2024 NHL Playoffs: Connor McDavid, Barclay Goodrow among biggest difference makers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Stanley Cup playoffs continue to deliver excitement. The Florida Panthers lead the New York Rangers 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Final and are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season. On the other side of the bracket, the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers sit 2-2 in the Western Conference Final ahead of a pivotal Game 5 in Texas on Friday.

On these four teams are a litany of players, who are leading the way, combining championship will and skill during the conference finals.

Some are superstars. But not all. No championship-winning team wins without contributions throughout its lineup. And our list of difference makers proves that to be true.

Related: 2024 NHL Playoffs: Winners, losers from Game 5 of Eastern Conference Final

Eight difference makers in 2024 NHL Playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers
Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a look at eight skaters who have been difference makers to this point in the 2024 NHL Playoffs

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

The other half of Edmonton’s dynamic duo not named Connor McDavid has racked up 10 goals and 26 points, but that only tells part of the story. Draisaitl’s passing and shooting ability can freeze defenders, especially while on the power play. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux posted 100 career playoff points faster than Draisaitl, who reached that mark in only 60 games.

Gustav Forsling, Florida Panthers

Time for an off-the-board pick. The Panthers are loaded with playmakers, which is why they are one win away from reaching the Cup Final. Putting them over the top is the outstanding tw-way play of this talented defenseman. Long known for being a strong defender capable of delivering at both ends of the rink, Forsling has reached a new level this season and carried that into the playoffs. Not only has Forsling netted four goals and 11 points, including two goals against the Rangers, but he is also the only Panthers player with a double-digit positive plus-minus rating (plus-12).

Barclay Goodrow, New York Rangers

There is something special about a depth player who has a breakout playoff run. Goodrow has scored six goals for the Rangers during their Stanley Cup chase — two of them when shorthanded and two of them game-winning markers, including an overtime tally in Game 2 against the Panthers. In 81 playoff games prior to this season, Goodrow scored six goals. Of course, he also collected two Stanley Cup rings.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

On top of being tied for the Stars lead with 16 points, the Dallas defenseman is by far leading all remaining players in average ice-time-per-game, more than 28 minutes. As a testament to his two-way abilities, Heiskanen had a streak of seven consecutive games without being on the ice for a goal against snapped in Game 4 against the Oilers.

Wyatt Johnston, Dallas Stars

Johnston celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this month but he keeps delivering the presents. The rising star leads Dallas with nine goals, two of them game-winning tallies. Oh yeah, on a team loaded with veteran talent and regarded as probably boasting the League’s deepest group of forwards, the second-year pro leads all forwards in ice time.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The superlatives in McDavid’s offensive skills never stop amazing. Whether his blazing speed, seeing-eye passes or ability to put a puck past the goalie at a key time, McDavid continues to deliver with wow factor. The Oilers captain has racked up an NHL-best 28 points in 16 playoff games and it surprises nobody.

Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers

Whether it is by delivering a goal, assist, hard check or even playing the pest, the mouthguard-chewing Tkachuk is more than willing and capable of turning a game in myriad ways. On a team loaded with talent, he unquestionably is the straw that stirs the drink.

Vincent Trocheck, New York Rangers

While Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox have struggled to produce during New York’s Eastern Conference Fina against Florida, combining for just one goal, Trocheck continues to deliver consistently. He is tied for the Rangers lead with eight goals in the playoffs and leads the Blueshirts with 19 points, including five so far in the East Final.

Honorable mentions: Evan Bouchard and Zach Hyman (Edmonton Oilers), Jamie Benn and Jason Robertson (Dallas Stars), Alexis Lafreniere and Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers), Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Reinhart and Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers).

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