Ranking the Top 25 Players Playing in the 2021 NHL Playoffs

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2021

Ranking the Top 25 Players Playing in the 2021 NHL Playoffs

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    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    They're the A-listers of the NHL.

    The premier point-scorers, nifty playmakers, lockdown defenders and save-making goaltenders.

    Precisely the talents needed to make a playoff run that ends in a Stanley Cup lap.

    So in the sweet spot between the Game 1s and the post-Final handshake line, the B/R ice hockey team convened to compile a list of the best players in the league playing in the postseason.

    We put things together by looking at achievements, potential and relationship to others at the same positions across the NHL and whittled the collection to a top 25.

    Read on to get a feel for our opinions and to see where your favorite stars landed, and drop a comment or two to let us know where we got it right and/or where you saw things another way.

Nos. 25-21: Scheifele, O'Reilly, Stone, Makar, Kaprizov

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    25. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets

    Career Playoff Stats: 28 games, 16 goals, 10 assists, 26 points

    Why He's Here: A point-per-game player for five straight seasons, Scheifele has been a key contributor in turning Winnipeg into a perennial playoff team. He scored 21 goals and registered 63 points in 56 games in 2020-21, and he'll need to up the ante to get the Jets past a first-round foe that's owned them.

                  

    24. Ryan O'Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues

    Career Playoff Stats: 48 games, 15 goals, 26 assists, 41 points

    Why He's Here: The Blues are seeded fourth in the West Division for a reason, but whatever hopes the St. Louis fans are harboring this spring have a lot to with O'Reilly. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup in 2018-19 with a playoff run that included 23 points in 26 games.

                      

    23. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights

    Career Playoff Stats: 54 games, 18 goals, 24 assists, 42 points

    Why He's Here: For a team that's as good as the Golden Knights have been since their NHL arrival, you would think they would have more superstar street cred outside of the Nevada desert. But make no mistake, the locals love Stone, who's scored 21 goals in each of the past two regular seasons.

                        

    22. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

    Career Playoff Stats: 25 games, 5 goals, 16 assists, 21 points

    Why He's Here: There's little doubt Makar would be a higher-profile star if he weren't on a standout-laden Avalanche team, but the 22-year-old has fit right in since going fourth overall in the 2017 draft. And if he maintains his regular-season form, he may soon have more hardware alongside 2020's Calder Trophy.

                 

    21. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild

    Career Playoff Stats: None

    Why He's Here: Speaking of the Calder Trophy, allow us to introduce the odds-on favorite to win this year's award as the league's top rookie. Kaprizov, 24, arrived from Russia and instantly recharged the Wild, making them an uber-dangerous third seed heading into Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Nos. 20-16: Bergeron, Pastrnak, Hall, Huberdeau, Vasilevskiy

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    20. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

    Career Playoff Stats: 150 games, 42 goals, 69 assists, 111 points

    Why He's Here: There are times during a regular-season grind when 35-year-old forwards are a liability. But come playoff time, it's guys like Bergeron who will hold things together in a chase for 16 victories. The four-time Selke winner had 20 points in 23 games during Boston's run to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup.

                         

    19. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

    Career Playoff Stats: 53 games, 20 goals, 34 assists, 54 points

    Why He's Here: Complementing the veterans like Bergeron are the sublimely skilled 20-somethings like Pastrnak, who's averaged a point or better per game for each of the past three years. A goal and four assists in the last five games of the regular season show the Czech winger is on his game at the right time.

                       

    18. Taylor Hall, LW, Boston Bruins

    Career Playoff Stats: 15 games, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points

    Why He's Here: Hey, didn't you used to be Taylor Hall? The No. 1 pick from 2010 doesn't have a stellar playoff track record, but 14 points in 16 games since an April trade to Boston have Bruins fans thinking the stars may be aligned once again. A big spring could yield big money in free agency this summer.

                   

    17. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florids Panthers

    Career Playoff Stats: 10 games, 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points

    Why He's Here: The regular season was wonderful, and Joel Quenneville will get Coach of the Year votes because of it. But let's face facts: Panthers fans will quickly forget their No. 2 seed if they don't win a series. Huberdeau had 62 points in 55 games and will have a big load to carry against Tampa Bay. 

                       

    16. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Career Playoff Stats: 33 wins, 22 losses, 2.37 goals-against average, .918 save percentage

    Why He's Here: Ah yes, that series with Tampa Bay. Huberdeau and the Panthers will have to contend with a proven money goalie in Vasilevskiy, who won 18 of 25 starts in the Lightning's Stanley Cup run in 2019-20. That said, Florida did ding him for nine goals on 65 shots in two games earlier in May.

Nos. 15-11: Kucherov, Backstrom, Aho, Stamkos, Ovechkin

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    15. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Career Playoff Stats: 90 games, 26 goals, 59 assists, 95 points

    Why He's Here: While Hall was the deadline acquisition who made this list, it's perhaps Kucherov who will prove to be the most important roster addition by a playoff team. The prolific winger missed the regular season after hip surgery but was pronounced good to go for the playoffs by coach Jon Cooper, per TSN.

                    

    14. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

    Career Playoff Stats: 129 games, 36 goals, 71 assists, 107 points

    Why He's Here: What was that we said about the value of 30-somethings with Stanley Cup street cred? Apply it as well to Backstrom, who at 33 posted 53 points in 55 games, including 22 points on the power play. Lest we forget, he had 23 points in 20 games for the Capitals in their title run of 2017-18.

              

    13. Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina Hurricanes

    Career Playoff Stats: 23 games, 8 goals, 16 assists, 24 points

    Why He's Here: Give yourself a hearty pat on the back if you forecast the Hurricanes to win the Central Division and finish third overall in the league. Now it will be incumbent upon Aho, still just 23, to turn regular-season production (57 points in 56 games) into playoff prowess with a postseason-novice roster.

                   

    12. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Career Playoff Stats: 71 games, 24 goals, 30 assists, 54 points

    Why He's Here: We all remember last year's story. Stamkos, the Lightning captain, played barely three minutes in the playoffs but still lifted the Cup in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This year, he was sidelined for the final month-plus of the season but is apparently ready for playoff action. If he's on, Tampa Bay will be too.

                       

    11. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

    Career Playoff Stats: 137 games, 69 goals, 63 assists, 132 points

    Why He's Here: It wasn't a vintage year for Ovechkin thanks to a stint on the COVID-19 protocol list and a lower-body injury, but the Russian sniper was on the ice for 19 minutes in the playoff opener. He scored 15 goals in the Cup run three years ago and will make the Capitals a threat if he nears that total again. 

Nos. 10-6: Hedman, Fleury, Rantanen, Marner, Draisaitl

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    10. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Career Playoff Stats: 109 games, 17 goals, 53 assists, 70 points

    Why He's Here: The forwards were terrific and the goalie was outstanding, but there wasn't a better player for the Lightning last summer and fall than Hedman, who rightfully earned the Conn Smythe after their Cup win. Having him healthy and productive in the playoffs will steady the entire Tampa Bay lineup.

                 

    9. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights

    Career Playoff Stats: 81 wins, 63 losses, 2.58 goals-against average, .911 save percentage

    Why He's Here: If there's anyone who thought, at age 36 and with a goaltending teammate just signed to a five-year deal, that Fleury would enjoy one of his best career seasons, well, you belong with him in Vegas. Three runs to the Final and two Cups as a starter show his springtime mettle.

                      

    8. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

    Career Playoff Stats: 33 games, 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points

    Why He's Here: He doesn't have the accolades of some of the others mentioned, but Rantanen, a big Finnish winger chosen 10th in 2015, has already proved prodigious in a smallish playoff sample size. A top line featuring him and another teammate on this list seems almost unfair. 

                      

    7. Mitchell Marner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

    Career Playoff Stats: 25 games, 5 goals, 16 assists, 21 points

    Why He's Here: There's loads of pent-up optimism in Toronto this spring, and much has to do with the emergence of Marner, who had his third straight season of better than a point per game. He was fourth in the league in both assists and points, but it has to translate to the playoffs to end the long Cup drought.

                     

    6. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

    Career Playoff Stats: 17 games, 9 goals, 13 assists, 22 points

    Why He's Here: He was the league's top scorer and its MVP last year, and though he won't repeat poses with either trophy, a follow-up season that placed him fourth in goals and second in both assists and points isn't bad. Still, it's all about the playoffs for the long-suffering Oilers, who have won one series in 15 years.

Nos. 5-1: Marchand, Crosby, MacKinnon, Matthews, McDavid

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    Nick Didlick/Associated Press

    5. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

    Career Playoff Stats: 122 games, 37 goals, 58 assists, 95 points

    Why He's Here: There's no question he's chirpy, antagonistic, indomitable and irritating. But he's one of the game's best players and has the numbers to back it up. At 33, Marchand had 69 points in 50 games, and he's been a double-digit point-scorer in five playoff seasons, including a 2010-11 Cup run.

                  

    4. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Career Playoff Stats: 169 games, 69 goals, 121 assists, 190 points

    Why He's Here: All it took to get the 33-year-old star revved again was the suggestion that the window in Pittsburgh was closing. In response, Crosby had 62 points in 55 games for the East Division champions. "You just have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them," he said. "We have one."

                    

    3. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

    Career Playoff Stats: 40 games, 20 goals, 34 assists, 54 points

    Why He's Here: That aforementioned teammate of Rantanen? That's MacKinnon, who was fifth in assists and eighth in points despite missing eight games. His 25 points in a 15-game playoff run last year show that the 6'0", 200-pound center knows how to raise his level in the postseason.

                   

    2. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

    Career Playoff Stats: 25 games, 12 goals, 7 assists, 19 points

    Why He's Here: Oh, yeah! About that Cup drought in Toronto thing. Playing well enough to earn the team's first Stanley Cup since 1967 is a priority for Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who's lived up to the billing. The California-born sniper scored a league-best 41 times in 52 games this season, but his career playoff numbers are pedestrian.

                         

    1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

    Career Playoff Stats: 17 games, 10 goals, 8 assists, 18 points

    Why He's Here: And the award goes to... OK, who are we kidding? Everyone who's read this far knows the value of McDavid, who put up video-game numbers for the Oilers in his sixth NHL season—33 goals and 72 assists for 105 points in 56 games. But it's all about the playoffs for No. 97, who will be tasked with carrying a still-incomplete team on his back.

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