Sunday, May 22, 2022

2022 NHL Playoffs: Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and other top players to watch to watch this postseason

The Stanley Cup Playoffs offer NHL stars the chance to showcase their skills on the sport’s biggest stage.

Hockey may be a team game, but certain individuals can change the complexion of an entire series. There is nothing like watching those players go head-to-head in a seven-game series as they try to power get their names etched on hockey’s ultimate prize for eternity.

This year’s postseason offers an abundance of players worth tuning in to see every night, and we have picked out one from every series that fans will need to keep an eye on. There are some rising superstars as well as experienced veterans who haven’t lost a step at all.

Here are the top players to watch this postseason.

Cale Makar | D | Colorado Avalanche

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USATSI

One of the leading candidates for the Norris Trophy, Makar scored an absurd 28 goals in just 77 games played. Makar’s ability to activate and in the offensive zone and essentially become a fourth forward is something to behold. Forget being the power play quarterback. Makar has the ability to dictate play at five-on-five. With Makar on the ice at full strength, Colorado has controlled 57.05% of the expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. That mark is second on the team behind only Mikko Rantanen. In the first round, Makar will share the ice with fellow Norris contender Roman Josi.

Kirill Kaprizov | LW | Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov has elevated the Wild in terms of actual on-ice performance and national profile. Minnesota has become an exciting team to watch in large part due to Kaprizov. A legitimate superstar, Kaprizov can do everything. And he clearly has the scoring touch. He found the back of the net 47 times in the regular season, but he also has elite playmaking ability. ¬†Kaprizov’s 31 primary assists at even strength tie him for second in the NHL with players like Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Huberdeau. Kaprizov has the ability to take over entire games in the postseason.

Igor Shesterkin | G | New York Rangers

The Rangers are absolutely not where they are without Shesterkin — not even close. Early in the season, New York was still finding its game under new head coach Gerard Gallant, and Shesterkin allowed the team to keep piling up wins as it ironed out the wrinkles. In his 53 starts, Shesterkin saved 44.83 goals above average, which leads the league by a wide margin. That level of performance should put Shesterkin in the running for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. If Shesterkin can keep that up in the playoffs, the Rangers are going to be a very tough out.

Matthew Tkachuk | LW | Calgary Flames

Matthew Tkachuk was built in a lab by Gary Bettman to be the perfect playoff star. Tkachuk has skill and raw ability in spades. His 42 goals tied him for ninth in the league, and his 39 primary assists tied him for eighth, but Tkachuk is more than just offensive production. Tkachuk has a knack for mixing it up, getting under his opponent’s skin, and just generally being a nuisance. That makes for a great playoff villain. By the time the first round series against the Stars is over, it will be impossible to find anyone who likes Tkachuk in Dallas.

Auston Matthews | C | Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews is already a well-known player, even among the most casual hockey fans, but his game has hit a new level of elite this year. At five-on-five, Matthews scored a whopping 38 goals this season. The next highest mark was Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets with 28. Matthews has every tool you could want in a hockey player, and he has put them all together seamlessly. That results in the ability to create goals all by himself by creating a turnover with finesse or physicality, carrying the puck up the ice, and using his lethal release to beat goalies before they even know what happened. If the Maple Leafs are going to change their postseason fortunes, it will be because of Matthews.

Patrice Bergeron | C | Boston Bruins

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Getty Images

Bergeron is 36 but is still at the top of his game. In fact, Bergeron might just be getting better with age. He has always been an elite defensive forward, but Bergeron posted some truly ridiculous numbers in 2021-22. Bergeron played just over 891 minutes at five-on-five. In that time, the Bruins scored 49 goals while allowing just 25 and controlled 69.91% of the expected goals. It will be fascinating to see what Bergeron can do against Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes‘ top two weapons, in the opening round. If Bergeron is successful in that matchup, the Bruins will be moving on to the second round.

Aleksander Barkov | C | Florida Panthers

Jonathan Huberdeau is the one with the eye-popping point totals in Sunrise, but Barkov is the straw that stirs the drink. Barkov is excellent in all three zones, and he is coming off a career year with 39 goals. Even in tough matchups, Barkov is able to make sure the Panthers are controlling the game. With Barkov on the ice at five-on-five, Florida owns a 56.87% expected goals share. With the Panthers poised to make a Stanley Cup run, Barkov will take center stage, even on a team with an embarrassment of riches at forward.

Connor McDavid | C | Edmonton Oilers

The best hockey player in the world will be looking for redemption this year. In the process of being swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round last postseason, McDavid only found the back of the net once. The thought of a highly motivated Connor McDavid is enough to frighten even the best NHL defenseman. Besides, scoring goals was clearly not a problem for McDavid in the regular season. He set a career high with 44 goals, and he is facing a Kings‘ defensive corps that will be without Drew Doughty. Edmonton is trying to get to the second round for the first time since 2017, and the team will obviously lean heavily on McDavid.

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