The first round of the NHL playoffs has the potential for upsets and opportunities for players to make a name for themselves by stealing a game in net or scoring the winner in double-overtime. Here is one player to watch from each of the 16 playoff teams in the first round.
Toronto Maple Leafs — Goaltender Frederik Andersen (66 games played, 38-21-5 record, 2.81 goals-against average, .918 save percentage)
Andersen was a workhorse this season for Toronto and has the potential to affect the outcome of the series almost by himself. The Danish goaltender showed his capabilities when he went 9-2-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and two shutouts in the month of November. Another run of play like that could carry the Leafs further in the playoffs than the offence they so heavily rely on.
Boston Bruins — Forward Patrice Bergeron (64 games played, 30 goals, 33 assists, 63 PTS)
Never mind slowing down, Bergeron seems to be getting better with age. His numbers offensively balance one of the best lines in hockey with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, and he’s still one of the best on faceoffs and the defensive side of the game. The 32-year-old logged the second most ice time of any Bruins forward at 19:26 per game, which is above his career average.
Philadelphia Flyers — Centre Claude Giroux (82 GP, 34 G, 68 A, 102 PTS)
Giroux’s numbers had been declining over the past four seasons before busting out this year with a performance worthy of Hart Trophy consideration. Just one of three players to crack 100 points, doing so for the first time in his career, the 30-year-old contributed to over 40 per cent of Philadelphia’s offence. He put up the sixth most power play points with 36.
Pittsburgh Penguins — Goaltender Matt Murray (49 GP, 27-16-3, 2.92 GAA, .907 SV)
Pittsburgh enters the playoffs for the 12th straight year and as two-time defending champions, but for the first time since 2005 without goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray had adverse moments in his first season as Penguins starter including injuries and the death of his father, and head coach Mike Johnston doesn’t have the same insurance policy without Fleury. Murray is 22-9 so far in the post-season in his young career.
Washington Capitals — Forward Alexander Ovechkin (82 GP, 49 G, 38 A, 87 PTS)
Ovechkin led the league in goals for the seventh time in his career and can still change a game at 32 years old. This will be his 10th playoff appearance as he searches for his first Stanley Cup. The 87 points he produced this season were the most since the 2009-10 campaign and his scored 18.9 per cent of his team’s goals.
New Jersey Devils — Forward Taylor Hall (76 GP, 39 G, 54 A, 93 PTS)
Hall went from Edmonton cast off to Hart Trophy candidate in his second season with the Devils, and has been rewarded with his first playoff appearance at 26. He put up career numbers in both goals and points and enters the post-season with 17 points his final 10 games. In is final 40 games he failed to hit the scoresheet only four times.
Tampa Bay Lightning — Forward Steven Stamkos (78 GP 27 G 86 PTS)
Stamkos missed the final two regular-season games with a lower-body injury. While head coach John Cooper scratched him as more of a precautionary measure and said his captain would be ready for playoffs, it doesn’t mean Stamkos will be at 100 per cent. The Lightning struggled at time in the second half of the season as did Stamkos, who produced zero goals and nine assists in his final 12 games.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Defenceman Seth Jones (78 GP, 16 G, 41 A, 57 PTS)
The 22-year-old broke out this season offensively and finished second in team scoring behind forward Artemi Panarin. He was second in the league for goals by a blue liner and 10th in production. He leads his team in ice time with 24:36 a night, being relied on for both sides of special teams.
Nashville Predators — Goaltender Pekka Rinne (59 GP, 42-13-4, 2.31 GAA, .927 SV%)
Rinne has the luxury of having one of the best lineups in the league in front of him, but that shouldn’t take away from the impact he could have in the playoffs. The 35-year-old set a career high for wins and statistically had his best season since 2010-11. The Predators likely won’t need him to win too many games on his own, but they can’t afford him to have any poor outings either. Last season he had a 1.76 GAA as he helped guide Nashville to the Cup final.
Colorado Avalanche — Forward Mikko Rantanen (81 GP, 29 G, 55 A, 84 PTS)
While all the spotlight has been on Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP-worthy season, his linemate Rantanen has put up one of the quietest 84 point seasons as a 21-year-old in recent memory. When MacKinnon went down for three weeks with a shoulder injury the Finnish rookie still found ways to produce. Rantanen helped Colorado to the seventh-best power play amongst the 16 playoff teams.
Los Angeles Kings — Forward Anze Kopitar (82 GP, 35 G, 57 A, 92 PTS)
Kopitar had a bounce-back season in 2017-18 and finished seventh in league scoring. His 92 points were an increase of 40 from last season when the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. He carried the offensive workload with Jeff Carter out most of the season with an injury and helped bring Dustin Brown back to life on the scoresheet.
Vegas Golden Knights — Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (46 GP, 29-13-4, 2.24 GAA, .927 SV%)
Fleury and the expansion Golden Knights have already exceeded expectations by breaking records and qualifying for the playoffs, but it never hurts to have the most experienced goaltender amongst the 16 starters in net. The three-time Stanley Cup champion has 115 post-season games under his belt and from Day 1 has been the face of Vegas hockey.
Winnipeg Jets — Forward Blake Wheeler (81 GP, 23 G, 68 A, 91 PTS)
Wheeler plays every situation for the Jets and came away with a career high in points this season, including a league-high 68 assists. His playmaking abilities make everyone around him better, whether its linemate Mark Scheifele or Patrik Laine on the power play. It’s just the fourth time, second with Winnipeg, that the 31-year-old has made the playoffs in his career.
Minnesota Wild — Forward Eric Staal (82 GP, 42 G, 34 A, 76 PTS)
Staal proved his bounce-back year in 2016-17 was no fluke as he produced even more points this season as Minnesota’s top scorer. His 42 goals were good to place him fourth in the league. The 33-year-old has only played in 10 playoff games in the last nine seasons and should be yearning for a chance at a Stanley Cup, which he hoisted back in 2006 with Carolina.
San Jose Sharks — Forward Joe Thornton (47 GP 13 G, 23 A, 36 PTS)
Thornton has been out of the Sharks’ lineup since Jan. 23, missing the team’s last 34 games due to a knee injury. But he’s back skating and depending on how many games San Jose goes in the post-season, the veteran has the potential to return in the first round. The 38-year-old has played 160 playoff games, but is still without a Stanley Cup.
Anaheim Ducks — Goaltender John Gibson (60 GP, 31-18-7, 2.43 GAA, .926 SV%)
Gibson practised with his team on Monday, but has been out of action since April 1 with an upper-body injury. The 22-year-old seems to be coming into his prime despite injuries that keep getting in the way. The defensive-minded Ducks will rely heavily on their goaltending, whether Gibson is healthy or if they turn to veteran Ryan Miller, who started the final three games of the season.