NHL Playoffs players to watch: Why to keep an eye on Connor McDavid of the Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Golden Knights

Which team wins the Stanley Cup will be heavily influenced by these guys.

The top hockey players in the world will be competing for the Stanley Cup in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ve identified a few players whose contributions to the outcome of this postseason will be particularly significant.

Superstars like Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are competing at a high level and are eager to win their first Stanley Cup. Those two have already demonstrated their ability to perform well in the postseason, but a few important players will be playing in their first playoff games.

Although Jack Hughes and Jack Eichel have never worn a playoff uniform, that is about to change. It will be intriguing to watch if those players can perform under the most demanding circumstances.

The following players are crucial to keep an eye on during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jack Eichel | C | Vegas Golden Knights

Jack Eichel will make his first postseason appearance despite this being his seventh NHL season. Prior to the 2021–22 season, the Buffalo Sabres traded Eichel to the Golden Knights after eight seasons with the franchise. Eichel’s over 50% absence from previous season due to surgery meant that Vegas missed the postseason for the first time in the organization’s history.

Eichel has been fully healthy for the majority of the season for the first time in a while, and he has helped the Golden Knights to the top of the Pacific Division. With him on the ice at five-on-five, the team controls 52.0% of the predicted goals, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Eichel leads Vegas with 65 points, his highest total since 2019–20.

Whether Eichel can maintain this performance in the postseason is the current question. In order to win a Stanley Cup, the Golden Knights acquired him and paid him $10 million annually. When Eichel steps onto the ice for the first time during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all eyes will be on him.

Connor McDavid | C | Edmonton Oilers

Stuart Skinner or Mattias Ekholm would be cute choices here, but when the Oilers are competing, there is only one guy capable of pulling off a jaw-dropping feat at any moment.

With a season the NHL hasn’t witnessed in over three decades, Connor McDavid has solidified his position as the finest player in the world. He is the only player in NHL history to earn 150 points, and he leads the league in goals (64), assists (88), and points (152). Mario Lemieux, who dominated the NHL in 1995–96, was the last player to do so. Even if he might not need to do so this season, McDavid is simply on another level and is capable of leading his club to the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite only participating in three rounds, McDavid led the NHL in postseason scoring with 33 points in 2022. Every night he put on a show, and I can’t wait to see what he will do for an encore with a more capable supporting cast.

Alexandar Georgiev | G | Colorado Avalanche

Despite the Avalanche’s abundance of quality, Georgiev is likely their biggest unanswered question heading into the postseason. Last offseason, Colorado acquired Georgiev to take Darcy Kuemper’s place in the team’s quest to win the Stanley Cup again after Kuemper signed with the Washington Capitals.

Georgiev has done a great job filling in for Kuemper during the regular season. He has a high-danger save percentage of 85.4% and has saved 27.27 goals more than the average. Georgiev has adapted well to playing behind a strong Avalanche roster, but can that hold true come playoff time?

Georgiev has only played in two playoff games, serving as the mop-up a few times for the New York Rangers last season. He has never started a postseason game. Colorado will be difficult to beat if Georgiev can maintain the momentum of his outstanding regular season into the playoffs, but that is something we haven’t seen from him before.

Miro Heiskanen | D | Dallas Stars

Miro Heiskanen had been among the finest defensemen in the NHL for a while, but in 2022–2023, he improved. Heiskanen has added a good deal of offensive power to his superb shutdown defense this season.

Heiskanen is assisting the Stars in scoring goals, as evidenced by the fact that they have a plus-17 goal differential when Heiskanen is on the ice during five-on-five play. Heiskanen’s goals (11), assists (60), and points (71) are all new career highs. He’s a real Norris Trophy contender, and the Stars’ postseason success depends on him.

The Stars’ prior weakness—a lack of depth scoring—has been improved by Heiskanen’s offensive production, which has made them a more well-rounded club. Every playoff foe will have to deal with the Stars as long as Heiskanen keeps making plays in all three zones.

Filip Gustavsson | G | Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild have struggled to score at times this season, but Filip Gustavsson has kept their scoring needs to a minimum.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s season-long sluggish start led Gustavsson to take over as the Wild’s top goaltender. With 32.22 goals saved over average, Gustavsson is third in the NHL and has earned a spot in the Vezina Trophy discussion. The Wild have a real opportunity to win each game they play with Gustavsson in goal. The fact that this will be Gustavsson’s first postseason raises questions about him.

Although head coach Dean Evason hasn’t named a starter for Game 1, Gustavsson has done more than enough to merit the honor. Even though Fleury has a strong résumé, Gustavsson has simply been the superior goaltender in 2022–2023.

Auston Matthews | C | Toronto Maple Leafs

Though the Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews may not have scored 60 goals like he did the previous season, you can count on him to perform at his best when the pressure is on. The Toronto center has the ability to make jaw-dropping moves on demand, but he hasn’t really needed to that frequently since teammate Mitch Marner had such a successful year.

The two clubs will square off once more after Matthews recorded nine points (four goals and five assists) in the seven-game series against the Lightning last season.

Matthews must be among the team’s top scoring contributors if the Maple Leafs are to finally shake the stigma of never making it past the first round.

Jack Hughes | C | New Jersey Devils

The Devils have spent the last few years stockpiling a wealth of youthful talent for their team. With famous center Jack Hughes as one of their cherished belongings, they are now beginning to see the results of their labor.

In the early years of Hughes’ career, the focus was on how good he may be if he could stay healthy. This season, the 21-year-old recorded a career-high 97 points (43 goals and 54 assists), realizing his full potential. Because the team acquired Timo Meier at the trade deadline, Hughes doesn’t even have to do it all by himself. Hughes has developed into one of the league’s best performers.

Hughes is a true sharpshooter who is capable of scoring from almost anywhere on the rink. Throughout the postseason, he will be largely relied upon to spearhead New Jersey’s scoring effort.

Patrick Kane | RW | New York Rangers

Prior to the trade deadline, Patrick Kane was frequently mentioned in connection with the Rangers, who desired him for the current season.

This Rangers club is coming off a campaign in which they advanced to the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Lightning in six games. New York went out and bought Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko before the deadline to put them over the top.

Both will be essential, but Kane is the one who may be able to perform at his best on a large platform. In his 16 years with the Blackhawks, Kane won three Stanley Cups and received the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP in 2013. It couldn’t come at a better time as the talented winger is truly beginning to feel at home with his new squad.

David Pastrnak | RW | Boston Bruins

This season’s Presidents’ Trophy winner, the Boston Bruins, surprised everyone. The Bruins also set an NHL record for points in a season with 133. Linus Ullmark has been a standout goalie for his team, as has been well-documented.

David Pastrnak, a winger with the Boston Bruins, had a great year, scoring 60 goals overall and registering his first 50-goal season in the NHL. As Brad Marchand recovered from double hip surgery, Pastrnak took up a significant portion of the offensive load to begin the season.

It won’t come as a great surprise if Pastrnak excels once more in the final few months of the year given that he has 74 career playoff points.

Sebastian Aho | C | Carolina Hurricanes

It is obvious that the Eastern Conference is replete with skilled forwards who are capable of scoring goals.

Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes may even be given less consideration than he merits at times. Throughout the regular season, Aho led the Hurricanes in goals (33) and is one of the more potent scoring threats available. In comparison to prior postseasons, the great center will need to have even more of a penchant for scoring goals.

Due to the absence of Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov for the remainder of the season, Aho will be under a lot of strain.