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Conn Smythe Rankings: Oilers duo dominates Round 1

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We're only through one round of these Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's not too early to take stock of who's already asserted themselves with play that's been at or near a playoff MVP level.

Even though the second round has begun, we're focusing entirely on the players' Round 1 output, so we didn't factor Game 1 of the New York Rangers/Carolina Hurricanes second-round series into these rankings.

These are our top five contenders for the honor:

xGF% = five-on-five expected goals share
GSAx = goals saved above expected

5. Igor Shesterkin, Rangers

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Record GAA SV% GSAx
4-0 1.75 .931 3.16

Shesterkin would likely be higher on this list if it weren't for a cupcake Round 1 matchup against a Washington Capitals team that had no business in the playoffs.

The Rangers netminder wasn't overly busy, facing more than 25 shots in just one game. Still, Shesterkin was sharp when called upon, and it wouldn't be fair to keep him off this list because of his opponent. He was the key piece in the only Round 1 sweep. Another strong series against a Hurricanes squad known to throw everything on net could push Shesterkin up these rankings if New York can prevail in Round 2.

4. Cale Makar, Avalanche

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5 2 7 24:47 48.3

Makar, the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, has shown he has another gear in the playoffs. The Colorado Avalanche star is tied with Evan Bouchard for the playoff points lead among defensemen, and he's tied with forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen for a team high in points. Makar notched multi-point games in three of the five contests against the Winnipeg Jets and logged over 27 minutes of ice time in two matchups.

While Makar's underlying numbers aren't exactly off the charts, it's hard to deny him a spot on this list with the impactful splash plays he made from the back end.

3. Jeremy Swayman, Bruins

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Record GAA SV% GSAx
4-2 1.49 .950 8.59

The Boston Bruins alternated goalies for almost the entire regular season and continued the trend for the first three games of the playoffs. But Swayman impressed head coach Jim Montgomery so much in a Game 3 win that he earned consecutive starts and ultimately got five in a row, including stopping 30 of 31 shots in Saturday's Game 7 overtime victory.

The Alaska-born netminder leads all playoff goalies in GAA, save percentage, and GSAx. Swayman allowed only nine goals in six games while saving 1.4 goals above expected per contest against a Toronto Maple Leafs squad that boasted the NHL's No. 2 offense in the regular season. In a series decided by the slimmest of margins, Swayman is the primary reason the Bruins are heading to Round 2.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Oilers

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5 5 5 20:16 42.5

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers

Andy Devlin / National Hockey League / Getty
5 1 11 21:03 69.2

We grouped the two Oilers superstars together for obvious reasons. They could easily be co-MVPs of Round 1, as both dominated in Edmonton's five-game series victory over the Los Angeles Kings. However, we lean toward McDavid for a few reasons.

While goals are harder to come by than assists, McDavid earned the primary helper on four of Draisaitl's tallies in Round 1. And these weren't cases where McDavid touched the puck before Draisaitl went end-to-end, either. McDavid was constantly zooming around the ice and finding passing lanes, putting the puck on a tee for Draisaitl to unleash his lethal sharp-angle one-timer.

McDavid was the more dominant player at even strength when the duo was mostly separated, as evidenced by the captain's superior underlying numbers. McDavid's line also drew the tougher assignments from the Kings, seeing a heavier dose of future Hall of Famers Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty.

While there are cases for both sides, it's hard to argue against the consensus best player in the world.

Honorable mentions: Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin, Matthew Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe, Zach Hyman, Wyatt Johnston, Seth Jarvis

(Analytics source: Evolving-Hockey)

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