8 Impact Players for the NHL Playoffs
The NHL makes its long-awaited return on August 1st with the amended 24 team playoff format. After five months of waiting, many of the game’s brightest stars will take to the ice with a chance of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Countdown with us as we look at 8 impact players who could potentially carry their team to the Cup.
Carey Price (Montreal)
The Montreal Canadiens just barely snuck into the amended NHL playoff format capturing the 12th and final seed in the Eastern Conference. The Habs match up against the 5th seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that is just 3 years removed from winning its 2nd straight Stanley Cup. While the Habs are a weaker team on paper, crazy things can happen when it comes to playoff hockey and Carey Price is capable of stealing games and stealing a series for the Habs. While Price didn’t turn in the greatest 2019-20 season, he is still the same goalie that won the Hart Memorial trophy as league MVP in 2015 and is very capable of returning to top form.
Roman Josi (Nashville)
The Nashville Predators had a slightly disappointing regular season with a record of 35-26-8 for 78 points in 69 games. The Predators were still able to secure the 6th seed in the tightly contested Western Conference and are matched up against the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators had a goal differential of -2 in the regular season one of the worst marks among playoff teams due to both a lack of offense and some shaky play by goalie Pekka Rinne. Regardless of who is in the net for them come August, the Preds will need their captain and #1 defensemen Roman Josi to step up. Josi is a finalist for the Norris trophy given to the league’s top D-Man and he is capable of leading his team both offensively and defensively. Josi recorded 65 points in 69 games in the regular season and played over 25 minutes a night anchoring the backend for the Preds. Josi is more than capable of taking over a game with his elite speed and playmaking ability making him the catalyst for the Predators.
Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh)
The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the playoffs as the East’s 5th seeded team set to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins have been a bit banged up all year but look to be returning to action healthy and ready for another cup run. The return of winger Jake Guentzel provides perhaps the biggest boost to this Pens team as Guentzel looked to be out for the season after his shoulder injury required surgery back in January. Thanks to the pause in the season due to COVID-19, Guenztzel is set to return and determined to make a large impact in the playoffs. Guentzel not only had 43 points in just 39 games this season before his injury but Guentzel is a proven playoff performer having scored a combined 43 points in his 41 career playoff games. Watch out for Guentzel and the Penguins offense as a whole, as they have the potential to carry their team to a Cup.
Mika Zibanejad (NY Rangers)
The New York Rangers were somewhat of a surprise team this year as they captured the Eastern Conference’s 10th seed and are set to face the 7th seeded Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round of the playoffs. Center Mika Zibanejad had a lot to do with the Ranger’s success as he followed up his breakout 2018-19 season with an even better 2019-20 season logging 41 goals and 75 points in just 57 games. Zibanejad along with forwards Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider and defensemen Adam Fox and Tony Deangelo form a young and exciting core with lots of offensive firepower. Zibanejad is capable of taking over a game as he did in his 5 goal effort against the Capitals earlier this season, making the Rangers a team to look out for in the playoffs.
John Carlson (Washington)
The Washington Capitals once again had a great regular season in 2020 as they recorded a 41-20-8 record for 90 points, good enough to land them the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps scored the 2nd most goals in the league with 240 and while the forwards definitely had a lot to do with their tremendous goal-scoring run (led by the league leader in goals Alex Ovechkin), they also received great offensive production from the backend. The leader of the unit is Norris trophy finalist John Carlson. Carlson had 15 goals and 60 assists for 75 points in just 69 games for the Caps giving him a 1.09 points per game average, the highest mark among defensemen since the 1993-94 season. To go along with his incredible offensive numbers, Carlson was top 10 in the league in time on ice and played strong defense for a very good Caps team. John Carlson is an elite two D-Man that plays well in transition, can run a powerplay, and eat up minutes... to put it simply he can change a series.
Patrick Kane (Chicago)
After a 2 year absence, the Chicago Blackhawks are back in the playoffs, albeit as a 12th seed in the amended playoff bracket. Despite being the lowest seed in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks are not a team to be overlooked as they still have guys like Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, and Brent Seabrook who made up much of the core of the Hawks’ cup-winning teams in 2010, 2013, and 2015. The most dangerous player on this Hawks’ team is winger Patrick Kane, who possesses both the offensive skill and playoff experience to take over a game or series. Kane has 123 points in 127 career NHL playoff games, a Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in 2013, and a Hart trophy as league MVP 2016. The scariest thing is Kane only seems to be getting better with each passing year making him a player that both the teams and fans should keep an eye on as he could help lift the Blackhawks to a deep playoff run.
Tuukka Rask (Boston)
The President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins took the year by storm this season with a record of 44-14-12 for a total of 100 points in just 70 games. The Bruins have perhaps the best 1st line in hockey, a strong defensive core, and the William M Jennings trophy winning goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. In just 41 games, starter Tuukka Rask logged 26 wins with a phenominal goals against average and save percentage. Due to Halak’s success as a backup, he allowed Rask to get needed rest throughout the season and avoid injury, paving the way for him to once again be a workhorse in the playoffs. Rask helped the Bruins reach game 7 of the Stanley Cup in 2019 and, despite coming up short, Rask had a sparkling 2.02 GAA and .934 SV% in the playoffs. The Bruins are a loaded team and Stanley Cup favorite and if Rask can replicate his regular season and recent playoff play, then the Bruins could very well be hoisting the Stanley Cup on the last day of the year.
Connor McDavid (Edmonton)
The Edmonton Oilers turned in a very good 2019-20 regular season as they captured the Western Conference’s 5th seed and are set to face the 12th seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the qualifying round of the playoffs. Oilers’ forwards Leon Draisaitl and captain Connor McDavid were the primary performers for the Oilers in the regular season as they placed 1st and 2nd in scoring in the league respectively. While Draisaitl finished with 110 points and led the league by a wide margin, McDavid is still the leader of this Oilers’ team. When he is on his game, there is no better player in the world when it comes to the offensive skill and production. McDavid has returned to Oilers camp reportedly the fastest he’s ever been and will surely wreak havoc on the Blackhawks’ defense. The Oilers will go as far as McDavid takes them... and with his speed and skill, that could be to a Stanley Cup.