In lieu of making predictions for the opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs – you can view my picks here if you’re so inclined – here’s a list of several notable players to keep an eye on throughout the postseason.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks. Hiller is the only current Ducks goalie with NHL playoff experience. The 32-year-old goaltender struggled down the stretch. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer. His performance this spring will determine if he still has a future in Anaheim.
Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins. Iginla had a solid regular season (30 goals, 61 points). He turns 37 in July and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The long-time NHL star has never won a Stanley Cup. This season could be his last, best chance.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. Kane was playoff MVP as the Blackhawks marched to the 2013 Stanley Cup title. He was red-hot in the first half of this season but struggled in the second half and missed the last dozen regular season games to a knee injury. His performance this spring will be crucial for the ‘Hawks title defense.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche. It was a career year for Varlamov, winning 41 games and likely earning a Vezina nomination. He also faced the most shots of any NHL starting goalie this season. He carried the Avs into the playoffs. Does he have enough left to carry them to the Stanley Cup?
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets. Earlier in his career “Bob” struggled in the playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s matured since those days, winning the Vezina Trophy last season and playing a big role in the Jackets reaching the postseason. They’ll need him to be at his best if they hope to advance.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars. Seguin has three years of previous playoff experience (including a Stanley Cup ring) with the Boston Bruins. He was in a supporting role then. As the Stars leading scorer this season, he’ll be counted upon to play a leadership role in the postseason.
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings. Nyquist’s impressive sophomore season (28 goals, 48 points in 57 games) were a big reason for the injury-ravaged Red Wings making the playoffs for the 23rd straight season. He also had a decent debut in last year’s playoffs. The Wings will look to him to lead the way offensively this spring.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings. This season saw Richards tally his lowest points total in a full season (41) since his debut in 2005-06. While he’s a solid two-way performer, the Kings will need more offense from him if they’re to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Minnesota Wild. With Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom done for the season and rookie Darcy Kuemper on the sidelines, the Wild’s hopes for advancing past the first round rest with the flaky, inconsistent Bryzgalov. If ever there was a time a team needed him to steal a playoff series, it’s now.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. Yes, he helped Canada win Olympic gold in men’s hockey. Yes, he was the Canadiens best player in the regular season. Price, however, hasn’t won a playoff series since his rookie season in 2008. For the Habs to have a shot at the Cup, Price must be at his best.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers. Nash was largely ineffective in his last two playoff outings. The big power forward had 26 goals and 39 points through 65 games this season. The Rangers will need much more than that from Nash if they’re to go deep into into the playoffs this spring.
Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers. Goaltending has been the Flyers’ Achilles heel for decades. Mason resurrected his career this season with Philadelphia, earning a new contract in return. Currently sidelined with an upper-body injury, the Flyers will look to Mason upon his return to provide them with stellar playoff goaltending.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins. Two straight years of horrible playoff meltdowns has Pittsburgh fans and media wondering if Fleury will ever regain the form which carried the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup. His performance this spring could determine his future in Pittsburgh.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks. The Sharks starting goalie struggled down the stretch. There’s talk Niemi might not get the start when they open their series against the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks need him to regain his form if they hope to march to a Cup title this spring.
Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues. The Blues acquired Miller before the trade deadline from Buffalo, seeing him as the missing piece to solving their Stanley Cup puzzle. In his last 11 starts, however, the Blues lost eight of them. Injuries and inconsistency are largely to blame, but the Blues still need a stronger effort from Miller.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. This is only the second year Stamkos has played in the postseason. He did okay the last time (13 points in 18 games), but he’ll now have to take a leadership role on a Lightning team carrying ten rookies.