, to keep the Yotes fighting for a playoff spot.

21. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 18

The Sabres were the darlings of November after a 10-game winning streak put them atop the league. To finally make the playoffs, Jack Eichel might need to will his team there, in the same way Taylor Hall did for New Jersey last season.

22. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 21

Dylan Strome has gotten a second hockey life in the Second City. If he keeps it up for the rest of the season, the 21-year-old could be due for a big payday sooner rather than later (though he has another year left before becoming an RFA).

23. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 24

The person under the most pressure in Florida is GM Dale Tallon. After a depressing season, the Panthers are poised to take big swings in free agency. Can the veteran GM execute a haul? Will he even be the one to have the chance?

24. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 22

Stellar rookie Elias Pettersson has carried the team thus far, but at the deadline, he got more help. Tanner Pearson, once an important young piece for the Kings, is looking to get back on track in Vancouver after his second trade this season.

25. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 25

It has been a season of tough love for 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, who has been benched quite a bit by David Quinn. Buchnevich's entry-level deal expires this summer.

26. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 28

A new GM will come in to clean up the mess (hopefully). In the meantime, if a player like Alex Chiasson (a pending UFA not moved at the deadline) wants to stick around, he can prove it with an impassioned finish.

27. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 27

Cory Schneider, 32, must prove he can still be a starter in this league (he's under contract three more seasons). Lurking is 22-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood, who will now get an extended audition.

28. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 26

The Ducks have huge decisions looming this summer, as GM (and interim coach) Bob Murray mulls a shakeup. Captain Ryan Getzlaf wants to stick around. He can show why he's worth it with a strong finish.

29. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 29

The Red Wings hope this will be their last year (at least for a while) trading away players at the deadline. Coach Jeff Blashill will spend the rest of the season trying to prove he's the right man to guide them back to contention.

30. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 30

The Kings don't have any pending UFAs this summer, which is part of the problem. But players like Jeff Carter will want to finish the season strong or they will continue to be the subject of trade rumors.

31. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 31

Anthony Duclair has been in the league five years and is on his fifth NHL team. The 23-year-old becomes an RFA this summer. He needs to show the Senators -- and other clubs -- he's worth another shot.