2020 NHL Playoffs: Player Power Rankings for the Conn Smythe Trophy

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2020

2020 NHL Playoffs: Player Power Rankings for the Conn Smythe Trophy

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The pretenders have been exposed. The contenders are starting to emerge.

    And as playoff season in the NHL continues, players of both high and low profiles are beginning their journeys toward ultimate team glory—and gaudy personal hardware.

    The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs and was captured last year by Ryan O'Reilly, who scored 23 points in 26 games while helping the St. Louis Blues to their first title.

    It's been doled out to high scorers, hot goalies and myriad others, including five times to a player on the losing team—most recently when Jean-Sebastien Giguere backstopped the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to Game 7 before they were beaten by the New Jersey Devils.

    A worthwhile crop of early contenders has begun to emerge for the 2020 award, and we've ranked our top eight picks. We've included forwards, defensemen and goalies on our list, and we encourage you to click through to see where your favorites stack up.

8. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

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    Position: Defense

    Playoff Stats: 8 Games, 2 Goals, 6 Assists, 8 Points

    Why He's Here: The third pick of the 2017 draft is paying off in a big way this summer.

    Still just 21, he's been a point-per-game player for the Dallas Stars from the blue line while providing the sort of calm competitiveness and hockey IQ not typically seen in a second-year pro.

    He's often lost in the bigger-name shuffle behind teammates Tyler Sequin and Jamie Benn, but if the Stars manage to arrive in the conference semifinals for the second straight season, it'll have as much to do with Heiskanen as anyone on the roster.

7. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Position: Defense

    Stats: 8 Games, 1 Goal, 8 Assists, 9 Points

    Why He's Here: Fear not Hughes fans.

    If the 20-year-old doesn't help the Canucks advance to a point at which the Conn Smythe Trophy is fully in play, he's definitely got the inside track to bring home the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's best rookie.

    The University of Michigan product logs more than 20 minutes per game and kick-starts many Vancouver possessions by bringing the puck up the ice. His hockey sense is prodigious as well, and when paired with his athletic skill set, it provides an All-Star combination in the regular season and an MVP-level output in the playoffs.

    His candidacy will clearly be dependent on how long the Canucks hang around.

6. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Position: Right Wing

    Stats: 8 Games, 3 Goals, 5 Assists, 8 Points

    Why He's Here: Every year in the playoffs, a good player becomes great.

    This summer in Edmonton, that player has been Reilly Smith.

    The 29-year-old potted a career-best 27 goals in 71 games during the regular season and has continued the mojo following the restart, blending with second-line colleagues Paul Stastny and Jonathan Marchessault for a series of clutch goals—including an overtime winner in Game 2 of a five-game erasure of the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Smith is the gritty type of player fans love because he battles, infuses his teammates with enthusiasm and goes to the dirty areas of the rink to make plays. In other words, he's exactly the sort of dark horse who'll emerge if the Golden Knights return to the final after a one-season absence.

5. David Krejci, Boston Bruins

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Position: Center

    Stats: 8 Games, 3 Goals, 6 Assists, 9 Points

    Why He's Here: Spend enough time on the Bruins roster, and you'll get playoff street cred.

    So it's no surprise that a 34-year-old center with 140 games of postseason experience has discovered his heroic touch once again in the hub city of Toronto, even on a team full of stars.

    Scoreless in two of three round-robin games as Boston slid to a disappointing fourth in the East, Krejci racked up eight of his nine points in the Bruins' subsequent five-game ouster of the No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes—a result that puts the Presidents' Trophy winners right back in the conference mix.

    Along the way, he impressed head coach Bruce Cassidy, who said the following about the veteran center:

    "He's a real competitor, good team guy, well-liked in the room, quiet, I think a good hockey mind. You can always talk to him about the game and get good responses and good dialogue and a guy that loves the game. He just doesn't show it maybe like some other people would because he is kind of more of a composed guy that way, but certainly one of the more fiercer competitors in terms of inner drive that I've been around here."

4. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Position: Goalie

    Stats: 8 Games, 6 Wins, 2 Losses, 1.87 GAA, .927 Sv. Pct.

    Why He's Here: File this one with a big, fat asterisk.

    If Semyon Varlamov and his New York Islanders teammates shake off a blown elimination game to finish off a defeat of the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, the 11-year-veteran will resume his role as the backstopping hero of a plucky sixth seed entering the conference semifinals.

    If not, check back in on Game 4 as the start of a historic comeback.

    Prior to the botched 2-0 lead in Game 4 against the Capitals, Varlamov was riding a four-game win streak and had held Alex Ovechkin and Co. to a mere five goals on 74 shots—a .932 save percentage.

    The playoff emergence is a mild surprise considering head coach Barry Trotz penciled him in as the opening-round starter over Thomas Greiss only after the Islanders' pre-playoff tuneup against the New York Rangers.  

    How he fares the remainder of the way against Washington will determine the fate of that decision.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Position: Center

    Stats: 8 Games, 5 Goals, 5 Assists, 10 Points

    Why He's Here: The overtime winner Point scored to eliminate Columbus didn't just win a series.

    It exorcised a demon.

    The win enabled the Tampa Bay Lightning to beat a Columbus Blue Jackets team that pulled one of the biggest upsets in league history against them last season, and Point was in no mood to repeat history.

    He dented the Blue Jackets' morale with another overtime winner in the epic eight-period series opener and has continued to be the offensive point man, literally, in the absence of Steven Stamkos.

    Point was third on the team in scoring during the regular season but has ratcheted up his clutch game since the NHL's restart and joins the Carolina Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho and the Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon as double-digit point-getters so far in the playoffs.

    Playing an important role on such a potent and high-profile team will surely help his chances at award time.

2. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Position: Goalie 

    Stats: 7 Games, 5 Wins, 2 Losses, 1.66 GAA, .944 Sv. Pct. 

    Why He's Here: It looked pretty easy for a while there, didn't it?

    While the fresh-faced 22-year-old was stopping 52 shots in consecutive shutouts of the Montreal Canadiens to put the Philadelphia Flyers up 3-1 in their first-round series, Hart was the answer to every Philly hockey fan's prayers.

    "Carter Hart is the most valuable athlete to play a sport in Philadelphia—maybe in the last 15 years," Eytan Shander of PhillyVoice.com wrote. "... It's no shot at anyone else. It's just a way to highlight how dangerously good this Flyers team will be with Hart in net. Nothing changes so long as he's between the pipes. The Flyers have a chance to beat anyone anywhere anytime thanks to their netminder."

    Route-planning for the parade was halted after Montreal beat him four times on 32 shots, plus an empty-netter, in a 5-3 Game 5 win, but Shander isn't wrong.

    If Hart is in anything close to the form he showed in his first six games this summer—.958 save percentage, 1.24 goals-against average—he will give the Flyers a real chance to end a 45-year Cup drought.

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

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    Position: Center

    Stats: 8 Games, 4 Goals, 9 Assists, 13 Points

    Why He's Here: Imagine that. A high-end center is scoring points and winning playoff games in Edmonton.

    Sorry, Edmonton Oilers fans. It's not Connor McDavid.

    Instead, it's the player selected first overall two years earlier, who's not only leading his team and the league in postseason scoring but also doling out punishing hits, sticking up for teammates and displaying the sort of all-around menace that has Sports Illustrated's Ryan Kennedy issuing an Avalanche warning.

    MacKinnon was pretty good in the regular season too, and he will be among the finalists for the Hart Trophy along with Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl and the New York Rangers' Artemi Panarin.

    "On a whole, this is an Avs team that has so much going for it: speed, skill, size (embodied as a package by MacKinnon himself) and depth," Kennedy wrote. "This particular cohort hasn’t made a deep playoff run yet, but it’s really starting to look like this may be the beginning of that."

    If the Avs win the Cup, he's the choice. Period.