Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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2024 Stanley Cup Final: Ranking the top 10 impact players in Panthers vs. Oilers

The 2024 Stanley Cup Final features a pair of the NHL’s most loaded rosters. The Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers both have plenty of star power, and those marquee names will go toe-to-toe for hockey’s ultimate prize.

The top of the Oilers’ lineup, headlined by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, is as loaded as they come. Edmonton has no problem lighting up the scoreboard with so much high-end skill on the ice, but players like Mattias Ekholm give the lineup some balance on the back end too.

The Panthers, on the other hand, are a team that prides themselves on playing suffocating defense from top to bottom. Captain Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Gustav Forsling will be asked to contain McDavid as much as possible while Matthew Tkachuk leads a punishing forecheck for the Panthers in the offensive zone.

Over the next four to seven games, key players on both sides of this matchup will make big plays to determine the NHL’s next champion. Here’s a look at the top 10 impact players in this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

10. Stuart Skinner | G | Edmonton Oilers

One way or another, Skinner will make a sizable impact on this Stanley Cup Final. Skinner can be somewhat volatile between the pipes, and that has led to questions about which version of him will show up against Florida. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Skinner turned in a .881 save percentage and 5.43 goals allowed above average, according to Natural Stat Trick. Skinner was even benched for two games during Edmonton’s second-round meeting with the Vancouver Canucks. Apparently, that time to clear his head worked because Skinner was exceptional in the Western Conference Final, boasting a .922 save percentage and 0.45 goals saved above average. The Oilers need more of that conference final effort in order to lift the Cup.

9. Mattias Ekholm | D | Edmonton Oilers

As great as the Oilers are on offense, they do need to play some defense to win the Stanley Cup. Thanks to Ekholm, they have plenty of defense to go all the way. Since joining Edmonton ahead of the 2023 trade deadline, Ekholm has provided some much needed stability on defense, and he has elevated his game in these playoffs. In his 321 minutes of ice time at five-on-five, the Oilers have controlled 57.2% of the expected goals and outscored opponents 19-11, per Natural Stat Trick. Those numbers are even more eye-popping when you consider Ekholm is tasked with slowing down the opposition’s top forwards. It’s probably safe to assume that Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe will get a heavy dose of Ekholm in this series.

8. Sergei Bobrovsky I G I Florida Panthers

Sergei Bobrovsky really thrived throughout the Panthers’ series win against the Rangers. Bobrosvsky yielded two or fewer goals in five of his six starts in that series and compiled a 2.00 goals-against-average even after surrendering five goals in Game 3 against New York. According to Money Puck, Bobrovsky has registered a .960 save percentage when facing unblocked shots throughout the postseason. The veteran netminder also thrived during the regular season with a 2.37 goals-against-average and .915 save percentage. However, this is likely the most lethal offense that he has faced throughout the postseason. Considering Bobrovsky’s track record, it’s possible that Bobrovsky will be one of the top x-factors that will determine how this series plays out.

7. Sam Reinhart I C I Florida Panthers

Sam Reinhart might be Florida’s most dangerous offensive option to put the puck in the net. Entering the series, Reinhart leads the team with eight goals, including netting the overtime winner in Game 4 against the New York Rangers when the Panthers desperately needed a win. The Panthers forward also had a career-high 57 goals during the regular season, so he’s a threat to score when he’s within earshot of the puck. Reinhart, who is in line for a big payday this summer, is someone that Edmonton’s defense will need to keep track of at all times during this series.

6. Zach Hyman | LW | Edmonton Oilers

One big reason the Oilers have gotten over the playoff hump this season is that the cast around McDavid and Draisaitl is shouldering more of the burden. No player is a better example of that than Hyman. In his ninth NHL season, Hyman broke out for 54 goals, which was 18 more than his previous career high. Hyman has turned himself into a net-front menace, and that hasn’t changed in the playoffs, no matter how hard other teams have tried to neutralize him. Hyman leads all playoff performers with 14 goals, and the Panthers better have an answer for him in the low slot, especially when Edmonton is on the man advantage.

5. Gustav Forsling I D I Florida Panthers

The Panthers’ defense will certainly have their hands full in the Stanley Cup Final considering that they have to slow down Connor McDavid and company. Defenseman Gustav Forsling will likely consistently be matched up with the Oilers’ top line during the series. Forsling has tallied 31 hits, 23 blocked shots, and 14 takeaways up to this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The veteran blue-liner isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body as he’s averaging 3.49 blocks throughout the postseason. On top of his defensive prowess, Forsling is a gifted offensive option on the blue line as he’s registered 11 points (four goals & seven points) this postseason. Forsling will be depended on to log heavy minutes as the Oilers will be arguably his most difficult matchup yet.

4. Aleksander Barkov I C I Florida Panthers

Aleksander Barkov is arguably one of the Panthers’ biggest threats on both ends of the ice. After all, Barkov won the Selke Trophy this season as the best defensive forward in the NHL. As harassing as Barkov can be on the defensive end, he’s just as dangerous when he’s got the puck on his stick. The Panthers star can stickhandle at an elite level, and has scored six goals throughout the 2024 postseason, while also having no problem setting up his teammates along the way. It won’t be a huge surprise if Barkov makes his presence known at many points during the series.

3. Matthew Tkachuk I LW I Florida Panthers

Throughout Florida’s Stanley Cup run in 2023, Matthew Tkachuk constantly rose to the occasion, and nothing has changed this time around. Tkachuk currently leads the Panthers in points (19) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs with five goals and a team-high 14 assists. The veteran forward has thrived on the power-play throughout the postseason with a team-high six power-play assists thus far. Tkachuk plays with an ample amount of physicality, and will likely do his best to get under the skin of the opposition. He also has no problem making his living around the net on the offensive end of the ice. In terms of clutch players, Tkachuk certainly fits the bill, and he’s one that could end up being a thorn in the Oilers’ side throughout the series.

2. Leon Draisaitl | C | Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl could be the No. 1 guy on many teams around the NHL, but in Edmonton he has Connor McDavid as a teammate. Draisaitl gives the Oilers a truly elite finisher, both at five-on-five and on the power play. After notching 41 goals in the regular season, he has 10 goals this postseason, which is second in the NHL and would be first on the Panthers. What makes Draisaitl so key in this series is that, although he’s earned a reputation as a prolific goal-scorer, he’s no pushover in the physicality department. Florida will no doubt try to lay the lumber on Edmonton’s stars, but Draisaitl has a unique knack for getting the puck in the net one way or another.

1. Connor McDavid | C | Edmonton Oilers

What a shock it is to see the best hockey player in the world at the top of this list. McDavid simply plays the game at a different speed than everyone else, and that has been clear in these playoffs. Don’t be fooled by his modest goal total. McDavid has taken his playmaking to another stratosphere. He has 26 assists in just 18 games after posting 100 assists in the regular season, and he is feeding teammates in high-danger areas. McDavid can take over games and has fared well against even the toughest defensive matchups through the first three rounds. The Panthers will throw the kitchen sink at him, but McDavid is just operating on another level right now.

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