Ranking the Top 25 NHL Players Playing in the 2020 Postseason

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistAugust 5, 2020

Ranking the Top 25 NHL Players Playing in the 2020 Postseason

0 of 6

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    For the first time ever, we've got NHL hockey in the middle of summer—and the stakes couldn't be higher.

    On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 24 of the league's 31 teams hit the ice in Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto, starting a most unusual journey that will lead to the presentation of the 2020 Stanley Cup.

    If you're looking for stars, this tournament has 'em. Twenty-seven of the league's top 30 regular-season scorers are on playoff teams, along with the best netminders and some players who are just beginning to make names for themselves.

    This early in the postseason, rankings are fluid—to say the least. Here we've kept the lens wide across the playoff teams, aiming to spotlight players who could have major impacts for their teams in the weeks and months to come.

Nos. 25-21

1 of 6

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    25. Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota Wild

    On a team that's short on star power, the Edmonton native plays some of his best hockey at Rogers Place, where the Minnesota Wild are playing the Vancouver Canucks in preliminary-round action.

    An undersized defenseman who's effective at both ends of the ice, Spurgeon scored a hat trick in Edmonton against the Oilers on Feb. 21. In Game 1 against Vancouver, he chipped in two goals and an assist in Minnesota's 3-0 victory.

           

    24. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames

    In Game 1 of the qualifying-round series between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets, Tkachuk was at the center of controversy when Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice accused him of deliberately injuring Jets center Mark Scheifele with a skate blade to the back of the leg.

    Tkachuk pled innocence, but history shows he is at his best when he plays on the edge—and is effective at throwing opponents off their game when he does so. He's also no slouch offensively; he led the Flames in regular-season scoring with 61 points in 69 games.

              

    23. Taylor Hall, LW, Arizona Coyotes

    Hall won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 2017-18, but the 2010 first overall draft pick had just five career playoff games on his 10-season resume before this summer.

    Hall is known as a lucky charm for the draft lottery, but this year the impending unrestricted free agent would love to show he can be a playoff game-breaker, too. He got off to a good start with two assists in Arizona's 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 1—the Coyotes' first (sort of) postseason win since 2011-12.

       

    22. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers

    Over the past two seasons, Huberdeau has established himself as a top scorer. He also scored the Florida Panthers' only goal in their series-opening loss to the New York Islanders and added an assist in Game 2.

    The Islanders are a tight defensive team, so offensive opportunities are at a premium in this series. The Panthers are already in a 2-0 hole, but their best chance to advance lies with the blade of Huberdeau's stick.

          

    21. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

    Matthews' 47 goals and 80 points this season were both career highs, and that goal total ranked him third in the league when the season was paused.

    Despite leading his team with six shots in Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Matthews and the Maple Leafs suffered a power outage. He got the scoring started and added an assist Tuesday when the Leafs evened the series with a 3-0 win.

Nos. 20-16

2 of 6

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    20. Artemi Panari, LW, New York Rangers

    The Russian winger's debut on Broadway this season was a smashing success—good enough for him to be named a Hart Trophy finalist after his career-high 95-point season.

    Panarin has helped kick the New York Rangers' rebuild into high gear, and the 28-year-old is still getting better. Too bad the Rangers were overmatched against the Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round.

         

    19. Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver Canucks

    Along with exciting young teammates Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser, the sensational Swedish sophomore is the engine driving the Canucks' return to respectability.

    After winning the 2019 Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and thrilling Canucks fans with his sharp-shooting goal-scoring, Pettersson increased his commitment to his two-way game in his second season without sacrificing offense. In three fewer games this season, he finished with 66 points, the same total as his Calder-winning debut.

    The Wild worked hard to contain Pettersson in the first game of the teams' qualifying-round series. He didn't hit the scoresheet but showed he won't back down.

          

    18. Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars

    Seguin has been known for his fun-loving approach to life, but the 28-year-old has shown a new-found maturity both on and off the ice. Consistently one of the league's top point producers, Seguin and his Dallas Stars powered through a midseason coaching change and are sitting pretty as one of the Western Conference's round-robin teams, awaiting the beginning of the real playoffs.

          

    17. Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators

    The Nashville Predators captain led his team in average ice time and points this season. For his efforts, he was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

    Since joining the NHL in 1998 as a smaller-market team that was short on scoring talent under the old, less generous expansion team rules, the Predators roster has been built around defense. For years, Shea Weber ran the blue line. Now that role—and the captaincy—belongs to Josi. He's a difference-maker in all situations—and the second-highest scoring player to come out of Switzerland.

        

    16. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues

    After scoring 11 playoff goals with the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues last spring, Tarasenko was on a point-per-game pace in October when his regular season was cut short after just 10 games.

    He spent the last nine months recovering from shoulder surgery while the Blues showed no sign of a Stanley Cup hangover. They were first in the Western Conference when the season was paused in March and now have their top sniper back in the fold at full health as the playoffs begin.

Nos. 15-11

3 of 6

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    15. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

    The big German bested teammate Connor McDavid to win his first NHL scoring title this season—by a massive margin of 13 points. Draisaitl also showed he has the chops to succeed in the NHL's tough postseason three years ago when he put up 16 points in 13 playoff games before the Oilers fell to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the second round.

    McDavid has grabbed the spotlight for the Oilers so far in their series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but don't sleep on Draisaitl. The 24-year-old has enough talent to break games open on his own.

             

    14. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens

    When the NHL announced its 24-team summer postseason format, some said the Montreal Canadiens didn't belong in the tournament with their .500 regular-season record.

    But the big concern was not so much that the Canadiens wouldn't be a suitably challenging qualifying-round opponent for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Folks were more worried 2015 Hart Trophy winner Carey Price could get hot enough to steal the series from a proper Stanley Cup contender.

    "Pittsburgh is not crazy about this matchup, and Price was a big reason players fought against the opening round being a best-of-three," wrote Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

    So far, Price has done just that, backstopping the Habs to a Game 1 win and posting a .949 save percentage through his team's first two games. As expected, Price is indeed the X-factor in this series.

          

    13. Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets

    Last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets won their first playoff series in franchise history in stunning style, sweeping the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Following a 41-goal regular season in 2018-19, winger Cam Atkinson added another eight points in the Jackets' 10 playoff games.

    This year, an ankle injury limited Atkinson to just 44 regular-season games. But he appeared to be back to full fitness with a goal and an assist in the Blue Jackets' series-opening win against Toronto on Sunday.

       

    12. Dominik Kubalik, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

    In his first year of North American hockey, Dominik Kubalik led all rookies with 30 goals, highlighted by 10 goals in 10 games during January.

    The 24-year-old was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Then he made postseason hockey look easy when he became the first player in NHL history to record five points during his playoff debut as the underdog Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

    The Oilers held Kubalik off the scoresheet in Game 2, but he has announced himself as a player to watch this summer.

             

    11. Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers

    It has been 45 years since the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup—and with rare exceptions, they've struggled with goaltending for most of that time.

    That's now changing, as sophomore Carter Hart looks poised to provide quality netminding behind an impressive group that took a big step forward under new coach Alain Vigneault this season.

    Hart's unflappable nature is perfect for the playoff pressure cooker, which he demonstrated as he made 34 saves in the Flyers' opening 4-1 round-robin win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

    He'll celebrate his 22nd birthday during the Flyers' first-round playoff series on Aug. 13.

Nos. 10-6

4 of 6

    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    10. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights

    One of the best two-way players in the game, Mark Stone was on his way to a career year offensively when the season was paused in March.

    The Vegas Golden Knights found their mojo after Peter DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant behind the bench in January, and they earned a second Pacific Division title in the franchise's three-year existence.

    Stone's goal Monday helped ignite a four-goal comeback for the Golden Knights in the third period of their round-robin game against the Dallas Stars. It's clear that he and his team are not taking these warmup games lightly.

         

    9. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Carolina Hurricanes

    He dazzled us with his lacrosse-style goals earlier in the season and is fuelling the Carolina offense in the Hurricanes' qualifying-round series against the New York Rangers.

    Last year, Svechnikov got a crash course in heavy playoff hockey. This year, he's thriving. The 20-year-old Russian scored a hat trick in the Hurricanes' 4-1 win over the Rangers on Monday as the Hurricanes went up 2-0 in the series.

          

    8. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

    The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen outside the realm of Stanley Cup contenders over the past few years, but don't sleep on Jonathan Toews as a potential difference-maker. Now a grizzled 32-year-old veteran, the Chicago captain has three Stanley Cup rings and 130 games of postseason experience. He knows exactly how valuable this opportunity is to his team after it finished 12th in the Western Conference standings.

    Toews picked up three points in Chicago's Game 1 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Expect him to lead the charge, emotionally, as the Hawks try to upset their fifth-ranked opponent.

         

    7. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

    His 48 goals this season were a career-high and earned him a share of the 2020 Rocket Richard Trophy along with nine-time goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin. Pastrnak shares Ovechkin's nose for the net—and also his pure exuberance when the puck ripples the twine.

    Pastrnak's return to the Bruins lineup could have gone more smoothly as the NHL moved into its restart phase. It remains to be seen whether he'll be able to recapture the mojo that had him playing so well during the regular season, but don't count him out.

            

    6. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

    After the Winnipeg Jets lost four of their starting defensemen during the 2019 offseason, the club leaned harder than ever on its All-Star goaltender this year—and it worked. The Jets moved up from 15th to 12th in goals against during the regular season. Connor Hellebuyck led the league in games played and shots faced, and he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in his career.

    In Game 1 of their qualifying-round series against Calgary, the Jets lost key offensive players Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine to injury. If Winnipeg's scoring sputters, strong play from Hellebuyck will be more crucial than ever to the Jets' potential chance to advance.

Nos. 5-3

5 of 6

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    5. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

    His 128-point year in 2018-19 won him the scoring title and the Hart Trophy. This year, he was on track to hit triple digits again, but the big goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning will be playoff success.

    Last year's first-round sweep left a scar, especially for Kucherov—typically a point-per-game playoff performer who managed just two assists in three games and missed one game because of a suspension in 2019.

    He's one of the league's top talents, and he has something to prove. Keep an eye on him when the official first round begins next week.

            

    4. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

    Nathan MacKinnon doesn't turn 25 until September, but he's already more than halfway to 1,000 NHL games played. This season, he's a finalist for the Hart Trophy for the second time in his career.

    On the Colorado Avalanche, MacKinnon is surrounded by an impressive but under-the-radar group of teammates. The Avs put the NHL on notice last season by winning their first playoff series since 2008. They're looking for even bigger things this summer.

           

    3. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

    Leon Draisaitl seized the spotlight in Edmonton this season, but two-time scoring champ Connor McDavid sat second in the NHL when the league was paused with 97 points in just 64 games—after spending the entire 2019 offseason rehabbing a serious knee injury.

    McDavid's speed and skill with the puck are undeniable, but team leaders in Canadian markets are often criticized and scrutinized until they can deliver postseason success.

    After a rough outing in Game 1 against Chicago, McDavid temporarily silenced his critics on Monday with his first career postseason hat trick as part of an impressive Oilers win. Watch for more big things from this talented and determined leader.

Nos. 2 and 1

6 of 6

    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    2. Alex Ovechkin, RW, Washington Capitals

    In 2018, Alex Ovechkin and his teammates celebrated their Stanley Cup championship like we'd never seen before—and made it clear they're hungry for more.

    Now 34, Ovechkin's pure goal-scoring skill is proving to be unlike anything we've ever seen in the NHL—prolific and sustained. This week, the Caps showed they're not easing into their postseason with their fiery round-robin debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The round-robin teams may be flying under the radar a bit as the playoffs kick off. Sleep on Ovechkin and the Capitals at your peril.

              

    1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

    It has been nearly 15 years since the Sid vs. Ovi debate began when both rookies made their NHL debuts in the fall of 2005. The rivalry still has juice—maybe not so much mano a mano, but definitely when it comes to the legacies the two will leave behind when all is said and done.

    For now, Crosby's three Stanley Cups put him ahead of Ovechkin's one. And Sid showed once again why he's the best when he took the offensive lead for his Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.

    For the first time in his life, Crosby will be playing playoff hockey on his birthday when he suits up for Game 4 of the Penguins' preliminary-round series Friday. He's still the best in the game, so don't be surprised if he ends up gifting Pens fans a win that night.