The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the playoff MVP after the Stanley Cup is handed out. It is almost guaranteed that the trophy will be given out to a player on the winning team. After Round 1, Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid can easily be considered an early Conn Smythe favourite after his performance. What’s to be determined is if the Oilers can now win the Cup. It is a team sport but it doesn’t mean too much if they can’t win it all.
McDavid Took Over First Round Series
It was a best-of-seven series that needed all seven games for the Oilers to defeat the Los Angeles Kings. It is a team sport as I mentioned above, but one player can make a big difference. That’s exactly what McDavid did in the series, as he was without a doubt the best player on either team.
McDavid was dominant all series long but took over Games 6 and 7 when the Oilers were facing elimination. He scored two goals, and five points, and was a plus-5 in those two games where Edmonton scored six goals. He wasted no time in Game 6 by scoring on his first shift just over a minute into the game on a great solo effort. He also ended that game by backchecking hard, stripping the puck from a Kings player before they could get a late-game shot, and getting the puck to Evander Kane for the empty-net goal that sealed the game. McDavid finished Game 6 with his second consecutive three-point effort of the series.
Despite recording just a goal and an assist in Game 7 as opposed to three points in the prior two games, he controlled the game. Dimitri Filipovic pointed out some incredible stats from McDavid in Game 7. He had 27:22 of ice time and 23:40 at five-on-five, a goal and a primary assist, 12 shot attempts, 14 even-strength shot assists, and the Oilers had a 72.4 expected goals percentage (xG%) when he was on the ice. Relating to the five-on-five shot assists, only one other player in the game had more than three, and it was Leon Draisaitl, who had six.
McDavid perfectly set up the first Oilers’ goal by Cody Ceci and had another solo effort to score the clinching goal of the series with under four minutes to go in the game. McDavid drew a penalty but continued to fight through, got a couple more shots through the defencemen, and finally scored. This determination and skill set him above the rest in not only the game, but the series as well.
If you can believe it, McDavid was just the second player in NHL history to record six multi-point games in a single playoff round, joining Rick Middleton of the Boston Bruins in 1983. He also tied Glenn Anderson with the most multi-point games in the team’s first seven games of a postseason in Oilers’ history. Finally, he was the first player for the Oilers to record 10 assists in a playoff series since Mark Messier in 1989, also versus the Kings.
McDavid Has Competition for Early Conn Smythe Favourite
It won’t be easy for McDavid and the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup and for their captain to be awarded the Conn Smythe. A lot can change in one round. Injuries, player and team matchups, and different players stepping up and struggling. Even though nobody can and has taken over a game as McDavid has on the Oilers, three players come to mind as potential candidates that have the potential to have a better postseason than him if their team were to go all the way. Those players would be Mike Smith, Kane, and Draisaitl.
Smith has posted incredible numbers through the first round and only made one mistake in Game 1 of the series. Kane scored seven goals in the first round which included three multi-goal games and a hat trick. While Draisaitl is a known playoff performer, he is playing hurt, but still managed to score five goals and record nine points.
Looking at other teams, there are seven that moved on or will move on to Round 2 of the playoffs and have a standout candidate or candidates for the Conn Smythe. The Florida Panthers have Carter Verhaeghe who has scored six goals and 12 points in six games. He scored two overtime goals and three game-winners already. The Panthers are the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
The favourite to come out of the Western Conference and win the Stanley Cup is the Colorado Avalanche which has Cale Makar. He contributed greatly to the first-round sweep of the Nashville Predators when he scored three goals and recorded 10 points in just four games as a defenceman (from “The Wraparound: Cale Makar is unmatched right now”, NBC Sports, May 7, 2022).
The St. Louis Blues have both Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron who have stepped up their game in the postseason. Many of you will remember O’Reilly’s dominant playoff performance from 2019 when he won the Conn Smythe after leading the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup.
You can’t forget about the Tampa Bay Lightning who just knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs and are the two-time defending Cup champs. Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t having the type of start to the postseason he is normally capable of, but that can also change quickly. The scoring has been spread out, Brayden Point looks to be injured, Nikita Kucherov is playing above average, but Victor Hedman appears to be the favourite from that elite team once again. Any of those five players can take over games and challenge for the award if they make it to the Stanley Cup Final for the third season in a row.
As for the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins series, there are a few names to keep an eye on as we find out who moves on. Sidney Crosby has been his usual dominant self and is showing flashes of his back-to-back Conn Smythe winning self from 2016 and 2017. While, like Kane with McDavid, Jake Guentzel is producing off of the play of Crosby. But credit can’t be taken away from Guentzel as he’s proven before he can excel in the playoffs. The Rangers have defenceman Adam Fox to thank for his consistent play and offensive production which has led the team to force Game 7 with the Penguins.
There have been a few players over the NHL’s history that have won the playoff MVP without their team winning the Stanley Cup, but that team has to at least make it to the Cup Final to be considered. It has happened five times in NHL history and most recently in 2003 when Jean-Sebastian Giguere won the trophy after losing. McDavid is well on his way as the Oilers wouldn’t have come close to winning their first playoff series in five seasons if it weren’t for his play.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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