Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises, underrated players through two rounds

vezina trophy
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What has surprised you through two rounds of the postseason?

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Quite honestly, it has to be the performance of Mike Smith. I thought he was going to be a disaster in the Edmonton net but he has legitimately good and along with Connor McDavid is one of the biggest reasons the Oilers are playing in the Western Conference Final. I did not think he had this much left or could reach this level this consistently because it goes back beyond the playoffs to the end of the regular season as well. It is stunning.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The return to form of Igor Shesterkin has been a pleasant surprise as he really had struggled from March 10 until the final three games of the opening round against Pittsburgh. He was really strong all series against the Hurricanes, giving up only 12 goals on 234 shots in seven games.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: For years, star players have been smothered by stifling defense, and most offensively, negligent officiating. It’s been truly jaw-dropping to see Connor McDavid go full supernova mode in these playoffs, but the true delight is that he’s not the only star player to shine in the spotlight. Kucherov, Gaudreau, Makar, MacKinnon … heck, even Perron, Kadri, and others have been dominant during stretches. As someone who sometimes envies the NBA’s tendency to have its biggest stars looking great in big moments (and often facing off in battles of juggernauts), it’s been a true treat to devour at least a slice of that in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: We’ve been treated to six Games 7s already through two rounds. The NHL record for an entire postseason is seven and it wouldn’t be a surprise if we get at least one more in these final three series of 2021-22.

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What player has been overlooked and deserves more love?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: It’s been great to see Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram back on the ice and excelling after dealing with concussions issues during the regular season. He’s recorded six assists (five at even strength), leads all defenseman in shot share percentage (66.78 per Natural Stat Trick), and is top 10 in expected goals percentage (61.73). Byram has only played 49 games in this first two NHL seasons. Hopefully the good health can continue with him as this is the type of player he can be on a Stanley Cup contender.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Evander Kane deserves some love. After so many were angry with the Oilers for signing him after a sour breakup with the San Jose Sharks, Kane has come into his own in the playoffs with 12 goals to lead all NHL scorers. All the attention has been given to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton but Kane’s contributions have been outstanding for the Oilers.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Bad shooting luck tends to go hand-in-hand with players slipping under the radar. With that in mind, allow me to present Mikko Rantanen. He’s managed more than a point-per-game in these playoffs (11 in 10) despite only having one goal on 24 shots (4.2%). Assuming he’s not badly injured, I would expect him to get more of those bounces, starting against the Oilers. He’s overdue for recognition as a truly elite player.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I am going to go with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton. He obviously has not played at the level of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but he has been almost a point-per-game player (11 in 12 games) and given them just enough secondary scoring to help push them through. He also had a huge game against Calgary, including a game-winning goal, that helped push them through. I think he always gets a little overlooked because he was a No. 1 overall pick that has not become a superstar, but he is still a really good player. 

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