NHL Power Rankings: MacKinnon, Heiskanen top latest Conn Smythe watch

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take an updated look at the Conn Smythe Trophy watch for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A lot has changed in the past week with some new names at the top and some previous contenders being eliminated.

We have a superstar leading the way, an emerging superstar right behind him, and one of the league’s best two-way players rounding out the top-three.

Who else makes the cut this week?

To the rankings!

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon is not just a superstar. He is the best player remaining in the playoffs and has to be considered among the top-three players in the entire National Hockey League. If you wanted to make an argument that he is the best, I would be willing to listen to it and not totally dismiss it. He is that good. His speed, his shot, and the way he takes over every single shift makes him one of the game’s most unstoppable forces. Every time he has the puck right now it should be bringing you to the edge of your seat.

2. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. An absolutely fabulous player having an absolutely incredible postseason. He is tied for second in the NHL scoring race this postseason (the only defenseman in the top-15, and one of only two in the top-20), has five more points than any other player on the Stars, and has been a dominant defensive presence. At the end of last year’s playoffs Stars goalie Ben Bishop said Heiskanen was already one of the best defensemen he had ever played with, which is stunning praise given some of the players Bishop has had as teammates. Heiskanen is even better this postseaon.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. You are not going to find many players in the NHL that play a better two-way game than Stone, and you might not find any wingers that are better. Stone is pacing the Golden Knights offensively while also playing a shutdown role defensively. He is not just underrated. He is one of the best players in hockey.

4. David Krejci, Boston Bruins. If something positive is happening for the Bruins this postseason (and once the real playoffs began, that has been often) there is a good chance that Krejci has been at the center of it. He has always shined for the Bruins come playoff time and that is happening again this season. He takes a seven-game point streak into Game 2 of their series against Tampa Bay.

5. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. His goals against by game this postseason: 1, 1, 1, 4, 0, 0, 4, 2. He had two little slips against Montreal, but you have to expect a tough game for every goalie at some point. But so far he has been everything the Flyers have hoped for in a franchise goalie. He out-dueled Carey Price in the First Round series and gives the Flyers a chance every night.

6. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. Yes, I know Bo Horvat is tied for the league lead in goals this postseason, and I know Elias Pettersson is tied for second in total points. But I am doubling down on last week’s claim that Hughes has actually been the Canucks’ best player this postseason. Because he has been. The young forwards (Pettersson, Horvat, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller) are all tremendous, but Hughes is going to be the engine that really powers this machine for years to come.

[Full NHL Second Round schedule]

7. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. He has had a save percentage of .920 or better in seven of his first nine starts in the Return To Play. Consistent, steady, and a big part of the Islanders’ ability to shut down both teams they have played so far.

8. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. He is doing his part to lift the Lightning offense in the absence of Steven Stamkos. Along with two overtime winning goals in the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he has found the scoresheet in eight of his first nine playoff games and has yet to go consecutive games without scoring a goal this postseason.

9. Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche. If he played on any other team that did not have arguably the best player in the NHL on it he would probably be a lot higher on my list. But if a member of the Avalanche is going to win the Conn Smythe this postseason it is going to be MacKinnon. But do not let that take away from Kadri’s performance or the value he has added to the lineup. His presence has helped take the Avalanche from “up-and-coming team” to a Stanley Cup contender.

10. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. Pettersson is not just a dominant offensive player, he is quickly becoming one of the league’s must-see players on a nightly basis.

Honorable mentions: Reilly Smith (Vegas Golden Knights), Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks) Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), Anthony Beauvillier (New York Islanders).

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule
• PHT Second Round Predictions

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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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.