Conn Smythe watch: McDavid, Makar lead after First Round of NHL playoffs

The First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded on Sunday night with a pair of thrilling overtime Game 7s that saw the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames advance to the Second Round.

Now that the First Round is in the books it is time for our first installment of this year’s Conn Smythe watch to see who stands out as the early leaders for the MVP of the Playoffs.

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

McDavid was an absolute madman in their First Round series against the Los Angeles Kings, pretty much putting the team on his back in Games 6 and 7 of the series. He had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists), including six multi-point games. He had five over the final two games, having a hand in all but one of the Oilers’ goals during that stretch with their season on the line. He was everywhere. There is not an offensive player like him anywhere in the NHL.

2. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

Speaking of unique, one-of-a-kind players in the NHL right now. Makar was a one-man wrecking crew for Colorado in its opening round sweep of the Nashville Predators. Just a truly incredible performance by one of the league’s rising megastars. He went head-to-head with fellow Norris Trophy finalist Roman Josi and completely stole the show, not only putting up fantastic offensive numbers, but controlling the game in every phase and every part of the ice. Nashville had no answer for him. Nobody does.

3. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida Panthers

It was not Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov that led Florida to a First Round win over Washington, the Panthers’ first playoff series win in 26 years, it was Verhaeghe. He has been a fantastic find for the Panthers the past two seasons (one of the many shrewd additions by their front office) and stole the show against the Capitals. He scored two-game winning overtime goals with the season on the line, including the series-clincher in Game 6. He had 12 points in the six games, including nine over the Panthers’ three consecutive wins to close out the series.

4. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

He has taken some heat at times during his Calgary career for his playoff performance, but there is no criticism to be had so far this season. He was outstanding against Dallas and had a massive Game 7 performance that included the overtime series-clincher. That came after setting up the game-tying goal earlier in the game. His 2021-22 performance, regular season and playoffs, is going to get him a boatload of money this offseason.

5. David Perron, St. Louis Blues

Perron is not the flashiest player (though he does have fantastic skill) and is not going to stick his glove in somebody’s face and start a skirmish after a whistle, but you want this guy on your team in the playoffs. He has been one of the Blues’ top offensive players since re-joining the team for a third time in 2018 and is having another really strong postseason. He was great against Minnesota with nine points (including five goals) in the six games.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

6. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers.

Now here is a name I did not expect to see on this list. Smith ended the regular season playing his best hockey of the year, and for the most part was really, really strong in the First Round, posting two shutouts, including their Game 7 win. That is worth something.

7. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

He was kind of lost in the shadow of Makar’s performance in the First Round, but he was still his usual dominant self with five goals in four games. If he and Makar can duplicate that level of play in later rounds the Avalanche are going to be ridiculously tough to knock out.

8. Antti Raanta, Carolina Hurricanes

He was not available for the entire series due to injury, but when he was out there he was a big difference-maker for Carolina. The duo of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta seemed like a bit of a gamble coming into the season given their recent play in previous seasons and their health concerns, but that duo teamed up to win the Jennings Trophy and form an outstanding pairing all year. Both have had their injury problems late, and it remains to be seen what happens when Andersen is able to return, but Raanta held his own against Boston and helped get the Hurricanes through.

9. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Interesting choice here maybe because he was invisible in the first five games of the series against Pittsburgh. But man, did he make an impact in Games 6 and 7, recording seven points to help the Rangers even the series and then win it. He started the Game 6 comeback with a pair of quick goals while factoring into seven of New York’s eight goals over the final two wins.

10. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Interesting to think about how different this Blues season could have looked had Seattle opted to take Tarasenko in the expansion draft, or if they had find a taker to trade for him when he requested out. Tarasenko returned to the Blues, returned to be an elite player, and helped drive one of the league’s best offenses. He was great in the First Round wit five goals, including a hat trick in one of the series shifting games in the middle.

Quick hit honorable mentions

Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning. Nobody on the Lightning had a truly dominant performance, but Palat stood out as a strong contributor and whose line carried play.

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers. He was not his normal dominant self, but he did enough behind a Rangers defense that did not play well at all. He faced the most chances of any goalie in the First Round.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars. Yeah, his team lost. But did you see him play? He was sensational.

Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers. He had seven goals in the First Round.

Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames. He was also great in the Stars-Flames series, but he is going to get a much tougher test from Connor McDavid and Co. in the Second Round.

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Steady hand on defense and a better offensive player than he gets credit for being.

Scroll Down For:

    NHL top prospect Connor Bedard draws comparisons to Connor McDavid as draft approaches

    connor bedard
    Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL is going to have another Connor to contend with very shortly.

    For everything two-time NHL MVP Connor McDavid has accomplished in Edmonton since being selected No. 1 in the 2015 draft, Connor Bedard is on the same trajectory in being pegged as this year’s top eligible draft prospect, Central Scouting director Dan Marr said Friday.

    “He’s right up there with Connor McDavid, it’s just the next generation,” Marr said in touting Bedard’s quickness, shot and ability to read and adapt. “So Connor McDavid started that trend, and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend.”

    The annual NHL pre-draft combine in Buffalo, New York, is resembling more of a coronation for the 17-year-old Bedard, who has spent the past two years putting up generational numbers with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League while also shining against his peers on the international stage.

    “I think you can use a lot of adjectives to describe it,” Regina coach John Paddock told The Associated Press recently in comparing Bedard’s production at the same age level to McDavid and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

    “That’s quite a high ceiling,” said Paddock, a former NHL coach and player. “But there’s no indication he’s not going to do that based on what he’s done to date.”

    The Chicago Blackhawks own the No. 1 pick, and are highly anticipated to use it on Bedard when the draft opens in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 28.

    Bedard held his latest meeting with the Blackhawks at the combine in a relationship that began at a top-prospects camp in Toronto last summer.

    Bedard’s arrival would coincide with the franchise in transition, with Chicago moving on from its aging core after trading 2007 No. 1 pick, Patrick Kane, and with captain Jonathan Toews’ future uncertain.

    “Yeah, it’d be awesome,” Bedard said of the possibility of being selected by the Blackhawks. “The history of that organization, that city with sports would be unbelievable. We’ll see what happens, but to be selected, that would be a huge honor.”

    Bedard said he’s following McDavid’s advice to stay in the moment and not peak too far ahead. He added, his dream to play in the NHL began no different than those of his colleagues: the moment he picked up a hockey stick growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

    What separates Bedard, however, is his exceptional skating ability and a hard shot, which is even more lethal given his quick release.

    With Bedard the likely top pick, the intrigue at the draft is likely to revolve around who rounds out the remainder of the top five selections.

    University of Michigan’s Adam Fantilli is second among North American skaters on Central Scouting’s final list, followed by top American prospect, William Smith, who played for USA Hockey’s developmental program. The top two European skaters are also considered in the mix with Sweden’s Leo Carlsson and Russia’s Matvei Michkov.

    Anaheim is scheduled to pick second followed by Columbus, San Jose and Montreal.

    Marr gives the edge to Bedard while also being impressed with Fantilli – just the third freshman to win the Hobey Baker Trophy awarded to college hockey’s top players – in a draft class considered very deep with offensive-minded forwards.

    “You’re going to win with both,” Marr said. “And whoever gets these two players they’re going to help define a franchise.”

    What distinguishes Bedard, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, has been his consistency.

    Last season, his 71 goals in just 57 games were the most in the WHL since Pavel Brendl scored 73 in 1998-99. Bedard’s 143 points were the most in the CHL since three players topped that mark in 1995-96. And it was a season in which he enjoyed 10 games with five or more points, and just five games in which he failed to register a point.

    In 2020-21, Bedard became just the third WHL 16-year-old to reach 100 points, and was the youngest to score 50 goals in finishing with 51.

    He’s also made a splash on the international stage. Bedard led Canada with nine goals and 23 points at the world juniors last winter, and his combined production of 17 goals and 36 points in just 16 games ranks fourth on the career tournament list.

    Bedard has honed his talent by spending countless hours practicing shots in his backyard, which he referred to as his “Happy Place.” He was so dedicated to work on his shot that he preferred practicing than joining his family for a vacation to Disneyland, and eventually vacationed in Hawaii but only after he was allowed to bring his inline skates and sticks to practice.

    Noted for being soft-spoken, Bedard said he’s not yet allowed himself to envision being drafted or making his NHL debut yet.

    “It’s hard kind of think of that. But of course, I’ll work as hard as I can to try to achieve that goal,” he said. “And hopefully I do.”

    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

    blue jackets
    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

    stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.