One round down, three left.
Half the field outside the Stanley Cup playoffs and some great individual performances came to naught. Brad Marchand got off to a slow start and finished the first round with four goals and 11 points, good for third in scoring in the league. Leave.
Jake Guentzel leads the playoffs with eight goals, seven of them on the same strength and finishes with 39 shots in the league (a tie with David Pastrnak). His fellow Guentzel teammate Sidney Crosby threw the ball back in and was outstanding in the first round against New York, where he himself finished 10 points – the eight he earned with the power is third in the league. Both are out.
Perhaps the best performer of all time, between the two leading and umpteen teams, was Jake Oettinger, who had more shots (285), more validations (272) and had a better save percentage (.954) than anyone else in the first round. His effort blocking 64 in a Game 7 attack was the best ever and ended disappointingly with a losing attempt as the Dallas Stars were unable to muster 28 shots on their own.
Oettinger is out, so while Darryl Sutter called him “the best player in the series” and probably the best player overall for the first two weeks, he won’t appear in Conn Smythe’s rankings. He certainly deserves recognition for his outstanding efforts.
After each round, we’ll update the Power Rankings of the Con Smith nominees, listing them in order as we’ll rank them for the MVP award in today’s final. Starting with that guy in Edmonton…
1. Conor MacDavid, Edmonton Oilers
The greatest player in the league today drove that fact home to the Edmonton Series with a first-round win over Los Angeles, the first for Conor McDavid since 2017. With two points per game, McDavid leads the league with 14 points. Outside losing a Game 4 closing, McDavid was nearly unstoppable and when the Oilers trailed in the series 3-2, he wanted them for back-to-back wins. His display in Game 7 may be McDavid’s best version yet – goal, assist and over 27 minutes of icy time. In the end, McDavid accomplished something in the inaugural series that no Euler dynasty had ever done, making his inaugural act one of the ages. So what’s in store next?
2. Carter Verhaghi, Florida Panthers
The Panthers started a bit slow against Washington, losing two of their first three games. Then Carter Verhagé took over. Teaming up with outstanding talents Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkoff, it was Verheig who performed clutch-by-clutch in the first round. In Game 4, he scored two goals, including the winner in overtime. In Game 5 when the Panthers trailed 3-0, Verhag factored in all five Panthers goals (two goals, three first assists) in a comeback win. And just when I thought he did his best, Verhaeghe had another multi-point effort in Game 6, scoring the series winner – in overtime again. Verhaeghe leads the league with 12 strengths.
3. Cal Makar, Colorado Avalanche
McCar was thrilled in the first round, scoring 10 points in four games against the Nashville Predators, and scoring 2.5 points in the league’s best game. It was impossible to walk away from the Norris Cup finalist and first-round favorite, as he scored in three games and also scored three multi-point games.
Combined with Devon Toews – who himself scored three goals and five points after sweeping Nashville – McCar has been a must-watch so far this spring…and he’s just getting started.
4. Johnny Goudreau, Calgary Flames
He was asked to deliver and it would have been disastrous for the speech if he hadn’t, but Gaudreau definitely came in in the first round. Although his team played a maximum of seven games, Gaudreau is not a leader in league points, but finished with eight in seven. He scored two goals, both game-winners, including a 7-game clutch mark that put the Flames into the second round for the first time since 2015. They hit a defensive saw and a hot goalkeeper. When Johnny Hockey was on the ice at 5-on-5, Calgary controlled more than 60 percent of all shot attempts, 61 percent of all shots and 64 percent of all projected goals. Keep going and more numbers will follow. Gaudreau was Calgary’s best streak player and it was a defining moment in his career.
5. Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames
Markstrom was the second best goalkeeper in his own series, but he faced the workload that lay ahead. Markstrom tied with Jordan Bennington (who only played three games) with a 0.943 first-round save ratio and when Flames was pressing hard in Game 7, Markstrom denied the few moments that Dallas had to end the match and break town. Calgary. He has had a close and also has a best GAA in the league at 1.53. This is exactly the type of chain that has been brought up to be a difference maker.
6. Jacob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina’s top scorer is both defenders – Slavin and Tony D’Angelo have eight points each. Standing alone on equal strengths, Slavin leads Carolina by seven. He also averaged over 23 minutes per game, two minutes more than the next highest cane. Slavin can contribute to the attack, but his most important effect is on the defense, as it is a nightmare to break into and try to attack. Carolina beat the Bruins 10-3 in 5-on-5 when Slavin was on the ice, and his Game 7 performance is brilliant.
7. Nathan McKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Like McCar, McKinnon is unstoppable just yet – just ask the Nashville rangers. In four games, McKinnon scored five goals starting with two in the first game, inflicting most of his damage playing the club’s lethal force. Thanks in large part to McKinnon’s three power play goals in the first round, Colorado has the highest power play success rate of 43.8 in the league.
8. Mika Zibanjad, New York Rangers
The Rangers, trailing the penguins by one in the third inning of Game 7, needed one of their buttons to go up. Zibanijad was the man on hand to answer on the big stage and equalize just a few minutes before the end of the match. In the last two games of the opening round, coming back from a 3-2 deficit in the series, Zipanegad has produced three goals, seven points and has been on the ice for more than 65 per cent of all 5 on 5 shots in those last two games, outperforming the pens 4-0 in his minutes . He took a hit when his team needed him most (and Artemi Panarin seems to be playing through something) and Zibanejad is third in total scoring with 11 points.
9. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
One year after Colorado were completely shut out in the first round, the Blues look like a completely different team thanks to a group of young players who are bringing new energy to a trophy-caliber heart. But O’Reilly? He’s like his old self with five goals and eight points in six games to send Wild packages.
O’Reilly, who took home the Conn Smythe title in 2019 when the Blues won the cup, also has “Girl Dad Power” on his side:
10. Jordan Bennington, St. Louis Blues
No, this isn’t 2019 – it’s just Jordan Bennington playing as is. After supporting the Blues in Game 7’s win against the Bruins to lift the Lord Stanley Cup, Binnington went 0-9 in two first-round exits, his struggles taking center stage and eventually leading to his transition to a supporting role alongside new captain Phil Hoso.
But when Hoso struggled in back-to-back games against Minnesota, Blues coach Craig Beerup turned to Bennington for a spark — and shot the goalkeeper.
In three games against Wilde, Bennington scored three wins, 1.67 goals-to-average and 0.943 save percentages to beat Minnesota and send St. Louis into the second round.
11. Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers
If Oiler wins Conn Smythe in June, it’s almost certain to be McDavid. He was mentioned far from the top, he is so important to everything the Oilers do and he really wanted them during the first round in the most important moments. However, in the Conn Smythe Power rankings, we must mention Kane, who scored seven goals and is the top scorer among all the players remaining in the playoffs. His 34 shots are the best among all the remaining players as well, and one of his goals was the match winner. Edmonton had him help fill in some goals around his two stars and so far Kane has delivered.