NHL Power Rankings: Korpisalo, Kuemper, Hughes lead Conn Smythe race

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we check back in with the Conn Smythe Watch and which players are leading that race.

Right now the story of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a couple of game-changing goaltending performances in Columbus and Arizona that are keeping their series close, and the rapid emergence of two young superstar defensemen that are getting ready to take over the league.

Who else figures into the mix at this point?

To the rankings!

1. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. He remains the story of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not only because he has been the most impressive individual player in the tournament so far, but also because it is so unexpected. He exceeded expectations during the regular season in replacing Sergei Bobrovsky. He has taken his play to an entirely new level in the playoffs and is the single biggest reason his team is still playing and giving Tampa such a fight.

2. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. Pretty much the Western Conference version of Korpisalo. A former backup that has taken his chance as a starter and run with it. He has become a wildly productive goalie since arriving in Arizona and after shutting down the Nashville Predators in the Qualifying Round has been giving the high-powered Colorado Avalanche some headaches in the First Round.

3. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. Yes, you are reading that correctly. It is Hughes over Bo Horvat in Vancouver. Maybe this is a spicy take that needs to be handled with oven mitts, but it is also the correct take. Horvat has been great (as have all of Vancouver’s young players) and scored some massive goals, but when it comes to the team’s best player night in and night out, the answer is simply Hughes. Because of his position and the type of impact his position can make he was always going to be the Canucks’ X-factor and his development was going to play a big role in what this team was capable of doing. He has quickly become a star, and the Canucks are wildly better off because of it. He is playing 23 minutes per night in the playoffs, he has nine points in seven games (tied for the team lead, and leads the league in assists), and is a possession-driving monster that is helping the Canucks dominate shot attempts (55.1 percent), scoring chances (59.8 percent), expected goals (56.3 percent), and actual goals (7-4 margin) when he is on the ice. He is still only 20 years old.

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. Another absolutely brilliant young defenseman that could very well have a Norris Trophy in his future. He is neck-and-neck with Hughes in my view for the Conn Smythe and it is really down to splitting hairs when it comes to which one gets top billing. You could flip flop these two and I would not argue it too much. He has been the Stars’ best player.


5. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have been waiting decades for a goalie like Hart, and now that they finally have one it should terrify the rest of the Eastern Conference. He has only allowed seven goals in his first five starts this postseason. He had one clunker of a game where he allowed four goals against Montreal, which means he has only allowed three goals in his other four starts. The Flyers are for real, and Hart is a big reason why.

6. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He was the best non-goalie in the qualifying round but has cooled off a little against Boston. With Andrei Svechnikov sidelined the Hurricanes are going to need him to get hot again to help carry the offense. Fortunately for them, he is perfectly capable of doing that.

7. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa’s underrated and often times overlooked star. He has at least one point in every game this postseason for the Lightning and is helping to pace the offense in the absence of Steven Stamkos.

8. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens needed the in-his-prime version Price to show up to have a chance this postseason, and that is the exact version that has be in net for them. He may not play at this level as consistently as he used to, but that ability is still very much there.

9. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. The Islanders looked lousy for the last three months of the regular season and then came back in the return to play and immediately looked better than they did at any point over the past two years (even during their 15-0-2 stretch earlier this season). Varlamov’s play in net is one of the big factors in that turnaround.

10. David Krejci, Boston Bruins. Easily the most underrated Bruins of this era. Krejci has always had a knack for coming through in the playoffs and he is doing it again this season playing big minutes and helping to drive the Bruins’ offense in the First Round against Carolina with five points (two goals, three assists) in the first three games of the series.

Honorable mentions: Sam Bennett (Calgary Flames), Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Reilly Smith (Vegas Golden Knights) Cam Talbot (Calgary Flames), Jordan Eberle (New York Islanders)

• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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