Wednesday, June 7, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Out of nowhere, Jonathan Marchessault is the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, according to the books.
The Golden Knights’ forward has surged to stake his claim as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Vegas two wins away from winning the Cup. DraftKings (-105) and FanDuel (-105) have Marchessault as the overwhelming favorite to win the award, should the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup within the next week.
Game 3 of the Cup Final is in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday (5 p.m., TNT) where the Golden Knights will try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers.
The run that Marchessault is on can be described as timely and incredible. He had no goals and just two assists through Vegas’ first seven games. Since a two-goal game in Game 3 at Edmonton, Marchessault has 12 goals and 19 points in his last 12 games.
He has seven goals in his last seven games after his two-goal game in the Golden Knights’ 7-2 win in Game 2 on Monday.
“We know if we roll four lines and get good forecheck, we’ll get rewarded,” Marchessault said. “We’ve done a great job so far, but we’re still pretty far from our goal.”
There are worthy candidates across the board for the Conn Smythe, but it looks like the rest of the Golden Knights are looking up at Marchessault.
It’s possible that the next two games could alter the course of this debate, so it’s best to be prepared in the event someone has a game for the ages. Here’s a look at the other candidates:
Adin Hill – 9-3, .937 SV%, 2.06 goals allowed; FanDuel +400, DraftKings +500
There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe what the Vegas goalie has done.
Since becoming the starter by way of Laurent Brossoit’s injury in Game 3 of the second round, Hill has stormed his way to the top of the leaderboard in every statistical category for goalies. The only one he’s not leading is wins.
Winning the next two games would tie him with Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for the playoff lead.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing it every day, taking it one day at a time.”
It might take those two wins and some spectacular performances along the way for Hill to catch Marchessault. It’s not impossible, considering he has two shutouts and has allowed two goals four times during this run. If Hill finishes this off in Florida, there’s a chance.
It also helps his case to have one of the greatest saves in NHL history.
Jack Eichel – 22 points (six goals, 16 assists), plus-13; FanDuel +600, DraftKings +400
The leading scorer in the playoffs usually gets the recognition for this, and Eichel absolutely deserves the adoration he’s getting.
Eichel is tied with Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk for the second most points in the postseason. Only Dallas Stars center Roope Hintz (24) has more. Nine of his assists are primary, tied with Connor McDavid and Tkachuk for most in the playoffs.
Eichel’s evolution into becoming an exceptional two-way player has been the biggest surprise of these playoffs. He’s still dominant in the offensive zone, but his willingness to buy in to Bruce Cassidy’s system has paid off. Only Marchessault (plus-16) has a better rate at 5-on-5 than Eichel.
The moment that will define Eichel, win or lose, was returning for the third period in Game 2 after getting hit hard by Tkachuk. He returned to assist Marchessault on his second goal.
“Marchy’s pretty hot,” Eichel said. “He seems to be shooting the puck well.”
The lack of goals hurts Eichel the most. He hasn’t found the back of the net since Game 5 against Edmonton. It might require a goal or two in the next few games to make a charge, but there’s no denying his impact.
Mark Stone – 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists); FanDuel +1000, DraftKings +1500
The Vegas captain has already exceeded expectations by returning from his second back surgery in less than a year.
Stone has shown more often than not that he’s back to his old form. That screams true when he makes plays as he did in the first two games — how he stole a Tkachuk pass in midair and scored on Bobrovsky in Game 1, or how his stick broke, had to retrieve one from the bench and set up Brett Howden for his first of two goals in Game 2.
If it weren’t for Stone not scoring in the last four games of the Western Conference Final, his odds would be better. Stone would be on pace to surpass Eichel and Marchessault if that were to happen. Because of that, it may have hindered him.
What’s mattered is having Stone back in the room to play meaningful games. His presence has been a game-changer.
William Karlsson – 15 points (10 goals, five assists); DraftKings & FanDuel +2000
Karlsson had to be considered the favorite when the Dallas series wrapped up. He was the primary defensive responsibility against Edmonton’s duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Dallas’ duo of Hintz and Jason Robertson.
It also helped Karlsson to find his scoring touch from yesteryear. He was the leader in goals before Marchessault’s surge, showing that part of his game still exists.
Cassidy has compared Karlsson to his former captain in Boston, Patrice Bergeron, because of his defensive ability. Karlsson hasn’t needed to go against Tkachuk or Panthers captain Sasha Barkov in this series. If matchups call for that in Florida, he may get his chance.
Karlsson could make one more case should he get back to his scoring ways, but it’s agreeable that he’s the longshot of the bunch to win.