With the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs nearly finished and the second round about to begin, now is as good a time as any to look at some of the best individual performances of the postseason so far.

The first round can often be one of the toughest to get through, but once a team does it, they have a better idea of where they stand and have a chance to build off of momentum.

Some teams, like the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets, have been able to get some extra rest by finishing their series early. Others, like whoever wins the Toronto-Montreal series will have a tight turnaround before playing the Jets.

Several players have really jumped out with how they played in the first round, and there’s a few that will be worth watching particularly closely in Round 2. Let’s take a look.

Since I’m writing this before the Toronto-Montreal and Vegas-Minnesota series are complete, I haven’t included players from those clubs, but here are some of the best of the rest.

Nikita Kucherov | LW | Tampa Bay Lightning

His timely arrival after being on the injured reserve all season has been controversial, but his play has been exceptional.

Kucherov finished his first-round series as the playoffs’ leading scorer with 11 points. He didn’t just get up to speed after being out all year, he set the standard.

Despite being targeted and banged up in the Florida series, he just kept providing the offensive spark that only a former MVP could.

Nathan MacKinnon | C | Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon’s status as one of the best players in the world is adding another level in the postseason as he scored six goals over the four games in the sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

He ended that series as the postseason’s top goal scorer and showed that both his speed and his shot are a lot for any team to handle.

Ilya Sorokin | G | New York Islanders

The New York Islanders lost two games in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Ilya Sorokin lost zero. New York lost the only two games he didn’t start in the series and Barry Trotz placing his faith in the rookie goaltender may have been the turning point.

The 25-year-old Russian has a .943 save percentage, allowing just nine goals over his four starts against a team with two of the biggest offensive stars of the last two decades in the NHL.

Stabilizing their goaltending situation, even though the Isles have two quality goaltenders, makes them a bigger threat against Boston going into the next round.

Charlie McAvoy | D | Boston Bruins

He had five assists in the series, but more than that, McAvoy was a big-minutes, tough-matchups defenseman that made sure the Bruins were always dominating when he was on the ice. The team controlled shot attempts at a rate 11.7 per cent higher with McAvoy on the ice than without him.

He has become one of the NHL’s very best two-way defensemen and has been especially strong on the defensive side of things by helping his team own the puck, playing a physical brand of hockey and making great plays in his own zone.

Sebastian Aho | C | Carolina Hurricanes

Tipping home the series-clinching overtime winner was just the next step in Aho’s continual ascent to superstardom.

He led Carolina in scoring in the series with seven points and logged a bunch of ice time. He’s an impact player in every sense of the word, giving good shifts game in and game out, and making an impact in all zones.

Connor Hellebuyck | G | Winnipeg Jets

Sweeping the offensive juggernaut that is the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl-led Edmonton Oilers was another feather in the cap of the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Hellebuyck finished the series with a .950 save percentage, 1.60 goals against average and one shutout against a team that was often impossible to slow down. Hellebuyck got some great help from much cleaner team defense in front of him, but when you have a goaltender as good as he is, you have a chance to do a lot more than people expected.

The Jets are a threat to anyone when they arguably have the best goalie in the postseason.


Martin Necas | C/W | Carolina Hurricanes

Necas has been quietly becoming one of the Hurricanes’ most important players. He is offensively gifted, showing good skill and speed during this postseason. He’s scored some big goals for the Canes and as he gains more and more experience, he’s going to become more and more dangerous.

Brayden Point | C | Tampa Bay Lightning

He’s not going to sneak up on anyone as a top player. That is well established, but Point continues to impress this postseason with dazzling goals and great plays at both ends of the ice. He’s one of the smartest players, and when you combine that with elite skill and quickness, he’s especially deadly. With four goals and six points in six games, he’s just getting started.

Brock Nelson | C | New York Islanders

There may be few players more underappreciated than Nelson, who has really grown on me as a player over the course of his career. He’s a force in all zones and really saw his offensive game flourish in the series against the Penguins. He had three goals and three assists in that series.

Philipp Grubauer | G | Colorado Avalanche

The Avs may be the fastest and most explosive team left in the playoffs, but they’re going to need Grubauer to be their backbone going forward as it won’t get any easier for them. He finished the series with St. Louis with a .936 save percentage and has essentially had the best season of his entire career in 2020-21. Should that continue, the Avs are that much harder to beat.

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