There are two things the 2022 NHL playoffs won't be short on.
One is intensity. The NHL postseason is consistently one of the best start-to-finish gauntlets in all of sports. First-round matchups have fans on the edge of their seats in the same way that Stanley Cup final games do.
The second is former college hockey players. This year, 123 former college hockey players across 16 teams will take the ice and compete for the Stanley Cup. Click here to check out the full list of players.
So, naturally, let's rank the top 10 of those 123 players. For these rankings, I'm going off just this season.
10. Andrew Copp | Current: New York Rangers | College: Michigan
This No. 10 spot came down to three players: Andrew Copp, Matt Boldy and Torey Krug. Ultimately, I went with Copp.
Copp's season can be split into two sections: his time with the Winnipeg Jets and his time with the New York Rangers. In 56 games for the Jets, Copp posted 13 goals and 35 points. On a Jets team that struggled for offense, Copp was a bright spot and made himself one of the most sought-after forwards at the trade deadline. The Rangers landed him and it paid off immediately.
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In 16 games for New York, Copp scored eight goals and 18 points, including a hat trick. He's settled in nicely to the right of Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. If the Rangers are to go deep, Copp is sure to be a key contributor.
9. Jake Oettinger | Current: Dallas Stars | College: Boston University
Jake Oettinger was called up in November. Gradually (and then quickly), he took over as the starting goalie for the Dallas Stars.
The 23-year-old thrived in his first act as Stars starter, going 30-15-1 in 46 starts and posting a 2.53 goals-against average (ninth-best in the NHL) and a .914 save percentage. His 5v5 high-danger save percentage of .856 was top five in the league, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Jake Oettinger completly robs William Nylander— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 16, 2022
What a save pic.twitter.com/gtzuakNw5J
Dallas was engaged in a tight race for a wild card late in the season. Oettinger won five of his last seven games to help the Stars secure a spot in the postseason.
8. Joe Pavelski | Current: Dallas Stars | College: Wisconsin
Speaking of important Stars, there's Joe Pavelski.
In his age-37 season, the former Badger turned in his best campaign ever with 27 goals and 81 points. Those 81 points were good for a career-high and tops on the Stars. His play on the right side of Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz elevated both players to have the best seasons of their careers.
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Pavelski tallied 15 points in 16 games in that important final month of the season, ensuring the Stars had a place in this year's big dance.
7. Chris Kreider | Current: New York Rangers | College: Boston College
The first nine seasons of Chris Kreider's NHL career were all about consistency. It was easy to count on the former Eagle for 20 goals and 40 points. But this season saw Kreider produce an offensive explosion.
Along with that breakneck straight-line speed, Kreider put pucks in the back of the net at an absurd rate. In 81 games, Kreider potted 52 goals — good for third-most lamplighters in the NHL. His 77 points were also a career-high. His 26 power-play goals led the league.
The Rangers have a tough first-round opponent in the Pittsburgh Penguins. But with Kreider on the first line, it's a guarantee the Rangers won't be struggling to score.
Frank Vatrano sends a nifty one-hand pass up to a streaking Chris Kreider who puts home the backhander on the breakaway to cut the Rangers deficit to 1!#NYR pic.twitter.com/axIktQD5B5— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) April 27, 2022
6. Jake Guentzel | Current: Pittsburgh Penguins | College: Omaha
Jake Guentzel has always been a trusty producer of offense in Pittsburgh. But, like Kreider, this season saw a big jump in his offensive game.
In 76 games, he put up a team-high 40 goals and career-best 84 points. He finished the year tied with Sidney Crosby for most points on the Penguins. Guentzel transitioned into one of the main sources of offense for the Penguins and a premier play-driver and goalscorer.
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He was always a very underrated forward through his first five seasons. That should change after season No. 6.
5. Jaccob Slavin | Current: Carolina Hurricanes | College: Colorado College
Jaccob Slavin is arguably the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL. He's consistently tasked with facing the opposition's best players and he consistently shuts them down. Slavin is elite at both defending off the rush and being strong in the defensive zone. His plus-35 rating ranked ninth among all defensemen.
In 2021-22, Slavin's offensive game jumped a lot, too. His 42 points were a career high, as he opened up a whole new facet of his game. He moved the puck well up ice and it led to him earning 38 helpers.
The Hurricanes have a tough task on their hands with the Boston Bruins in the first round. If Carolina is to advance and go on a long run, Slavin's ability to shut down Boston's best will be a big reason why.
Jaccob Slavin getting in the way of everything and making it look easy pic.twitter.com/2ZywsfTvZx— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) April 1, 2022
4. Adam Fox | Current: New York Rangers | College: Harvard
Some might find Adam Fox's ranking low, but that just speaks to the caliber of players in the top four.
A year after winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman, Fox posted another terrific campaign, scoring 11 goals and 74 points — both career-highs. Those 74 points ranked him fourth among all defensemen in points.
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He dealt with injuries this season, but Fox was still one of the premier two-way defenders in the NHL. He'll be leaned on a lot by the Rangers over these next few weeks.
3. Charlie McAvoy | Current: Boston Bruins | College: Boston University
A common thread among most of these players is that they took major strides in their game this season. For Charlie McAvoy, it was major strides and then some.
For starters, his 10 goals and 56 points were both career highs. He ranked 11th among all defensemen in points. His plus-31 rating was a career-high and 13th among defensemen.
Charlie McAvoy wins it in OT with a snipe: pic.twitter.com/4gKIw14fEC— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) April 20, 2022
But what really grew was his two-way game. He consistently broke up plays in the defensive zone and then executed a clean breakout or zone exit. His zone entries were crisp, too, as he drove offense well. If he's not already, he's quickly on his way to becoming the league's premier two-way defender.
He won't win the Norris Trophy this season, but he should get a fair amount of top-three votes.
2. Cale Makar | Current: Colorado Avalanche | College: UMass
The toughest decision of these rankings came in the No. 1 and 2 spot. Each player in the top two had good reason to be No. 1, but ultimately I landed on Cale Makar at No. 2.
Makar posted another outstanding year. He's the Norris Trophy favorite, and rightfully so. He led all defensemen with 28 goals. His 86 points ranked second among all defensemen and were the most for a defensemen in one season since Ray Bourque had 91 in 1993-94. His plus-48 was second among all defensemen as well.
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Makar's dynamic offensive game is far from a secret, yet he still finds ways to puzzle defenders and leave onlookers' jaws on the floor. Whether it be his walking the blue line or navigating through multiple opposing players for a zone entry, Makar has an exponential flow of tricks up his sleeve.
That will be on full display in the playoffs.
A look at Cale Makar’s elite season 🥬 pic.twitter.com/Kvb9bDsQDH— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) April 29, 2022
1. Johnny Gaudreau | Current: Calgary Flames | College: Boston College
In my preseason ranking of the 10 best former college hockey players, I ranked Johnny Gaudreau at No. 7. I ended his blurb in the article by saying "Keep an eye out for a massive bounce back in 2021-22."
Calling what Gaudreau did this past season a "massive bounce back" still wouldn't do it justice. He went out and posted by far the best season of his career.
Johnny Gaudreau (CGY13) took over in CGY's wild 9-5 win over EDM. In just over 13 5v5 minutes he had 5 assists and a 66% xGF%.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 27, 2022
He is now tied for the league lead in primary assists.
Here are his most notable puck touches and plays from last night. #Flames #NHLPotN pic.twitter.com/h6TOBG0DXZ
Gaudreau notched the first 40-goal season of his career, while also proving he's one of the league's best playmakers, dishing out a whopping 75 assists. All of this resulted in 115 points — good for second in the NHL. It would've been first, but Connor McDavid exists. His plus-64 rating, however, ranked No. 1 in the league.
Gaudreau's play-driving abilities were on display every game and there's no doubt his offensive output will carry the Flames deep in the NHL postseason.