Updated: October 5, 2015, 7:19 PM ET

Let's get this party started!

By Scott Burnside (posted Oct. 5, 2015)

The first days of the regular season are always shot through with equal parts anticipation and angst, and everything in between. We will put too much emphasis on these early games, the highs and the lows, the fast starts and plodding ones, in large part because it's just so good to have the game back in front of us.

And what would the game be without the weekly Power Rankings? Discuss among yourselves. And so we bring to you the first installment based on projection, a little foresight and a lot of pasta thrown against the wall.

Are the Blackhawks the same team they were when they danced with the Stanley Cup after Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in June? Nope. Not close with the departures of Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp and the ongoing investigation into the Patrick Kane allegations. But they're the defending Cup champs and so they have earned the top spot to begin this new season.
The Ducks are the popular preseason Stanley Cup pick. They're mine. And why not? Bruce Boudreau has taken this team one step further each of the past three playoff years and GM Bob Murray has done a terrific job filling in around the edges of what is a big, fast, talented and highly motivated group.
Tampa Bay
Last season's Stanley Cup finalists have their sights set on a return. But GM Steve Yzerman has to get captain Steven Stamkos signed to an extension and they have to stay healthy, something that's been a challenge even during training camp. But this is as good a team as there is in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals are my pick to come out of the East and battle the Ducks for the Stanley Cup. GM Brian MacLellan has done a nice job of tinkering, bringing in T.J. Oshie and three-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams. The repaired hip of Nicklas Backstrom and the defense bear watching. Still, the big, fast and skilled Caps are going to be a handful.
The Central remains the cream of all divisions, having seven teams that could make the playoffs. Heck, they can all justify why they should win the division outright. Someone's got to win it, though, and I like the Preds, who for much of the first half of last season were arguably the best team in the NHL. Watch for Pekka Rinne to have a monster season, Shea Weber and Roman Josi likewise.
I like the Penguins to finish second in the Metro, and if defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta stay healthy they're going to be a dominant pairing on both sides of the puck. And, oh yeah, there's a guy named Sidney Crosby and he's playing with a guy named Phil Kessel and that should be pretty darned fun. This team appears much deeper up front than a season ago.
St. Louis
No reason the Blues should not go right back to the playoffs, given their depth. With Vladimir Tarasenko looking to expand on his superstar resume, the Blues are going to be in the hunt for the division title. Wonder which goaltender will emerge as the go-to guy, Jake Allen or Brian Elliott? Coach Ken Hitchcock is hoping one of them will or this team is bound for another disappointing end.
When you have the best goalie on the planet you should be in the top 10 -- at least until the team around Carey Price says otherwise. Is Alexander Semin really going to light it up playing with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller? Love Max Pacioretty wearing the "C" for Les Habitants.
Yes, the defense is a work in progress, but if the Blue Jackets can stay healthy (a big IF after their horrific injury season a year ago), this team is ready for a big step forward. Brandon Saad was an inspired pickup by GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Todd Richards is quietly evolving into one of the league's top coaches.
Los Angeles
I have to think the surprisingly long summer brought on by missing the playoffs will benefit this team after two Cup wins and a trip to the Western Conference finals in the previous three years. Christian Ehrhoff might be the piece that gets the Kings back into the groove as he'll help take pressure off Drew Doughty and should fill the void created by Slava Voynov's departure.
If Devan Dubnyk continues to be the Devan Dubnyk who saved the season and earned a new six-year deal, the Wild are playoff bound. With good to great balance up front and along the blue line, this is a dangerous team as long as it doesn't play Chicago in the playoffs, which the Wild have the past three years.
GM Brad Treliving locked up captain Mark Giordano and stole Dougie Hamilton from the Bruins to bolster an already impressive blue line (theyll miss T.J. Brodie, though). Michael Frolik adds depth up front and if kids Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett continue to develop, the Flames should be good. But three goalies?
NY Rangers
Yeah, we know, the Rangers were the Presidents' Trophy winners and conference finalists. Still, I'm just not sure about the depth up front with Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis gone and Mats Zuccarello coming off injury. The Rangers should still be a playoff team, but I'm just not overwhelmed by their ability to repeat in the East.
NY Islanders
I'm not so sure. the Islanders are ready to take another step forward. Maybe it's the blue line that doesn't scream "conference finals." GM Garth Snow has to decide what to do with Kyle Okposo, who is in a contract year. And Jaroslav Halak, who surprised with his durability and level of play a season ago, has to stay healthy.
The Bruins are nowhere near as bad as some suggest. Yes, they missed the playoffs, but like the Kings, they might actually benefit from the extra rest. The blue line remains a huge question mark, especially with Dennis Seidenberg out to start the season and Zdeno Chara ailing. But there's loads to like up front and in goal, and we figure this squad to be back in the playoffs.
Coach Jeff Blashill takes over for Mike Babcock, but durability issues are going to continue to dog Pavel Datsyuk, who will miss the start of the season, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. There's a reason Mike Green played as little as he did 5-on-5 with the Caps and we're still unsure if Petr Mrazek is the guy and, if not, is a slimmed-down Jimmy Howard?
Lots will have to go right for the emerging Panthers to sneak into the top eight. This is a lineup rich in youngsters ready to break out, including defending Calder winner Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad. If Roberto Luongo stays healthy, the Cats could be back in the postseason and maybe, for a moment, will quell the rumors that they're headed to Quebec City.
The Jets surprised me (and many others) with their dogged pursuit of a postseason berth last season. Big and fast, the Jets are reminiscent of an emerging Kings team. Youngsters Nic Petan and Nik Ehlers will give Jets fans lots to cheer about. But this team can't afford to have a letdown and hope to make it back-to-back playoff berths.
The Sens were a feel-good story as they roared into the postseason after a rocky start. Now, can they win when people expect them to? One of the keys will be a bounce-back season for Bobby Ryan, who was admittedly not very good last season. The injury to Andrew Hammond puts even more pressure on Craig Anderson to stay healthy.
Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya bring multiple Cup rings with them from Chicago and the offense is loaded, but the blue line is still ill-defined and the goaltending is blah. Blah won't cut it in the Central.
San Jose
I love the additions of Paul Martin to the blue line and Joel Ward to the forward corps. There's good offensive balance up front, and if Martin Jones is as good as GM Doug Wilson believes he is, then the Sharks will be back in the playoffs. If not, well, things could get ugly again at the Shark Tank.
The Avs went from Central winners two seasons ago to bottom of the division last season, and now they're the forgotten team. But no one should sleep on a team that has lots of bounce-back potential, especially if Erik Johnson can return to the All-Star form he showed before being injured in January. But questions about whether the defense can keep up with the offense still exist.
Jack Eichel, the second overall pick, is the real deal and with a healthy Evander Kane, new top center Ryan OReilly and new goalie Robin Lehner, new head coach Dan Bylsma has lots to work with. The defense is a work in progress, so the playoffs might be a stretch, but not that much of one.
New head coach Dave Hakstol is going to be just fine and the Flyers might be better than lots of people think. But not that good. Curious to see the kind of impact KHL veteran Evgeny Medvedev, 33, has on the Flyers' blue line. But GM Ron Hextall still has too much contract deadwood on this roster.
Who isn't pumped to see just how good Connor McDavid is going to be? And, really, that excitement extends to the entire Oilers team under new head coach Todd McLellan. If McDavid is as advertised and Cam Talbot can provide solid goaltending, meaningful games in January and February should be on the docket.
New Jersey
Lots of work for new GM Ray Shero to do in the wake of Lou Lamoriello's departure for Toronto. But he's got a good young rookie coach in John Hynes and a top-notch goaltender in Cory Schneider. Is Adam Larsson ready to shoulder the load on the blue line after signing a six-year deal in the offseason? He'd better be.
Not really sure what the plan is in Vancouver, other than apparently to have the Sedin twins play until they're 40 and hope they produce a point a game until then.
Still miles to go for GM Ron Francis' battered Hurricanes franchise. What will happen with Eric Staal, who is in a contract year? Or goalie Cam Ward? How good is Noah Hanifin, the blue-chip collegiate defender whom the Canes nabbed with the fifth overall pick in June? Too many questions and still too few wins on the horizon for the Hurricanes.
Coach Dave Tippett is preaching patient evolution, hoping his team will show signs of improvement, even in small increments, on a consistent basis after last season's debacle. Lots of opportunity for Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, who will likely start the season playing with Antoine Vermette. A bounce-back season from goalie Mike Smith is crucial.
Well, at least they got rid of Phil Kessel. The Leafs might have loads of big brains in the front office and behind the bench, but this is a lineup without an identity and that looks to be in the hunt for the first overall pick next June. Hello, Auston Matthews.

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