A lot needs to happen in order to win the Stanley Cup. You obviously have to have a darn good hockey team, but you also need a little luck with some fortunate breaks and stellar goaltending. And, more often than not, you need a breakout player (or two) who?ll take their game to the next level just when it matters most.
The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs are just a couple of weeks away, and while the tournament certainly will look different following the NHL’s COVID-19 pause, the team raising the Cup in September (or perhaps October) will have followed a similar path to those champions before them.
And as we said, it’s probably going to be in large part because some players came relatively from out of nowhere to put their team over the top.
Here are a few candidates for breakout players in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
D Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning
Sergachev is a former first-round pick, so it’s not like he doesn’t have the pedigree. But he’s not yet a household name, which is to be expected on a star-studded team like the Lightning. Despite that, he’s clearly leaned upon by Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff, as evidenced by his 20-plus minutes of ice time per game in the regular season, third among Tampa D-men, trailing just Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. Special-teams play is crucial in the playoffs, and that’s where Sergachev could make his impact; 13 of his 34 points came on the power play despite working on the second unit. He’s also not afraid to get his nose dirty, so he should be able to spark a motivated Lightning team in a variety of ways over the next couple of months.
RW Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Konecny, another former first-round pick, has gotten better every year in the league. He really took a big step this season, though, with a career-high 61 points in just 66 games. He had been playing especially well prior to the shutdown with 17 points over the final 15 games, a stretch in which Philly went 12-3. He’s also not afraid to stir his share of you-know-what, and could be an integral part of a Philly team that was one of the NHL’s hottest when the pause struck.
LW Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues
You think Sanford is gonna have some confidence as the playoffs begin? The 25-year-old had five points in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, including a goal in the Blues’ Game 7 win. He built on that with the best season of his career, posting 16-14-30 totals in just 58 games before the pause. Sanford, who had a four-goal game in February against Vegas, is obviously capable of filling it up in a hurry, and his 5-on-5 goal-per-game rate was among the top 30 of forwards in the entire league before the pause. The combination of playing on an elite team with playoff experience definitely puts Sanford in position to be even better when the puck drops on the playoffs.
LW Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks
Let’s not mince words: The Blackhawks are lucky to be in the playoffs. Chicago was 12th in the Western Conference at the time of the shutdown, and now they have a chance to play their way into the big tournament. They’ll have to get by a very talented Edmonton team in the play-in round, but don’t be surprised if Kubalik sparks an upset. The former seventh-round pick had a sensational rookie season, scoring 30 goals in just 68 games. In fact, no one in the NHL scored 5-on-5 goals at a higher rate per 60 minutes than Kubalik, who averaged only 14 minutes of ice time per night. If he gets some more ice time, especially alongside Chicago’s elite talent, the Calder Trophy finalist could get hot quick and help the Hawks go on a run.
G Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Murray obviously has the playoff pedigree, but according to reports, Jarry is outplaying his counterpart since the Penguins returned to work. It’s not terribly surprising, either. Jarry was by far the better goalie in a more limited role during the regular season, posting a .921 save percentage with three shutouts and winning 20 games. If the reports are true, and the numbers aren’t ignored, it should be Jarry’s net when the Penguins open their play-in series vs. Montreal. It wouldn’t be shocking for Pittsburgh to go on a deep run with Jarry holding strong between the pipes the way Murray did in 2016 and 2017.