Published On: Sat, May 26th, 2018

Ranking every player in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final

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This year’s Stanley Cup Final pits a perennial contender finally on the verge of glory against a first-year expansion team looking to shock the world.

It’s been an exhilarating ride to the Cup and while everyone knows about Alex Ovechkin’s elusive pursuit of his first title, a lot of strong contributors for both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have yet to receive national recognition.

If you’re scrambling to find familiarity with both teams, have no fear, we have you covered. Here is every player in this year’s Final, ranked:

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

At this point, we all know the talking points. The seven-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner is looking to win his first Stanley Cup, in what would be the culmination of one of the greatest careers of the 21st century. Ovechkin is the face of the Caps, won the Richard again this year, and has been an all-around menace this spring. It’s time for him to lift the Cup.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights

It’s hard to imagine the Golden Knights getting anywhere near the Cup without Fleury in phenomenal form. Posting a spectacular .947 save percentage and 1.68 goals against average, Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career and will be counted upon to steal a game or two for the Golden Knights against the Capitals’ vaunted offense.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals

An electrifying talent, Kuznetsov has elevated his game throughout the playoffs and leads all players with 24 points. Kuznetsov’s speed and ability to navigate in tight spaces are key assets for the Capitals. He’s the player most likely to score a goal that will live on highlight reels forever, while angling for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

4. Braden Holtby, Capitals

It feels like ancient history at this point but Holtby was benched in favor of Philipp Grubauer for the start of the playoffs. Holtby has performed admirably since, rounding himself into top shape with a .923 save percentage and 2.04 GAA. If Holtby can replicate his Vezina Trophy-winning form, it will be nearly impossible to take down the Capitals.

5. John Carlson, Capitals

Carlson will be the most coveted unrestricted free-agent defenseman on the open market this summer and could see his value ascend to astronomical levels with a standout Cup. The 28-year-old led all D-men with 68 points during the regular season and could propel the Capitals to the title with his offensive exploits.

6. Jonathan Marchessault, Golden Knights

Marchessault scored 30 goals with the Florida Panthers in 2016-17, and yet they were still compelled to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft. Big mistake. Marchessault notched 75 points during the regular season and leads the Golden Knights with eight goals and 18 points during the playoffs. With excellent vision and puck skills from in close, Marchessault will be relied upon heavily to spearhead Vegas’ offense.

7. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

Although the prevailing narrative is built around Ovechkin’s quest for the Cup, Backstrom has been there every step of the way, serving as one of the NHL’s most reliable playmakers. This spring is no different, and Backstrom – despite a hand injury – will be counted upon to tee up Ovechkin and Co., while adding secondary goal-scoring throughout the series if the Capitals are to raise the trophy.

8. William Karlsson, Golden Knights

Karlsson best embodies the unpredictable success of the Golden Knights. Made available by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Karlsson unexpectedly scored 43 goals, topping his previous career best of nine. Gifted with excellent speed, Karlsson can score in traffic and navigate tight spaces with proficiency. With 13 points through 15 playoff games, Karlsson will need to continue to light the lamp for Vegas to win the Cup.

9. Reilly Smith, Golden Knights

The final component of the Golden Knights’ top line, Smith has served as a strong playmaker through the postseason, dishing out 14 assists and adding two goals in 15 games. Much like his linemates, Smith could cap off a season in the grandest way imaginable if he continues to produce.

10. T.J. Oshie, Capitals

A devastating player in 1-on-1 scenarios, Oshie has continued to amplify the Capitals’ offense throughout the playoffs, posting seven goals and 15 points in 19 games. Oshie was the hero of Washington’s Game 6 victory over Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, and his propensity to excel on the big stage will be tested once again.

11. Matt Niskanen, Capitals

Niskanen isn’t the flashiest player in this series, but he gets the job done. Logging over 25 minutes per game, Niskanen is a solid presence in his own end and can contribute secondary offense when necessary.

12. Tom Wilson, Capitals

Some may object to Wilson’s place on this list but his impact is certainly felt by his opponents. One of the league’s most punishing hitters, Wilson is a strong skater who will get under his opponent’s skin throughout the contest and is constantly aggressive on the forecheck. Because he’s prone to theatrics, Wilson’s overall skill set has been criminally underrated. Count him out at your own peril.

13. Nate Schmidt, Golden Knights

Schmidt is looking for revenge against his former club and leads Vegas in ice time, playing just under 25 minutes per game. It’s unlikely Schmidt will make headlines, but he’s vital to the Golden Knights’ defensive scheme and organization within their own end.

14. Lars Eller, Capitals

Eller signed a five-year, $17.5-million extension with the Capitals in February in large part due to his consistency and embodies everything you’d want out of a modern third-line center. Although he’s seldom been used in this capacity with the Capitals, Eller is capable of contributing from the wing if needed.

15. James Neal, Golden Knights

Prior to the season, Neal was expected to be the catalyst of the Golden Knights’ offense. Although he’s been usurped by the team’s first line, Neal is still a prototypical power forward capable of breaking games open with his size, speed, and puck control in tight spaces. Neal has notched 40 goals in his career before and could be due for an offensive explosion during the Final.

16. Dmitry Orlov, Capitals

Orlov is a mobile defenseman who often leads breakouts and provides secondary offense routinely for the Capitals. A good hitter in the open ice, Orlov can get caught out of position while aggressively pursuing the puck.

17. Brayden McNabb, Golden Knights

McNabb isn’t going to win anyone over with flash and panache but he’s a solid two-way presence featuring alongside Schmidt, logging 22 minutes per game with a physical presence.

18. Shea Theodore, Golden Knights

Theodore was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft by Anaheim but underwent his career year in Vegas, notching six goals and 29 points during the regular season.

19. Brooks Orpik, Capitals

Orpik was once known for being a reckless physical presence, but he’s developed into a serene player in his own end who plays a simple game and who’s capable of logging heavy minutes if needed. The 37-year-old is looking for the second Cup of his career, having previously won in 2009 with Pittsburgh.

20. Alex Tuch, Golden Knights

Tuch was selected 18th overall by Minnesota in the 2014 NHL Draft and has truly blossomed with Vegas. After playing sparingly with the Wild, Tuch has consistently generated secondary offense for the Golden Knights and will be counted upon for some timely goals. It’s hard to believe that Tuch was acquired as a nominal piece from the Erik Haula signing.

21. Erik Haula, Golden Knights

Haula was one of the Golden Knights’ first major signings and the return on value has been mixed. After a 29-goal regular season, Haula essentially disappeared entirely during the Western Conference Finals. It’s time for him to truly prove his worth as one of the league’s most underrated talents.

22. Michal Kempny, Capitals

Kempny is a great skater but there’s nothing truly outstanding about his game. After being acquired in a February trade with Chicago, Kempny has carved out his role as a reliable defenseman who can log around 20 minutes per game with limited offensive upside.

23. Chandler Stephenson, Capitals

A relative unknown prior to this season, Stephenson is playing the best hockey of his career in a bottom-six role for the Capitals. His place on this list is derived from his strong performance during the playoffs and he’ll need to be at his best during the Cup.

24. Deryk Engelland, Golden Knights

Widely considered to be the leader of the expansion Golden Knights, Engelland simply doesn’t get rattled. At 36, some figured Engelland would struggle in a larger role but his mistake-free, low-risk game has been a major asset and will be key qualities against an opportunistic Capitals’ offense.

25. Colin Miller, Golden Knights

Miller’s slapshot may as well be a rocket launcher, once getting clocked at 105.5 mph during the 2015 AHL All-Star Skills competition. Though his production has tailed off during the playoffs, the sheer velocity of Miller’s shot can create scoring opportunities for his teammates.

26. Luca Sbisa, Golden Knights

The Swiss international fought through an injury-filled campaign to return in time for the Golden Knights’ playoff run. Finally healthy after being limited to 30 games during the regular season, Sbisa is in the form of his life and will be relied upon heavily to bury the Capitals’ scoring lines.

27. Devante Smith-Pelly, Capitals

Smith-Pelly is an expert penalty killer who will throw himself at 90-mph-plus slapshots without hesitation. Although he has limited offensive upside, Smith-Pelly’s ability to destroy defenders on the forecheck will help the Capitals establish their presence in the offensive zone.

28. Brett Connolly, Capitals

Selected sixth overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, Connolly hasn’t lived up to his billing as a prospect, but has forged a role as a solid bottom-six contributor. If there were ever a time to show why he was once considered a potentially elite scoring threat, it’s now.

29. David Perron, Golden Knights

The book hasn’t changed all too much on Perron. You’re getting a solid playmaker with the ability to elevate his game and score in bunches. Perron hasn’t scored during the playoffs, however, and he’s certainly due.

30. Jay Beagle, Capitals

Beagle is excellent on faceoffs and helps the Capitals establish their presence in the offensive zone with his proficiency. Although the rest of his game is unremarkable, Beagle can wear down the Golden Knights by continuing to beat his man off the draw.

31. Jakub Vrana, Capitals

At 22, Vrana is still coming into his own as a player but he’ll need to be more consistent during the Final. Vrana was completely erased by the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, and could see his minutes shortened if he’s a zero on the offensive end.

32. Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

What a time to have a breakout game! Burakovsky submitted the performance of his young career in Washington’s Game 7 triumph over Tampa Bay, scoring two pivotal goals to advance to the Final. Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, Burakovsky could reward his franchise’s faith in him with a few more clutch goals.

33. Cody Eakin, Golden Knights

Eakin is a solid center for the Golden Knights but he’ll need to do more during the Final as he was practically non-existent offensively against the Jets.

34. Ryan Carpenter, Golden Knights

Carpenter has established himself as a decent checking forward but don’t expect him to light the lamp against a well-organized Capitals defense.

35. Christian Djoos, Capitals

Djoos is the final man on the Capitals’ defensive depth chart and his game is centered around avoiding mistakes and cleanly redistributing the puck. He’ll likely be paired against the Golden Knights’ bottom-six forwards.

36. Ryan Reaves, Golden Knights

Reaves is known as an enforcer and while some have lobbied for him to be replaced by a more skilled forward, he scored when it counted during Vegas’ Game 5 victory over Winnipeg. Acquired at the trade deadline, Reaves will be tasked with physically wearing down the Capitals’ defensemen.

37. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Golden Knights

Bellemare is grit personified. There’s nothing pretty about his game but the French international shares the common trait that all Vegas’ defensemen share in mitigating risk.

38. Jon Merrill, Golden Knights

Merrill signed a two-year contract extension with Vegas in January and figures into their long-term plans. He hasn’t seen any playing time since Sbisa returned, however, and will likely only play if an injury occurs.

39. Tomas Nosek, Golden Knights

With three points in 12 games, Nosek could be replaced in the lineup if he doesn’t start generating more quality chances.

40. Oscar Lindberg, Golden Knights

An often maddening player due to his inconsistency, Lindberg hasn’t played since May 12.

41. Tomas Tatar, Golden Knights

Tatar was acquired in February from the Detroit Red Wings but he’s been completely erratic through the playoffs, notching one goal in six games.

42. Alex Chiasson, Capitals

A capable secondary scorer when needed, Chiasson may be the odd man out for the Capitals in this series.

43. William Carrier, Golden Knights

A depth forward, Carrier has been out with an undisclosed injury and may be held out for the duration of the series.

44. Nathan Walker, Capitals

Walker became the first Australian player to play in the NHL and while it’s a cool factoid, he’s unlikely to see notable playing time.

45. Philipp Grubauer, Capitals

This isn’t an indictment of Grubauer, but it does seem highly unlikely that he’ll play with Holtby starring throughout the playoffs.

46. Malcolm Subban, Golden Knights

Barring disaster, P.K. Subban’s little brother will not be seeing the ice.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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