As the NHL gears up for a return to play following an extended pause from COVID-19, we have an unusual playoff format. A total of 24 teams will participate when play resumes, with 16 of them participating in the play-in round. As teams that were previously out of the playoffs play for a chance at the cup, they will need big-time plays from key players. As the playoffs approach, we identify a player on each team in the play-in round who needs to make an impact. Today we look at the Western Conference play in round.
Important Figures in the Western Conference Play In Round
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs #12 Chicago Blackhawks
The Edmonton Oilers boast a powerful offence from their top two centres. If they want to win in crunch time, they need more secondary scoring. The Chicago Blackhawks have been absent from playoff contention for some time. Can Alex DeBrincat help bring the organization back to relevance?
Edmonton’s offence is heavily reliant on the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The two are arguably the most dominant pairing the NHL has seen since the days of Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. This is going to open up the ice as opposing defences focus on them. Another former first overall pick in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins needs to take advantage. While a solid forward, RNH has failed to live up to the first overall selection. If Edmonton wants to win, they need more secondary scoring. Nugent-Hopkins possesses the talent. He just needs to find a way to tap into it more effectively. If he does, Edmonton could find themselves on a deep playoff run.
The core of the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith remain in the Windy City. Now they have a new group of young stars around them they hope can be the face of a new era. Alex DeBrincat is one of several promising young stars. This is his opportunity to prove he can step up in the big moment. If he plays well during the play-in and performs well on a playoff run, he could cement himself as a cornerstone player for the front office to build around. DeBrincat’s play could be a key aspect of Chicago’s success when play resumes.
#6 Nashville Predators vs #11 Arizona Coyotes
Defence has long been the strongest aspect of play for the Nashville Predators. This team could be unstoppable with strong play from Roman Josi. A young Arizona Coyotes team is looking for a taste of playoff action. Which veteran presence will be the key to their success?
Defence wins championships. A common saying in the sports world. Nashville hasn’t been able to crown themselves champions just yet but with continued strong play from Ryan Ellis, they could make it a reality. Ellis had a strong season with 38 points over 49 games. As we move towards playoffs, Ellis could make or break the team’s performance. The forwards have struggled at times. But with continually impressive offensive play from the blue line, Nashville could be tough to beat.
The Arizona Coyotes have struggled to produce high-level play for years. Now they have a young team that is looking to make a name for themselves. What they need is true veteran leadership to guide them through a playoff experience. Phil Kessel is that person. He won a pair of Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and has proven skill. Not only can he refresh on a disappointing season by playing well, but he can show this group what it means to be a contender. They don’t know what to expect from playoff hockey but Kessel can guide them through.
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs #10 Minnesota Wild
Things are looking promising for the Vancouver Canucks. Can newly appointed captain Bo Horvat guide his team through a tumultuous play-in round? The Minnesota Wild are doing everything they can to stay relevant. Can Mats Zuccarello bring some of his magic over from New York?
The hardest days of a rebuild appear to be in the rearview mirror in Vancouver. The Canucks have a talented young core looking to get their first taste of playoff hockey. Bo Horvat has been dubbed the leader of this group when the organization named him captain. As they look to make a run at the Stanley Cup, Horvat needs to do more than produce offence. He will need to keep the nerves of his teammates in check. A playoff atmosphere can create unfathomable tension. Horvat will want to help his teammates stay on the ice and out of the penalty box.
The Minnesota Wild really have a fairly bland roster. They don’t have any rising stars. Much of the team is comprised of veterans nearing the end of their primes or are well past it. Mats Zuccarello is one of those players but he could be the one that makes the biggest difference. Zuccarello is one of the most successful undrafted free agent signings in recent memory. Now 32-years-old, he hopes to be a driving force to get this team over the hump. They are sure to need his stellar offensive production to win games.
#8 Calgary Flames vs #9 Winnipeg Jets
In what could be the most competitive play-in series, the Calgary Flames are hoping to burn down the airport. Sean Monahan should play a key role in their offence. The Winnipeg Jets need to play strong at the blue line. Who can help limit shots on net?
On a roster with names like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan tends to fly somewhat under the radar. Although he isn’t the most flashy forward, he is effective. With a respectable 48 points in 70 games, Monahan should be able to generate a sizable amount of offence. His production will be key to their success. While he has respectable numbers this year, they need him to play more like last season where he posted a career-high 82 points.
After trading Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and a drama-filled departure by Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets found themselves shorthanded on defencemen. Josh Morrissey answered the call. He stepped up and solidified his role as the top defender in Winnipeg. Thankfully Connor Hellebuyck has been strong this season. He has been able to stop a high volume of top-notch scoring opportunities. Morrissey needs to keep up his high level of play and help keep the puck away from the net.