The 2022 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set, and the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche are loaded with star players. With so much talent on the ice at once, there are certain players fans need to be on the lookout for at all times.
There is no shortage of high-end talent in this series. Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon is a top-five player in the league, while Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has ice in his veins when it comes to big moments in big games.
Even outside of the starpower on each team, there are some really skilled players who will have a big influence on which team celebrates with the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. Colorado’s Artturi Lehkonen and Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli have made names for themselves as great two-way forwards who can affect the game in all three zones.
Here are the top players to watch in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.
Nathan MacKinnon | C | Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon is within arm’s reach of his first Stanley Cup, and that is bad news for the Tampa Bay defenders. In the Western Conference Final, MacKinnon tallied three goals and five points in four games, many of those coming in jaw-dropping fashion. As such, MacKinnon has only strengthened his place among the NHL‘s elite this postseason. In 14 games, he has played over 232 minutes at five-on-five. In that time, the Avalanche have scored 20 goals while allowing just eight, according to Natural Stat Trick. When MacKinnon is in the game, it’s a safe bet to assume that Colorado is controlling play.
Steven Stamkos | C | Tampa Bay Lightning
You’d think that three consecutive Stanley Cup Final runs would take a lot out of a 32-year old center, but Steven Stamkos keeps chugging along. The Lightning captain has already scored nine goals in these playoffs, which is one better than the eight he scored when the team won the Stanley Cup last summer. In Tampa Bay’s Game 6 win over the New York Rangers to clinch the Eastern Conference championship, Stamkos netted both of his team’s goals in a 2-1 win. With Brayden Point missing the last two rounds of the playoffs, Stamkos has stepped up to make sure the Bolts continue their run.
Cale Makar | D | Colorado Avalanche
Few defensemen have the kind of 200-foot game that Makar has. When it comes to carrying the puck out of his own zone, through the neutral zone, and into the offensive zone, you can count the number of players in the same tier as Makar on one hand. With Makar on the ice at five-on-five, Colorado has controlled 62.79% of the expected goals, per Natural Stat Trick. That is a phenomenal number for a 23-year old defenseman in the postseason. On the scoresheet, Makar is averaging over a point per game with five goals and 17 assists through 14 games. Every time Makar’s skates hit the ice, he is must-see TV.
Mikhail Sergachev | D | Tampa Bay Lightning
Victor Hedman gets most of the attention on the Tampa Bay blue line, and for good reason. He is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and has been for some time. However, the Lightning have other key contributors on defense, and Mikhail Sergachev is one of them. At the ripe old age of 23, Sergachev is in his fifth full NHL season and has the ability to eat some tough minutes for Tampa Bay. Last round, Sergachev saw a lot of ice time against the New York Rangers’ top weapons like Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Oh, and New York managed just one five-on-five goal in the last four games of that series.
Artturi Lehkonen | LW | Colorado Avalanche
One of my favorite moves ahead of the trade deadline was the Avalanche adding Artturi Lehkonen to strengthen their depth. It’s proven to be a savvy one for Colorado. Lehkonen is a solid two-way forward who has contributed a lot in this postseason. Through 14 games, Lehkonon has scored six goals. Three of those were game-winning goals, including his overtime tally in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers that sent the Avs to the Stanley Cup Final. We’ll see if he has any more clutch performances up his sleeve against the Lightning.
Anthony Cirelli | C | Tampa Bay Lightning
After winning the Stanley Cup last year, the Lighting lost their entire shutdown line between the expansion draft and free agency. This postseason, Anthony Cirelli has taken up the mantle as Tampa’s best defensive option among forwards. Cirelli has played 232 five-on-five minutes this postseason, and Tampa Bay has allowed just four goals in that time, according to Natural Stat Trick. The offensive side of Cirelli’s game has yet to kick in, but he is due. He generated a number of scoring chances against the Rangers, but Igor Shesterkin turned him aside time and time again. As a result, Cirelli’s postseason shooting percentage sits at an impossibly low 3.1%.
Darcy Kuemper | G | Colorado Avalanche
Darcy Kuemper might be the biggest x-factor in this Stanley Cup Final. With Andrei Vasilevskiy tending goal on the other side, Kuemper doesn’t have much room for mistakes — and he hasn’t exactly been rock solid in these playoffs. In his 10 games played, Kuemper has posted -3.65 goals saved above average, which is 26th amongst playoff goaltenders. In his last four starts, Kuemper allowed 13 goals on 86 shots. He has to be much better against a Tampa Bay team that is loaded with players who are skilled at finding the back of the net.
Corey Perry | RW | Tampa Bay Lightning
At 37, Corey Perry is still searching for his second Stanley Cup. Perry has been painfully close in the last two seasons. In 2020, he was on the Dallas Stars, who lost to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. In 2021, he was on the Montreal Canadiens, who lost to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. This past offseason, Perry subscribed to the “if you can’t be them, join them” philosophy. Perry is back in the Stanley Cup Final, so will the third time be the charm? It was for Marian Hossa, who went through similar woes with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings before finally hoisting the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.