Ranking the top 50 NHL players in 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs

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The NHL has been whittled down from 32 teams to 16 that remain in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. With the playoffs set to begin Saturday, it's time for our annual ranking of the top 50 players who will participate in the postseason.

The playoff edition of ESPN NHL Rank seeks to identify the top forwards, defensemen and goaltenders in the upcoming tournament. Dozens of voters participated, choosing one winner in a series of head-to-head voting matchups of the players on the 16 postseason qualifiers.

With many awards finalists and proven playoff performers in the mix this spring, who comes out on top? We start with a player who scored more goals this season than anyone in the past 30 years.

Note: Preseason rank refers to the top 100 published on Oct. 17, 2023. Write-ups are courtesy of ESPN reporters Ryan S. Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski.

1. Auston Matthews, F, Toronto Maple Leafs

2023-24 stats: 69 G | 38 A | 107 PTS
Preseason rank: 5

Matthews impresses every season, but this one was arguably his best all-around performance, and that should bode well for Toronto's playoff prospects.

The Leafs' star center racing towards the 70-goal mark kept everyone enthralled, but also showed how he can dominate offensively without sacrificing his two-way game. Those goals weren't meaningless, either. Matthews has shone brightest in most of Toronto's critical moments, foreshadowing the sort of detail and energy the Leafs need from him throughout a postseason run. -- Shilton

2. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

2023-24 stats: 21 G | 69 A | 89 PTS
Preseason rank: 2

Makar is often mentioned as one of the best -- if not the best -- defensemen in hockey. When the Avs won the Stanley Cup in 2022, it was Makar who won the Conn Smythe Award as playoffs MVP. His ability to create for others and himself is a big reason why the Avs are a contender for a second Stanley Cup in three seasons. -- Clark

3. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Colorado Avalanche

2023-24 stats: 51 G | 87 A | 138 PTS
Preseason rank: 3

There's a reason why MacKinnon is considered to be one of the game's most dangerous players. While his regular-season exploits have garnered attention, just know that "Playoff MacKinnon" is a real thing. MacKinnon has averaged at least a point per game in each of his previous seven postseason campaigns. -- Clark

4. Connor McDavid, F, Edmonton Oilers

2023-24 stats: 32 G | 100 A | 132 PTS
Preseason rank: 1

After a slow start for the team and its star center, McDavid helped lead the Oilers back to the playoffs with a historic offensive campaign, becoming just the fourth player in NHL history to eclipse 100 assists in a single season. -- Wyshynski

5. Leon Draisaitl, F, Edmonton Oilers

2023-24 stats: 41 G | 65 A | 106 PTS
Preseason rank: 6

Draisaitl had 106 points in 80 games for the Oilers in the regular season. Over the past two postseasons, he finished second to McDavid in points per game (1.79). -- Wyshynski

6. Nikita Kucherov, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

2023-24 stats: 44 G | 100 A | 144 PTS
Preseason rank: 8

Kucherov was voted the NHL's top playmaker by his peers in the latest NHLPA poll, and you can see why: The star winger had a point on over 50% of his team's goals this season, something only six other players have accomplished in NHL history. -- Wyshynski

7. Matthew Tkachuk, F, Florida Panthers

2023-24 stats: 26 G | 62 A | 88 PTS
Preseason rank: 11

What will Tkachuk do for an encore? That's what we're all wondering after the Panthers star had 24 points in 20 games last postseason. That included 11 goals, of which three were overtime game-winners, gifting us the "bus in 10, boys!" celebration that saw Tkachuk sprinting off the ice. -- Wyshynski

8. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

2023-24 stats: 37-19-4 | 2.39 GAA | .921 SV%
Preseason rank: 14

A five-time 30-game winner and the owner of the 2020 Vezina Trophy, Hellebuyck has established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the game. What he has done this season only adds to that reputation. What he could do in the playoffs could further enhance his legacy as he seeks to lead the Jets beyond the first round. -- Clark

9. Artemi Panarin, F, New York Rangers

2023-24 stats: 49 G | 71 A | 120 PTS
Preseason rank: 32

Panarin was upset about his performance in last year's playoffs. So he shaved his head, trained hard and returned to have the best season of his career, with 49 goals and 120 points. Few players are more determined to make their mark in the playoffs than the Rangers winger. -- Wyshynski

10. Sam Reinhart, F, Florida Panthers

2023-24 stats: 57 G | 37 A | 94 PTS
Preseason rank: NR

While Reinhart's extraordinary 57-goal season will get most of the attention, the Panthers forward was also an extremely effective defensive player as well. He's an unrestricted free agent this summer, and a stellar postseason will only increase his worth. -- Wyshynski

11. Mikko Rantanen, F, Colorado Avalanche

2023-24 stats: 41 G | 62 A | 103 PTS
Preseason rank: 7

He has 50 assists in three straight seasons and just completed his second consecutive campaign with more than 100 points. All the elements that make Rantanen such a threat are only amplified in the playoffs, where he has scored 30 goals and is averaging more than a point per game over 70 contests. -- Clark

12. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks

2023-24 stats: 17 G | 74 A | 91 PTS
Preseason rank: 60

It has never been a question of talent when it comes to the oldest Hughes brother. If anything, it has been more about timing. And with what the Canucks have done this season, could that time be now? Hughes, who is considered the front-runner for the Norris Trophy, could lead the Canucks (who missed the playoffs last season) on a long postseason run. -- Clark

13. Elias Pettersson, F, Vancouver Canucks

2023-24 stats: 34 G | 55 A | 89 PTS
Preseason rank: 16

Back in 2020, Pettersson finished his maiden playoff voyage with seven goals and 18 points in 17 games. It created the belief that the Canucks indeed have a postseason performer who could help them reach new heights. Now that the Canucks are back in the playoffs, there's a feeling that Pettersson could be a force once again. -- Clark

14. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers

2023-24 stats: 17 G | 56 A | 73 PTS
Preseason rank: 13

Fox is a beacon of consistency on the Rangers' blue line. New York can count on him to carry its defense, as he has all season, through anything from injuries to role changes. Fox shows up when it matters most. He has a penchant for scoring game-winning goals (five), he quarterbacks the Rangers' top power play with ease, and he does all the small things well -- from blocking shots to creating takeaways -- that New York will need for a successful playoff run. -- Shilton

15. Sebastian Aho, F, Carolina Hurricanes

2023-24 stats: 36 G | 53 A | 89 PTS
Preseason rank: 22

Aho had the best regular season of his career and looks sharper than ever heading into the playoffs. Carolina's top-line skater is a force with and without the puck, capable of generating as much space for himself as he is setting the table for a teammate. He scored an eye-popping 10 game-winners this season. When the Hurricanes need a star to step up, it's frequently Aho answering the bell. -- Shilton

16. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars

2023-24 stats: 9 G | 45 A | 54 PTS
Preseason rank: 29

Meet one of the biggest reasons why the Stars are in Cup contention, and could be for years to come. Everything Heiskanen accomplished last postseason explained why he's one of the best defensemen in the NHL. His ice time per game (27:47) was about the same length as an episode of "Abbott Elementary," all while playing in every single situation, from five-on-five to the power play to the penalty kill. -- Clark

17. Thatcher Demko, G, Vancouver Canucks

2023-24 stats: 35-13-2 | 2.44 GAA | .918 SV%
Preseason rank: 80

Demko is coming off one of the best regular seasons of his career. That success has made the Canucks one of the top Cup favorites. Now it is a matter of seeing whether Demko, who is back after missing 14 games with a knee injury, can take the Canucks on a long run. -- Clark

18. David Pastrnak, F, Boston Bruins

2023-24 stats: 47 G | 63 A | 110 PTS
Preseason rank: 10

Pastrnak has been head and shoulders above his Bruins' teammates in scoring production this season. That's hardly anything new for Boston's top forward. Pastrnak can be a magician with the puck on his stick, and he has elite playmaking ability that sets him apart year after year. The Bruins will be counting on Pastrnak's consistency -- at five-on-five and on the power play -- to write a better ending in this postseason and prove the team's doubters wrong. -- Shilton

19. Aleksander Barkov, F, Florida Panthers

2023-24 stats: 23 G | 57 A | 80 PTS
Preseason rank: 15

Barkov does it all -- and does it well -- for the Panthers. He may not have garnered the same attention as linemate Reinhart this season, but he's one of the league's premier two-way skaters and has been by Reinhart's side feeding him pucks to fuel that 57-goal effort. Barkov excels in just about every area, from driving play up front to being an integral piece of Florida's power play and penalty kill. With Barkov in its arsenal, Florida can create matchup nightmares in the postseason that ultimately push a series in its favor. -- Shilton

20. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida Panthers

2023-24 stats: 36-17-4 | 2.37 GAA | .915 SV%
Preseason rank: 97

Bobrovsky flipped his proverbial switch back to "elite" in last season's playoffs, and he hasn't looked back. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner built on his previous success with a steady, confident campaign that saw Florida through any bumps in the road. The Panthers will rally around Bobrovsky, who has put the work in to overcome previous struggles and is playing at his peak right now. That's a scary thought for the opposition. -- Shilton

21. Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators

2023-24 stats: 23 G | 62 A | 85 PTS
Preseason rank: 27

22. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

2023-24 stats: 13 G | 63 A | 76 PTS
Preseason rank: 18

23. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins

2023-24 stats: 12 G | 35 A | 47 PTS
Preseason rank: 25

24. Jason Robertson, F, Dallas Stars

2023-24 stats: 29 G | 51 A | 80 PTS
Preseason rank: 12

25. Jake Guentzel, F, Carolina Hurricanes

2023-24 stats: 30 G | 47 A | 77 PTS
Preseason rank: 71

26. Brad Marchand, F, Boston Bruins

2023-24 stats: 29 G | 38 A | 67 PTS
Preseason rank: 35

27. Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers

2023-24 stats: 36-17-2 | 2.58 GAA | .913 SV%
Preseason rank: 28

28. Noah Hanifin, D, Vegas Golden Knights

2023-24 stats: 13 G | 34 A | 47 PTS
Preseason rank: NR

29. J.T. Miller, F, Vancouver Canucks

2023-24 stats: 37 G | 66 A | 103 PTS
Preseason rank: 95

30. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

2023-24 stats: 30-20-2 | 2.90 GAA | .900 SV%
Preseason rank: 57

31. Roope Hintz, F, Dallas Stars

2023-24 stats: 30 G | 35 A | 65 PTS
Preseason rank: 36

32. Kyle Connor, F, Winnipeg Jets

2023-24 stats: 34 G | 27 A | 61 PTS
Preseason rank: 69

33. Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

2023-24 stats: 40 G | 41 A | 81 PTS
Preseason rank: 33

34. Brayden Point, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

2023-24 stats: 46 G | 44 A | 90 PTS
Preseason rank: 24

35. Jonathan Marchessault, F, Vegas Golden Knights

2023-24 stats: 42 G | 27 A | 69 PTS
Preseason rank: 59

36. Devon Toews, D, Colorado Avalanche

2023-24 stats: 12 G | 37 A | 49 PTS
Preseason rank: 75

37. Jake Oettinger, G, Dallas Stars

2023-24 stats: 35-14-4 | 2.72 GAA | .905 SV%
Preseason rank: 34

38. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

2023-24 stats: 4 G | 14 A | 18 PTS
Preseason rank: NR

39. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

2023-24 stats: 7 G | 51 A | 58 PTS
Preseason rank: 96

40. Jack Eichel, F, Vegas Golden Knights

2023-24 stats: 30 G | 37 A | 67 PTS
Preseason rank: 9

41. Zach Hyman, F, Edmonton Oilers

2023-24 stats: 54 G | 23 A | 77 PTS
Preseason rank: NR

42. Chris Kreider, F, New York Rangers

2023-24 stats: 39 G | 36 A | 75 PTS
Preseason rank: HM

43. Filip Forsberg, F, Nashville Predators

2023-24 stats: 48 G | 46 A | 94 PTS
Preseason rank: 50

44. William Nylander, F, Toronto Maple Leafs

2023-24 stats: 40 G | 58 A | 98 PTS
Preseason rank: 40

45. Mitch Marner, F, Toronto Maple Leafs

2023-24 stats: 26 G | 59 A | 85 PTS
Preseason rank: 20

46. Mathew Barzal, F, New York Islanders

2023-24 stats: 23 G | 57 A | 80 PTS
Preseason rank: 91

47. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

2023-24 stats: 6 G | 31 A | 37 PTS
Preseason rank: 79

48. Evan Bouchard, D, Edmonton Oilers

2023-24 stats: 18 G | 64 A | 82 PTS
Preseason rank: NR

49. Jeremy Swayman, G, Boston Bruins

2023-24 stats: 25-10-8 | 2.53 GAA | .916 SV%
Preseason rank: NR

50. Mark Stone, F, Vegas Golden Knights

2023-24 stats: 16 G | 37 A | 53 PTS
Preseason rank: 38

Honorable mentions

Mika Zibanejad, F, New York Rangers
Mark Scheifele, F, Winnipeg Jets
Brandon Montour, D, Florida Panthers
Carter Verhaeghe, F, Florida Panthers
Stuart Skinner, G, Edmonton Oilers
Brock Boeser, F, Vancouver Canucks
Jacob Trouba, D, New York Rangers
Hampus Lindholm, D, Boston Bruins
Matt Duchene, F, Dallas Stars
Joe Pavelski, F, Dallas Stars