Ranking the Top Stars in the 2017 NHL Conference Finals

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2017

Ranking the Top Stars in the 2017 NHL Conference Finals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have reached the conference finals. Several players, such as Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, had crucial roles in getting their respective teams to this stage.

    Some, such as Malkin, are established stars accustomed to elevating their play in the postseason. Lesser lights, such as Ellis, are flourishing in the playoffs.

    The following is a ranking of the top stars in the 2017 NHL conference finals. Individual performance and value to their respective teams factored into this compilation, which also includes a list of honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Overcoming a concussion suffered in the second-round series against the Washington Capitals, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby led his club to the Eastern Conference Final. With 14 points, he's tied with Jake Guentzel for second among Penguins scorers.


    Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

    Roman Josi is tied for the team lead in goals (four) and sits tied for second in points (eight) with Filip Forsberg. The durable defenseman also leads the Predators in time on ice per game, averaging 25 minutes and 34 seconds.


    Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins

    The 22-year-old Penguins rookie is blossoming into a serious scoring threat. With nine goals in 12 games, he's this postseason's leading goal scorer.


    Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators

    A skilled playmaker, Ryan Johansen leads the Predators, with seven assists. He's also tied with Ellis for the club lead in points, with nine. 


    Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

    With six goals and 10 points, Rickard Rakell sits third in both categories among the Anaheim Ducks' leading scorers. He's a threat to score whenever he's on the ice.  


    Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators

    Kyle Turris leads all Senators forwards in time on ice per game (21:07). He's also one of their faceoff win percentage leaders (55.5) and sits among their scoring leaders, with three goals and six points. 

8. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

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    Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    With only 13 goals and 25 points in 62 games, Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan completed the worst full regular season of his NHL career. However, the 30-year-old's performance significantly improved through two rounds of the playoffs. 

    After finishing the regular season 10th among the Senators' scoring leaders, Ryan is their second-highest postseason scorer, with four goals and nine points. On Wednesday, the Ottawa Sun's Ken Warren praised Ryan, writing: "He has probably been the Senators most consistent, well-rounded forward through 12 games."

    Ryan's efforts have been eclipsed by the stellar play of teammate Erik Karlsson. Still, his contributions to the Senators' march to the Eastern Conference Final cannot be overlooked. As they prepare to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan's play could garner more recognition.

7. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

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    Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

    Anaheim Ducks right wing Jakob Silfverberg is no stranger to elevating his game in the playoffs. In 2015, he finished tied for second (18 points) among Ducks scorers with Corey Perry. It shouldn't come as a surprise that he's tearing it up offensively in this postseason. 

    Two years ago, the bulk of Silfverberg's production came from assists (14). This time around, the 26-year-old's goal scoring is garnering attention. His seven goals and 11 points place him second behind Ryan Getzlaf among Anaheim's leading scorers. With two game-winning goals, he's tied with Perry for the team lead in that category. 

    Silfverberg's production contributed to the Ducks reaching the Western Conference Final. His scoring prowess could prove crucial to their hopes of advancing to the Stanely Cup Final for the first time in a decade.

6. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    During the regular season, Ellis was often overshadowed by the Predators' star blueliners, P.K. Subban and Josi. But the 26-year-old is grabbing his share of the spotlight in the postseason. 

    Small for an NHL defenseman at 5'10" and 180 pounds, Ellis used his speed and his puck-moving skills to his advantage through two playoff rounds. He's tied with Johansen as the Predators' leading scorer, with nine points in 10 games. He also leads them in blocked shots (32) and sits second in scoring among all playoff blueliners.

    Ellis' rise to the fore is also a fine example of how Nashville has received offensive contributions throughout its roster in this postseason. Having a late-blooming star on their defense corps could improve the Preds' chances of beating the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    During the Pittsburgh Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup in 2016, Marc-Andre Fleury lost the starting goaltender role to Matt Murray. However, he regained the job when Murray was sidelined prior to Game 1 of their 2017 opening-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

    Making the most of the opportunity, Fleury backstopped the Penguins to victories over the Blue Jackets in five games and the Washington Capitals in seven. Through two rounds, the 32-year-old has a respectable 2.55 goals-against average and a solid .927 save percentage. 

    In both series, Fleury proved he can still rise to the occasion in the heat of postseason competition—look no further than his series-clinching 2-0 shutout in Game 7 against the Capitals. He carried the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009. He could lift them to another trip this spring. 

4. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Entering the 2017 playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks had a string of four straight Game 7 playoff defeats on home ice. But thanks to center and team captain Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks ended that cruel streak by eliminating the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to advance to the Western Conference Final. 

    Through two rounds, Getzlaf was a dominant physical force. The 32-year-old leads the Ducks in goals (eight) and points (15), sits second in ice time per game (23 minutes and 54 seconds) and is among their leaders in hits (31), blocked shots (12) and faceoff win percentage (54.6).

    Awaiting the Ducks in the conference final are the Nashville Predators, who eliminated Anaheim from the opening round of the 2016 playoffs in seven games. Considering Getzlaf's strong play and leadership thus far, this series could have a different outcome.

3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne's regular-season performance gave no indication he would elevate his play in the 2017 playoffs. With 31 wins, a 2.42 GAA and a .918 save percentage, the 34-year-old didn't crack the top 10 among this season's starting goalies.

    But in this postseason, Rinne has been proving his worth. His 1.37 GAA and .951 save percentage put him well ahead of the pack in those categories. He's also tied for the playoff lead in wins (eight) and shutouts (two). He's given up two goals or more in a game only four times and hasn't given up more than three thus far.

    With outstanding goaltending like that, it's no wonder the Predators reached the Western Conference Final for the first time. If Rinne can maintain this level of performance, Nashville stands a good chance of overcoming Anaheim and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

2. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Malkin is no stranger to playoff success. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. During last year's championship run, the skilled center finished joint-third among Penguins scorers, with 18 points in 23 games. 

    In this year's playoffs, Malkin once again ranks among the top performers. He leads all playoff scorers in assists (13) and points (18). He's also the Penguins' leader in power-play points (seven). In 12 games thus far, he was not on the scoresheet only twice. Of his 18 points, 11 came in the Penguins' five-game opening-round elimination of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Thanks in part to Malkin's offense, the Penguins will face the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final. If the Sens fail to neutralize him, Pittsburgh could make a return to the Stanley Cup Final. 

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    Ottawa Senators captain Karlsson was already an established NHL superstar when these playoffs began. He's since built on that and ranks as the best among this spring's postseason performers. His efforts and his leadership carried the underdog Senators to the Eastern Conference Final.

    With 13 points in 12 games, Karlsson is the Senators' leading scorer. He's also the scoring leader among playoff defensemen and tops all active skaters in time on ice per game (28 minutes and 56 seconds). What's more impressive is he's accomplished these feats with two hairline fractures in his left heel.  

    A two-time winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's top defenseman, the 26-year-old is a finalist for the award this season. Should he lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final, he could become the favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.  


    All stats accurate as of Thursday and via NHL.com


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