The hottest ticket in town right now is the 2016 NHL playoffs. Despite there being no Canadian teams in the mix this year, the postseason is still filled with quality teams that are duking it out for the chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup. No team will make it far into their run without a superstar guiding their play.
It is still round one, but there have already been some players who have elevated their game and are carrying their team as they march through the opposition. Two of these skaters play for powerhouse teams in the Western Conference, where the games are brutally tough affairs each and every night.
The other plays in the East, and despite the loss of both his captain and top two defenseman, is putting up impressive numbers in an attempt to get his organization back to the final.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov
How does one even describe Nikita Kucherov anymore? #TBLvsDET
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 19, 2016
Make no mistake, the young Russian has been a force the entire season, not just the playoffs. After setting career highs in scoring with 30 goals and 66 points this season, Kucherov has been on fire against Detroit. He’s potted five goals and added an addition three assists for eight points in four games.
Another impressive stat for the Moscow native is that he has 15 goals in his postseason career. That ties him for fifth on the Tampa Bay Lighting all-time playoff goal scoring list. Who’s he tied with? None other than his captain, Steven Stamkos. Those are incredibly impressive numbers, especially considering Kucherov is so young.
Nikita Kucherov now has 15 goals for his career in postseason and ties Steven Stamkos for 5th on #TBLightning all-time playoff goal list.
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) April 20, 2016
After a phenomenal season and the start of a great postseason, Kucherov is definitely due for a raise on his next contract. He’s currently making $711,667 and will be a restricted free agent this summer. Locking him up for significant money is a must for Lightning management, who view him as a foundation player for their organization.
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott
Man, Brian Elliott has been terrific in these first four games. Best playoff goaltending in STL in forever
— E.J. Hradek (@EJHradek_NHL) April 20, 2016
Going into a series against the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks is a daunting task for any team. There’s added pressure for the guy in the net who is expected to stop the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith on a nightly basis. Despite all that adversity, Brian Elliott has been absolutely fantastic.
Four games into the series and he’s got a record of 3-1 with a stellar goals against average of 1.70 and a .954 save percentage. If those stats weren’t good enough, you can also add in a shutout to boot.
Brian Elliott: drafted 291st overall, 13 years ago. 4 years at Wisconsin, has battled to be a #1 every year of his career. Great story.
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) April 20, 2016
The Newmarket, Ontario native has kept his cool in net and has answered every challenge the Blackhawks have thrown his way. These aren’t the same St. Louis Blues. They are dialled in and focused and have a legitimate shot at making a deep run. A lot of that hinges on the play of their goaltender, but Elliott has shown he’s ready to take the next step.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski is another player who had a fantastic regular season and subsequently kicked it up a notch for the playoffs. The captain of the Sharks finished with 38 goals and 78 points in 82 games. He has always been an underrated contributor, and has really shone in the series against the Los Angeles Kings.
In the playoffs he has four goals and an assist in four games. He’s put the Sharks on his back and is doing his best to make sure this his team has a deep run. The Sharks will have a chance to move on and topple the Kings at home when the fifth game of the series takes place.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) April 15, 2016
These three players have shone because of their tenacity, skills and compete level. They are key additions to the success of their team and should continue to make noise as the playoffs continue.
Leave me a comment, and let me know which players have impressed you so far in the 2016 NHL playoffs!