Ranking the top 50 players in the Stanley Cup playoffs

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 18, 2023

At the beginning of every NHL season, we publish NHL Rank, a project where ESPN's hockey analysts vote to determine the best 100 players for the upcoming season.

Now that every team has completed its 82-game campaign and they've been whittled down to our 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, it's time to redo the rankings, limiting the list to the top 50 players on playoff teams.

Here's the playoff edition of ESPN NHL Rank, which seeks to identify the top forwards, defensemen and goaltenders in the upcoming playoffs. Dozens of voters participated, choosing one winner in a series of head-to-head voting matchups created from the players on the 16 postseason qualifiers.

The following list features NHL award winners, previous Stanley Cup champions and stars who are seeking that first taste of championship glory. As you'll see, our voters made some interesting calls at the top regarding which players they believe are the best of the best in the 2023 NHL postseason.

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 64 G | 89 A | 153 PTS

Preseason rank: 1

How does the player considered to be the most dominant in the world further cement his place within the game? Simple: By leading the NHL in goals (64), assists (89) and points (153). Those career-high figures are why McDavid is the front-runner for his third Hart Trophy.

Last postseason, McDavid broke through for 10 goals and led the league with 33 points over a 16-game run that saw the Oilers reach the Western Conference finals. If McDavid carries his career regular-season exploits into this year's playoffs, we could see the Oilers go even further. -- Ryan S. Clark

2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

2022-23 stats: 42 G | 69 A | 111 PTS

Preseason rank: 4

Everything MacKinnon achieved in last year's playoffs played a part in the Avs' winning their third championship in team history. So often lauded for his pure pace, power and scoring ability, MacKinnon showed he can be an all-around threat to those not familiar with his game.

Injuries were a massive factor for the Avs this season, with MacKinnon missing 11 contests. But it did not prevent the 27-year-old from notching his first 100-point campaign while further reinforcing why the Avs could repeat as champions.-- Clark

3. Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

2022-23 stats: 43 G | 56 A | 99 PTS

Preseason rank: 45

There are several explanations for how the Devils ended a four-year playoff drought. Having Hughes is one of them. The 21-year-old's gradual improvement exploded into a 99-point campaign that could have reached the century mark if not for his missing four games due to injury.

Hughes was a major reason the Devils reached the playoffs and fell a point shy of winning the Metropolitan Division. Now it is a matter of seeing what Hughes will do next in his first postseason appearance.-- Clark

4. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 52 G | 76 A | 128 PTS

Preseason rank: 6

Because having only one player with a Hart Trophy and multiple 100-point seasons just isn't enough in today's economy. Draisaitl used this season to notch his third 50-goal campaign while also reaching the century club for the fourth time in his career, finishing with a personal-best 128 points.

His ability to create for himself and his teammates allowed Draisaitl to lead all players in assists while finishing second in points last postseason (32). It reaffirms the notion that these playoffs have a chance to be special for the Oilers. -- Clark

5. Linus Ullmark, G, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 40-6-1 | 1.89 GAA | .938 SV%

Preseason rank: NR

Seven. That's how many combined regulation and overtime losses Ullmark had in what was one of the strongest individual campaigns in the NHL. Ullmark's second season with the Bruins showed his importance to a team that's trying to parlay a historic regular season into one that could end with a Stanley Cup.

Ullmark went 0-2 with a 4.17 goals-against average and a .860 save percentage in last year's playoffs. But if Ullmark can carry his regular-season exploits into this postseason? It could result in the Bruins' seventh Stanley Cup in team history. -- Clark

6. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 61 G | 52 A | 113 PTS

Preseason rank: 21

Pastrnak continued to strengthen his place in the discussion as the most dangerous winger in the NHL. His 61 goals are proof that he's an even more lethal scorer, while his 52 assists show he's a problem when he's creating for others.

It all amounts to Pastrnak being a Hart Trophy hopeful who has been one of the biggest reasons the Bruins are a legitimate Stanley Cup challenger. For his career, he is averaging more than a point per game over 70 playoff contests, numbers he could boost this postseason.-- Clark

7. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

2022-23 stats: 17 G | 49 A | 66 PTS

Preseason rank: 2

He's the reigning Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy winner who does everything required of a contemporary top-four defenseman -- he can facilitate play, log heavy minutes, orchestrate a power play and be a trusted member of a penalty kill. Injuries played a massive part in the dip in Makar's regular-season statistics.

But when he was healthy, he led the league in average ice time and was forced to take on an expanded role to help the Avs circumvent their perpetual injury woes. Seeing what Makar does for a follow-up act could be the key in the Avs' quest for a second consecutive Stanley Cup. -- Clark

8. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 9 G | 40 A | 49 PTS

Preseason rank: 8

It's hard to argue any defenseman is more vital to his team's success than Hedman. The Lightning have played more hockey than anyone the past three seasons -- three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final will do that -- and Hedman has been the same stalwart presence leading Tampa Bay from the back end.

This season he has crushed major top-pairing minutes (23:43 per night) again, and added offensively (49 points in 76 games). At 32, Hedman continues adjusting his game to work smarter, not harder, so he can keep shutting down the next wave of snipers hoping to knock Tampa Bay off track. -- Kristen Shilton

9. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

2022-23 stats: 40 G | 45 A | 85 PTS

Preseason rank: 3

Even a so-called down year for Matthews is still superior. The Maple Leafs' top center didn't approach the 60-goal mark again this season, but he did notch 40 for the fifth time in his seven NHL campaigns, while averaging 1.15 points per game. Matthews has the ability to elevate those around him and is at his best bringing a strong two-way game nightly for the Leafs.

The 25-year-old also possesses one of the league's most lethal, unpredictable shots, and when he's rolling, he remains a goalie's worst nightmare and a matchup problem against any opponent.-- Shilton

10. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers

2022-23 stats: 12 G | 60 A | 72 PTS

Preseason rank: 23

Fox won the Norris Trophy in his second season in the NHL and has gotten even better since then. The 25-year-old drives play at 5-on-5, quarterbacks the team's powerful power play and is effective in his own end as well.

Fox had 72 points in 82 games for the Rangers; while those aren't bonkers Erik Karlsson numbers, they could be good enough to get Fox back into the Norris top three.-- Greg Wyshynski

11. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 30 G | 83 A | 113 PTS

Preseason rank: 5

The NHL is rife with playmakers -- but few can touch Kucherov in that category. The Lightning winger was second only to McDavid in assists this season (83), racked up a cool 113 points and kept Tampa Bay's offense humming in a challenging season of ups and downs for the team. Kucherov is the kind of difference-maker who can take over an entire game, single-handedly throw an opponent off course or come through with that timely play to secure a playoff outcome.

He has done it all before, and it's why Kucherov perennially remains a feared, fierce presence on the ice.-- Shilton

12. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 34-22-4 | 2.65 GAA | .915 SV%

Preseason rank: 10

It seems impossible Vasilevskiy is just 28 years old. Tampa Bay's starter has won everything from Vezina Trophies to Stanley Cups to Conn Smythe honors. Since 2018-19, Vasilevskiy has paced the NHL in playoff wins (48) with a .925 SV% and 2.18 GAA and has carried the Lightning to loftier heights than the franchise might have ever imagined.

Vasilevskiy constantly shows an ability to flip the switch even during difficult stretches, and when victory is on the line -- particularly in the postseason -- Tampa Bay's No. 1 is known to deliver the knockout, shutout punch his team requires to stay on top.-- Shilton

13. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 7 G | 45 A | 52 PTS

Preseason rank: 34

McAvoy brings it all for the Bruins. Elite, top-pairing defensive pedigree with shutdown capability? Check. Ability to log important minutes at 5-on-5, on the power play and penalty kill? You bet. Contributions on the score sheet? No question (52 points in 67 games this season).

If Boston has a jack-of-all-trades, it's McAvoy. At 25 years old, he already has proved to be a top-10 -- if not top-5 -- blueliner in the NHL, and even great years like the one teammate Hampus Lindholm is having on the Bruins' back end can't overshadow how critical McAvoy is to Boston's success. -- Shilton

14. Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina Hurricanes

2022-23 stats: 36 G | 31 A | 67 PTS

Preseason rank: 22

There's a reason Aho is Carolina's MVP season after season. The 25-year-old rarely seems to be rattled. His 36 goals this season marked the fourth time he has passed the 30-goal plateau and his 26 even-strength scores were a career best. Aho is consistent (averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game), but he can also wield enough flash to rank with any of the NHL's other dynamic performers.

When the Hurricanes need someone to come through, they can more often than not count on Aho to create a game-changing moment. -- Shilton

15. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 21 G | 46 A | 67 PTS

Preseason rank: 43

Everyone loves to hate Marchand, but any player in the league would want the winger on his side. Marchand can be both a get-under-your-skin pest and a first-class scoring threat, bowling a guy over before blowing past a goaltender.

It's a unique line few players in the league can or would even try to balance on. Marchand has made a career in that dual space, and it's a key to the 34-year-old's longevity, as he's still among Boston's best performers (second in points this season). -- Shilton

16. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 34 G | 50 A | 84 PTS

Preseason rank: 20

Stamkos hit a pair of career milestones this season in recording his 500th goal and 1,000th point. His production declined from last season, but that's all relative when you're Steven Stamkos: The 33-year-old captain had 84 points in 81 games as the Lightning push for a fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final. -- Wyshynski

17. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

2022-23 stats: 55 G | 50 A | 105 PTS

Preseason rank: 24

The Avalanche saw their lineup ravaged by injuries after winning the Stanley Cup last postseason, with players like Makar missing time and captain Gabriel Landeskog out for the season.

Only four Colorado players appeared in all 82 games, and Rantanen clearly had the greatest impact. The winger set a new career high for goals (55) and points (105), breaking the century mark for the first time. He scored 42 of those goals at even strength, buoyed by an increase in shot volume (306 on the season). The Avs won the Central again, and Rantanen was a primary reason. -- Wyshynski

18. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 51 G | 44 A | 95 PTS

Preseason rank: 26

Point is a soft-spoken player, so it's only appropriate that his career-best offensive season seemingly flew under everyone's radar. The 27-year-old center had 51 goals and 95 points, playing all 82 games for the Lighting. His days as a burgeoning Selke candidate have passed, but Point reestablished himself as an offensive force this season. -- Wyshynski

19. Nico Hischier, C, New Jersey Devils

2022-23 stats: 31 G | 49 A | 80 PTS

Preseason rank: NR

Hischier's rise has been a slow burn. Before this season, the Devils' captain was a solid two-way skater and reliable playmaker. This season, Hischier turned up the heat.

In his sixth NHL campaign, New Jersey's top pivot started shooting more and generating offense from quality areas to be a bona fide threat on both sides of the puck. Hischier is impressive on the cycle, too, adding dimension for a Devils team that loves scoring off the rush. The harder Hischier remains to match up against, the better for New Jersey. He's showing that capability more and more.-- Shilton

20. Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers

2022-23 stats: 37-13-8 | 2.48 GAA | .916 SV%

Preseason rank: 11

Shesterkin followed his Vezina Trophy win with another strong season for the Rangers. The 27-year-old netminder posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average to backstop the Rangers back to the postseason after leading them to the Eastern Conference finals. He was fifth in the NHL in goals saved above average. One of the few goalies in the playoffs who could win a series on his own. -- Wyshynski

21. Jason Robertson, LW, Dallas Stars

2022-23 stats: 46 G | 63 A | 109 PTS

Preseason rank: 30

22. Hampus Lindholm, D, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 10 G | 43 A | 53 PTS

Preseason rank: 76

23. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild

2022-23 stats: 40 G | 35 A | 75 PTS

Preseason rank: 7

24. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars

2022-23 stats: 11 G | 62 A | 73 PTS

Preseason rank: 28

25. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Florida Panthers

2022-23 stats: 40 G | 69 A | 109 PTS

Preseason rank: 19

26. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

2022-23 stats: 37-25-2 | 2.49 GAA | .920 SV%

Preseason rank: 46

27. Mitch Marner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

2022-23 stats: 30 G | 69 A | 99 PTS

Preseason rank: 12

28. Mark Stone, C, Vegas Golden Knights

2022-23 stats: 17 G | 21 A | 38 PTS

Preseason rank: 42

29. Mika Zibanejad, C, New York Rangers

2022-23 stats: 39 G | 52 A | 91 PTS

Preseason rank: 16

30. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

2022-23 stats: 27 G | 31 A | 58 PTS

Preseason rank: 51

31. Ilya Sorokin, G, New York Islanders

2022-23 stats: 31-22-7 | 2.34 GAA | 0.924 SV%

Preseason rank: 82

32. Dougie Hamilton, D, New Jersey Devils

2022-23 stats: 22 G | 52 A | 74 PTS

Preseason rank: 63

33. Artemi Panarin, LW, New York Rangers

2022-23 stats: 29 G | 63 A | 92 PTS

Preseason rank: 18

34. William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

2022-23 stats: 40 G | 47 A | 87 PTS

Preseason rank: 89

35. Jack Eichel, C, Vegas Golden Knights

2022-23 stats: 27 G | 39 A | 66 PTS

Preseason rank: 25

36. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

2022-23 stats: 7 G | 20 A | 27 PTS

Preseason rank: 69

37. Patrick Kane, RW, New York Rangers

2022-23 stats: 21 G | 36 A | 57 PTS

Preseason rank: 40

38. Shea Theodore, D, Vegas Golden Knights

2022-23 stats: 8 G | 33 A | 41 PTS

Preseason rank: HM

39. Jake Oettinger, G, Dallas Stars

2022-23 stats: 37-11-11 | 2.37 GAA | .919 SV%

Preseason rank: 88

40. Roope Hintz, LW, Dallas Stars

2022-23 stats: 37 G | 38 A | 75 PTS

Preseason rank: NR

41. Kevin Fiala, LW, Los Angeles Kings

2022-23 stats: 23 G | 49 A | 72 PTS

Preseason rank: 57

42. Stuart Skinner, G, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 29-14-5 | 2.75 GAA | .914 SV%

Preseason rank: NR

43. Timo Meier, RW, New Jersey Devils

2022-23 stats: 40 G | 26 A | 66 PTS

Preseason rank: NR

44. Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers

2022-23 stats: 23 G | 55 A | 78 PTS

Preseason rank: 9

45. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 37 G | 67 A | 104 PTS

Preseason rank: NR

46. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

2022-23 stats: 10 G | 54 A | 64 PTS

Preseason rank: 75

47. Evander Kane, LW, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 16 G | 12 A | 28 PTS

Preseason rank: 100

48. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 stats: 12 G | 31 A | 43 PTS

Preseason rank: 62

49. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

2022-23 stats: 4 G | 37 A | 41 PTS

Preseason rank: 79

50. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings

2022-23 stats: 28 G | 46 A | 74 PTS

Preseason rank: 91

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