Once upon a time, it wasn’t unusual to see a player in the early stages of their NHL careers win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
From 2003-10 there were four Conn Smythe Award winners (Brad Richards, Cam Ward, Evgeni Malkin and Jonathan Toews) under the age of 25. Since Toews won the award in 2010, four of the playoff MVPs were over 30 with Toews’ teammate Patrick Kane the only player yet to celebrate his 25th birthday to join the select club of Conn Smythe Award winners.
The average age of the last eight Conn Smythe winners has been 29 but that is a trend that might end this year. Nearly every team in the playoffs has at least one player under 25 playing a key role so could this be the season when youth is served once again.
Here’s a look at the top 20 players in the playoffs under the age of 25. It is a rather wide-ranging group of rising stars or in some cases established point producers. There is an undrafted forward as well as No. 1 overall picks being recognized.
It is heavily slanted to the forwards with only six defensemen and one goalie on the list which makes sense considering that nine of the last 14 Conn Smythe winners were forwards.
Some of the players, most notably Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, recently turned 25 so that made them ineligible for this list. Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid are other 25-year-olds who just missed the criteria to be eligible for this ranking.
Five of the 13 players with the best odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy are on this list so the Las Vegas odds reflect the tremendous amount of young talent in the 2021-22 Stanley Cup playoffs.
20. Alexis Lafreniere | LW, New York Rangers
It was a tough choice between Lafreniere, the top pick in the 2020 NHL draft, former No. 2 overall selection Kaapo Kakko or Filip Chytil for the final spot.
All three players who range in age from 20-22 played more than 20 minutes in the three-overtime classic with Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Lafreniere hasn’t quite reached the level expected of him when he was the top draft pick, however, he won’t turn 21 until October.
The series against a veteran Pittsburgh squad would be the perfect time for the Rangers’ young forwards to hit their collective stride. If that happens, those who bet online will jump on the Rangers to make a deep playoff run as New York currently has the fifth-best odds at +800 to advance out of the Eastern Conference.
19. Kailer Yamamoto | RW, Edmonton Oilers
Since the start of March, the only Edmonton players with more goals than Yamamoto are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. Don’t be fooled by the size of the 5-foot-8 Yamamoto as he is third on the Oilers in hits since March 1.
18. Anton Lundell | C, Florida Panthers
Not many 19-year-olds are asked to kill penalties as rookies but Lundell is fourth among Florida’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice.
Anton Lundell had 18 goals and 26 assists in 65 games. If he hadn’t missed 17 games, he might have been a bigger factor in the Calder Trophy race. He is one reason why the Las Vegas odds favor the Panthers to reach the Stanley Cup final.
17. K’Andre Miller | D, New York Rangers
All you need to know about Miller is that he was tied with Adam Fox for the team lead playing nearly 44 1/2 minutes in the triple-overtime thriller against Pittsburgh. Other defensemen will put up bigger offensive numbers but the 22-year-old Miller is drawing heavy minutes against the top forwards on a nightly basis.
16. Tanner Jeannot | RW, Nashville Predators
Somehow Tanner Jeannot was undrafted but that hasn’t stopped him from scoring 24 goals in his first full NHL season. Jeannot’s no-nonsense game is perfect for the playoffs as he led all NHL forwards in hits during the regular season.
15. Evan Bouchard | D, Edmonton Oilers
When people think about the Oilers, the attention turns to the stable of forwards who were high draft picks. When Edmonton turned to defense with its first pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, it was a wise decision. Darnell Nurse was the only Edmonton defenseman with more time on ice in the Oilers’ 2022 playoff opener.
Bouchard had an assist in his first career playoff game and had 12 goals during the regular season.
14. Jake Oettinger | G, Dallas Stars
While other young American-born goalies like Spencer Knight of the Florida Panthers and Jeremy Swayman of the Boston Bruins were behind veteran goalies when playoffs started, Oettinger was between the pipes for the opener against Calgary. Oettinger stopped 25 of 26 shots in the 1-0 loss. He is clearly the Stars’ goalie of the present as well as the future.
13. Jordan Kyrou | RW, St. Louis Blues
Kyrou made quite the jump from scoring 14 times in 55 games during the 2020-21 season to lighting the lamp on 27 occasions in his second full NHL season. Kyrou nearly tripled his power-play time on ice and that has made a huge difference during his breakout season.
Kyrou only had one shot on goal in the Blues’ playoff opener and that will have to change.
12. Miro Heiskanen | D, Dallas Stars
Some might consider him as the answer to the trivia question of which defenseman was selected ahead of Norris Trophy candidate Cale Makar in the 2017 NHL Draft.
— x – Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) May 4, 2022
Heiskanen might not have scored 28 goals but he is the No. 1 defenseman for the Stars. He led Dallas in time on ice and was third on the team in blocked shots.
11. Robert Thomas | C, St. Louis Blues
With just 22 goals and 87 points in his first three NHL seasons, Thomas was being viewed as a bit of an underachiever coming into the season. That is no longer the case.
Thomas is tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead with 36 points and 29 even-strength points since the start of March. Thomas led the Blues with 57 assists during the regular season. Thomas won 51% of his faceoffs and is third among St. Louis forwards in shorthanded time on ice during the regular season.
10. Anthony Cirelli | C, Tampa Bay Lightning
His goal totals of 19, 16, 9 and 17 might not blow people away but when factoring in his role going up against the other team’s top center, the former third-round pick has something the other players on the list want – two Stanley Cup titles.
He is second among Lightning forwards in shorthanded time on ice and his 67 blocked shots during the regular season are the most of any Tampa Bay forward.
9. Jason Robertson | LW, Dallas Stars
Yet another member of the Dallas Stars so the future seems to be in good hands.
There were 24 forwards taken ahead of him in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but only No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier and fifth-overall selection Elias Pettersson have more goals than Robertson’s 58. A total of 41 of those goals came this season as he emerged into one of the game’s bright young players. He is just starting to realize how to best use his 6-foot-2, 196-pound frame.
8. Andrei Svechnikov | LW, Carolina Hurricanes
Want to know what an NHL power forward looks like? Check out Svechnikov in action.
The former No. 2 overall pick can skate around defensemen or go through them. Svechnikov recorded his first 30-goal season at the NHL level and has 10 goals in 27 career playoff games.
Svechnikov has all the makings to become the next breakout star in the NHL as the only player in the Boston series capable of slowing down the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Svechnikov is Svechnikov.
7. Charlie McAvoy | Boston Bruins D
You can’t write the history of the NHL without highlighting the No. 1 defensemen for the Boston Bruins.
Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque combined to win 13 Norris Trophies with Zdeno Chara being named the NHL’s top defenseman following the 2008-09 season.
McAvoy won’t win the Norris Trophy this season but it seems more of a case “for” and not “if” he will pick up that prestigious honor.
Great things were expected when McAvoy made the jump from Boston University and played in six playoff contests before appearing in his first regular-season game. He set career-highs with 10 goals and 56 points this season.
6. Mitch Marner | RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Marner barely made this list as he will turn 25 on Thursday.
There might not be a scarier sight for an NHL goalie than to see Marner and teammate Auston Matthews gliding down the ice on a 2-on-1.
If Marner hadn’t missed 10 games, he certainly would have recorded his first 100-point season. Marner had three points in the 2022 postseason opener. Did we mention that he is also one of the Maple Leafs’ most reliable penalty-killing forwards?
5. Matthew Tkachuk | LW, Calgary Flames
Some might wonder how well some of the best forwards would fare in a different era of hockey. There are no such questions about Tkachuk who not only set career-highs with 42 goals and 104 points but did so in a physical fashion that would have been effective in the 1990s, 1970s or 1940s.
Teaming with Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau, it is no wonder that some think Calgary can give favored Colorado a run in the Western Conference.
4. Adam Fox | D, New York Rangers
Fox won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in his second full NHL season. It could be argued that he had a better season in 2021-22 when he set career-bests with 11 goals and 74 points. More importantly, he led the Rangers into the playoffs after New York failed to secure a postseason spot a season ago.
Fox finished tied for second during the regular season with 33 power-play assists. He was also third on the team with 128 blocked shots during the regular season.
3. Sebastian Aho | C, Carolina Hurricanes
The fact that 34 players were picked ahead of Aho in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is not a good look for professional hockey scouts. Aho has scored at least 24 goals in each of his six NHL seasons and has 36 points in 35 career playoff games.
Aho led all Carolina forwards in power-play time on ice and only two forwards were on the ice more during the penalty kill than Aho. Aho also happens to have won 53% of his faceoffs during the regular season.
2. Cale Makar | D, Colorado Avalanche
There was a time when it looked like Makar would join Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey as the only NHL defensemen with at least 40 goals in a season. Makar tailed off a bit but still led all NHL defensemen with 28 goals. He added another one in the Avalanche’s playoff opener.
Makar isn’t asked to shoulder a heavy burden on the penalty kill, however, when Colorado is on the power play, watch out.
Makar (+1200) is one of three Avalanche players among the top four in the current odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
1. Auston Matthews | C, Toronto Maple Leafs
The first American-born player to have a 60-goal season, Matthews has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the top goal-scorer in the NHL. Now he is focusing on some other hardware.
Toronto hasn’t won the Stanley Cup title since 1967. With two goals and an assist in a win over two-time defending champion Tampa Bay in the Maple Leafs’ playoff opener, Matthews is determined to lead Toronto to the top of the NHL mountain.
People are paying attention as the NHL betting lines list Matthews with +1000 odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy which is second only to Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon.