The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and the best hockey players in the world will be battling for the sport's ultimate prize. There are certain players who will have an especially big impact on how this postseason plays out, and we have highlighted a number of them.
Superstars like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are playing at an elite level, and they are hungry for their first Stanley Cup. Those two have already shown that they can put on a show in the postseason, but a couple of key players will be making their playoff debuts.
Jack Hughes and Jack Eichel have never suited up in a playoff game, but that is about to change. It will be interesting to see whether those players can get the job done when the pressure is at its highest.
Here are some important players to watch in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jack Eichel | C | Vegas Golden Knights
This is Jack Eichel's eighth NHL season, but it will be his first postseason appearance. After eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, the team dealt Eichel to the Golden Knights prior to the 2021-22 campaign. Surgery forced Eichel , and Vegas wound up missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
For the first time in a while, Eichel has been fully healthy for most of the season, and he has led the Golden Knights to first place in the Pacific Division. Eichel leads Vegas with 65 points, his highest total since 2019-20, and the team controls 52.0% of the expected goals with him on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick.
The question now is whether Eichel can continue that success in the postseason. The Golden Knights acquired him -- and paid him $10 million per year -- to win a Stanley Cup. All eyes will be on Eichel as he takes the ice for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Connor McDavid | C | Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid has established himself as the best player in the world with a season the NHL hasn't seen in almost three decades. He leads the league in goals (64), assists (88) and points (152), and he's the only the sixth player in NHL history. The last player to dominate the NHL like that was Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. McDavid is simply on another level, and he is capable of carrying his team to the Stanley Cup Final, even if he might not have to do that this season.
In the 2022 postseason, McDavid led the NHL with 33 points despite playing just three rounds. He put on a show every night, and I cannot wait to see what he will do for an encore with a stronger supporting cast around him.
The Avalanche are loaded with talent, but their biggest question mark entering the playoffs is probably Georgiev. After Darcy Kuemper signed with the Washington Capitals last offseason, Colorado acquired Georgiev to serve as his replacement in the team's quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Throughout the regular season, Georgiev has done an excellent job taking over for Kuemper. He has saved 27.27 goals above average while posting a high-danger save percentage of 85.4%. Georgiev has settled in nicely behind a deep Avalanche roster, but will that change in the playoffs?
Georgiev has never started a playoff game, and he has only appeared in two, taking on mop-up duty a couple of times last year for the New York Rangers. If Georgiev can keep the momentum of his strong regular season going in the playoffs, Colorado will be tough to beat, but that is something we haven't seen from him yet.
Miro Heiskanen | D | Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL for several years now, but he has elevated his game in 2022-23. On top of being an excellent shutdown defender, Heiskanen has added quite a bit of offensive punch this year.
The Stars have a plus-17 goal differential with Heiskanen on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick, and Heiskanen is helping them fill the net. Heiskanen has new career highs in goals (11), assists (60) and points (71). He is a bona fide Norris Trophy contender, and he will be critical to the Stars' postseason success.
Heiskanen's offensive output has helped make the Stars a more well-rounded team, and a lack of depth scoring has been their Achilles' heel in the past. As long as Heiskanen keeps making plays in all three zones, the Stars will be a thorn in the side of every playoff opponent.
The Minnesota Wild have had some trouble finding the back of the net at times this season, but they haven't had to score very much, thanks to Filip Gustavsson.
After a slow start from Marc-Andre Fleury this season, Gustavsson emerged as the Wild's best option in goal. Gustavsson has played his way into the Vezina Trophy conversation, and he ranks third in the NHL in goals saved above average with 32.22. With Gustavsson between the pipes, the Wild have a legitimate chance to win every game they play. If there is any concern about Gustavsson it's that this will be his first postseason.
Head coach Dean Evason hasn't announced a Game 1 starter yet, but Gustavsson has done more than enough to earn that opportunity. Fleury has an impressive resume, but Gustavsson has simply been the better goaltender in 2022-23.
Auston Matthews | C | Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews may not have put up 60 goals like he did a season ago, but expect the Maple Leafs star to turn it on when the lights are the brightest. The Toronto center can produce jaw-dropping plays at a moment's notice, but he actually hasn't needed to all that often since teammate Mitch Marner had such a big year.
Matthews did register nine points (four goals & five assists) in last year's seven-game series against the Lightning, and the two teams are set to do battle yet again.
If the Maple Leafs finally want to escape the narrative of being unable to get out of the opening round, Matthews is going to have to be one of the team's top offensive producers.
Jack Hughes | C | New Jersey Devils
The Devils have spent the last several years stockpiling their roster with a bevy of young talent. Now they're seeing the fruits of their labor with one of their most prized possessions being star center Jack Hughes.
Throughout the first few seasons of Hughes' career, the story became how good he could be if he was able to stay healthy. That potential was realized as the 21-year-old registered a career-high 97 points (43 goals and 54 assists) this season. Hughes has blossomed into one of the league's top stars, and he doesn't even need to do it all himself due to the team's addition of Timo Meier at the trade deadline.
Hughes is an absolute sniper that can score from just about anywhere on the ice. He'll be relied upon quite heavily to lead the offensive charge for New Jersey throughout the postseason.
Patrick Kane | RW | New York Rangers
The Rangers were long linked to Patrick Kane prior to the trade deadline, and the franchise wanted him for this time of the year.
This is a Rangers team that is coming off a season in which they reached the Eastern Conference Final before falling in six games at the hands of the Lightning. In order to put them over the top, New York went out and acquired Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane at the deadline.
Both will play an integral role, but Kane is the player that could really rise to the occasion on the big stage. Kane hoisted three Stanley Cups during his 16 years with the Blackhawks, and he even won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 2013. The star winger is really starting to settle in with his new team, and it couldn't come at a better time.
David Pastrnak | RW | Boston Bruins
The Bruins came out of nowhere Linus Ullmark has been in between the pipes.this season. On top of that, the Bruins notched an NHL-record 133 points on the year. It's been well-documented just how impressive goalie
However, Bruins winger David Pastrnak had a career year in which he tallied the first 50-goal season of his NHL career and finished with 60 goals for the campaign. Pastrnak shouldered a ton of the offensive burden to start off the season when Brad Marchand was out of the lineup as he recovered from double-hip surgery.
For a guy that has 74 career playoff points, it's not going to be a huge surprise if Pastrnak thrives once again late in the year.
It's clear that the Eastern Conference is littered with talented forwards that can put the puck in the net.
Sometimes, Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho may even be an afterthought, but he certainly shouldn't be. Aho led the Hurricanes in goals (33) throughout the regular season and is one of the more dynamic scoring threats around. The star center is going to need to have even more of a knack for finding the back of the net than in previous postseasons.