Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Connor McDavid's opening act for the ages

The Hockey Central panel wrap up a busy day of Game 7's, with Connor McDavid willing the Oilers to the second round, and the Maple Leafs coming up short against the two-time defending champion Lightning.

One round down, three to go.

Half of the field is out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and some great individual performances came to naught. Brad Marchand got going after a slow start and finished Round 1 with four goals and 11 points, good for third in league scoring. He's out.

Jake Guentzel leads the playoffs with eight goals, seven at even-strength, and finished with a league-high 39 shots (tied with David Pastrnak). Guentzel's teammate Sidney Crosby threw it back and was outstanding in the first round against the Rangers, finishing with 10 points himself — the eight he got at even-strength is third in the league. They're both out.

And perhaps the best performance of all, among advancing and eliminated teams both, was Jake Oettinger, who faced more shots (285), made more saves (272) and had a better save percentage (.954) than anyone in the first round. His 64-save effort in an onslaught of a Game 7 was the best of all and it ended in a losing effort as his Dallas Stars were only able to muster 28 shots of their own.

Oettinger's out, so while Flames coach Darryl Sutter called him "the best player in the series" and he was probably the best player overall in the first two weeks, he will not appear in our Conn Smythe rankings. He certainly deserves the acknowledgement for his outstanding efforts, though.

After each round we'll update with a "Power Rankings" of candidates for the Conn Smythe, listed in order of where we would rank them for the playoff MVP award today. Starting with That Guy In Edmonton ...

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The greatest player in the league drove that fact home in Edmonton's Round 1 series win over Los Angeles, McDavid's first since 2017. Averaging two points per game, McDavid leads the league with 14 points. Outside of Game 4's shutout loss, McDavid was nearly unstoppable and when the Oilers trailed the series 3-2, he willed them to back-to-back wins. His Game 7 showing may have been the best version of McDavid yet — a goal, an assist and over 27 minutes of ice time. In the end, McDavid accomplished something in the opening series that no dynasty Oiler ever did, making his opening act one for the ages. So, what's he got in store next?

2. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida Panthers

The Panthers started slowly against Washington, dropping two of the first three games. Then Verhaeghe took over. On a team with marquee talents Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, it was Verhaeghe who piled on one clutch performance after another in Round 1. In Game 4, he scored two goals, including the OT winner. In Game 5 when the Panthers trailed 3-0, Verhaeghe factored into all five Panthers goals (two goals, three primary assists) in a comeback win. And, just when you thought he had given all he could, Verhaeghe had another multi-point effort in Game 6, where he scored the series winner — in overtime again. Verhaeghe leads the league with 12 even-strength points.

3. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

Makar was sensational in Round 1, his 10 points in four games against the Nashville Predators setting the pace early and his 2.5 points per game the best in the league. The Norris Trophy finalist and favourite was impossible to keep off the scoresheet in the first round, scoring in three games and also recording a trio of multi-point matchups.  

Paired with Devon Toews — who has three goals and five points after sweeping Nashville — Makar has been a must-watch so far this spring … and he’s only just getting started. 

4. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

He was asked to deliver and it would have been disastrous for the discourse if he didn't, but Gaudreau absolutely came through in Round 1. Though his team played the maximum seven games, Gaudreau is not a league points leader, but did finish with eight in seven. He scored two goals, both game-winners, including the clutch Game 7 marker that put the Flames into the second round for the first time since 2015. They just ran into a defensive buzzsaw and a hot goalie. When Johnny Hockey was on the ice at 5-on-5, Calgary controlled over 60 per cent of all shot attempts, 61 per cent of all shots and 64 per cent of all expected goals. Keep going like that and more numbers will follow. Gaudreau was the best player on Calgary's best line and it was a defining moment for his career.

5. Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames

Markstrom was the second-best goalie within his own series, but he met the workload in front of him. Markstrom is tied with Jordan Binnington (who played just three games) with a .943 save percentage out of Round 1, and when the Flames were pushing hard in Game 7, Markstrom denied the few moments Dallas had to end the game and break the heart of the city of Calgary. He earned a shutout and also has the league's best GAA, at 1.53. This is exactly the type of series he was brought in to make a difference in.

6. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina's two leading scorers are both defenceman — Slavin and Tony DeAngelo have eight points apiece. Slavin stands alone in even-strength points, leading Carolina with seven. He also averaged over 23 minutes per game, over two minutes more than the next-highest Cane. Slavin can contribute offence, but his most important impact is on defence, where he is a nightmare to break in against and try to create offence on. Carolina outscored the Bruins, 10-3, at 5-on-5 when Slavin was on the ice, and his Game 7 performance was masterful.

7. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Like Makar, MacKinnon has been unstoppable — just ask Nashville’s goalies. In four games, MacKinnon scored five goals, starting with two in Game 1, and has done most of his damage on the club’s lethal power play. Thanks in large part to MacKinnon’s three power-play goals from Round 1, Colorado’s running at a league-high 43.8 power-play success rate. 

8. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Trailing the Penguins by one in Game 7's third period, the Rangers needed one of their studs to step up. Zibanejad answered on the big stage and scored the tying goal with only a few minutes left in regulation. In the last two games of their opening round, in which they came back from trailing 3-2 in the series, Zibanejad produced three goals and seven points and was on the ice for over 65 per cent of all 5-on-5 shots in those final two games, outscoring the Pens 4-0 in his minutes. He came up big when his team needed him most (and with Artemi Panarin seemingly playing through something) and Zibanejad is third in overall league scoring, with 11 points.

9. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues

One year after being completely shut down by Colorado in Round 1, the Blues look like a totally different team thanks to a young group of players bringing fresh energy to a Cup-calibre core. But O’Reilly? He’s looking like his old self, with five goals and eight points in six games to send the Wild packing. 

O’Reilly, who claimed the Conn Smythe in 2019 when the Blues won the Cup, also has “Girl Dad Power” on his side:

10. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

No, this isn’t 2019 — it’s just Binnington playing like it is. After backstopping the Blues to a Game 7 victory against the Bruins to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, Binnington went 0-9 in two first-round exits, his struggles taking centre stage and eventually leading to him being moved to a supporting role next to new lead Ville Husso. 

But when Husso struggled in back-to-back games against Minnesota, Blues head coach Craig Berube turned to Binnington for a spark — and got a goalie on fire. 

In three starts against the Wild, Binnington recorded a trio of wins, a 1.67 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage to stump Minnesota and send St. Louis to Round 2. 

11. Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers

If an Oiler wins the Conn Smythe in June, it's almost guaranteed to be McDavid. Mentioned off the top, he's so important to everything the Oilers do and really willed them through Round 1 at the most important moments. Still, in a Conn Smythe Power Rankings, we have to mention Kane, who scored seven goals and is the leading goal scorer among all remaining players in the playoffs. His 34 shots are the best of all remaining players, too, and one of his goals was a game-winner. Edmonton got him to help fill out some scoring around their two stars and so far Kane has delivered.

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