5 Players to Watch in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final

Photo by Nick Wass/AP

The Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights are set to face off in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have numerous talented and gritty players that are a lot of fun to watch. While every player in the lineup will impact the series in some way, there are some players I believe deserve special attention heading into this series.

Whether it’s their role in the lineup, how they’ve played this postseason, or both, all of these players will significantly impact the final series. Narrowing this list down was not easy, but here are five players, not including goaltenders, to keep a close eye on in the 2023 Final.

Matthew Tkachuk

Photo by James Guillory- USA TODAY Sports

First up is Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk has been an absolute beast this postseason, leading the Panthers with 21 points in 16 games. At times, it’s felt like Tkachuk has carried Florida, and he’s certainly been the emotional heartbeat of the team.

Matthew Tkachuk is undoubtedly a superstar who brings talent, physicality, and tenacity rarely seen in today’s NHL. He scored 40 goals and 109 points in the regular season, along with 123 penalty minutes. He’s been a leader all year long and, often, Florida’s best player. Tkachuk has been just as good, if not better, in the playoffs.

Heading into the Final, he leads the Panthers in playoff goals, assists, points, powerplay points, and game-winning goals. His stat line is incredible; 16 games played, nine goals, 12 assists, 21 points, a +10 rating, nine powerplay points, four game-winning goals, and three overtime goals. He’s been extremely clutch, disciplined, and productive while continuing to play with his usual snarl.

The Florida Panthers live and die with Matthew Tkachuk. So far, he’s been fantastic, and the Panthers find themselves in the Final. Tkachuk is a must-watch player in this series and will play a crucial role in whether or not Florida is able to take home the Stanley Cup.

Jack Eichel

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Next is Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel. After seven years of missing the playoffs, Eichel finally touched postseason ice this year. He’s taken full advantage of the opportunity so far, leading Vegas with 18 points in 17 games.

The 2015 second-overall pick is finally healthy and back, playing near his full potential. Eichel had a strong regular season, leading the Golden Knights in points. Despite only playing 67 games, he scored 27 goals, 39 assists, 66 points, and a +26 rating.

His regular-season success has carried over into the playoffs. In 17 games, Eichel has six goals, 12 assists, 18 points, a +10 rating, and 59 shots on goal. He is one of the Golden Knight’s most important players and needs to keep producing for Vegas to win. So far, his first postseason has been a resounding success, and it will be interesting to see if that continues in the Final.

Ivan Barbashev

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Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list is Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Barbashev is playing the most productive hockey of his career in these playoffs and has been a bit of an unsung hero for the Golden Knights.

He’s already a Stanley Cup champion from his days with the St. Louis Blues, but the trade deadline acquisition is playing the best hockey of his career in Vegas. In 17 playoff games, Barbashev has contributed six goals, nine assists, 15 points, a +12 rating, and one game-winning goal. His previous career high in one playoff run was 6 points back in 2019.

The early March trade that brought Barbashev to Vegas has certainly been well worth it for the Golden Knights. He notched 16 points in 23 games to finish out the regular season and has now exploded offensively in the playoffs. While certainly not the biggest star on the Vegas roster, Barbashev has been incredible this postseason, and the Golden Knights need that to continue in the final round.

Brandon Montour

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The 2023 playoffs have also been a bit of a coming-out party for Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour. He’s a player that has not garnered much fanfare, especially outside of Florida, until these playoffs. Yet, he has been Florida’s best defenseman in the postseason and is playing great at both ends of the ice.

Montour is playing a whopping 27:35 minutes per game in the playoffs, the most on the team. He also leads all Panther’s defensemen in goals, points, and penalty minutes. In total, Montour’s playoff stat line reads 16 games played, 6 goals, 3 assists, 9 points, +3 rating, 25 penalty minutes, and 59 shots on goal.

His great playoff performance comes after a breakout regular season in which Montour beat his previous career high in points by more than 30. He finished the year with 80 games played, 16 goals, 57 assists, 73 points, a +9 rating, and 33 powerplay points. It was by far his best NHL season, and that has carried over into the playoffs. Montour has become a go-to guy on the blue line and has helped take a huge burden off of Aaron Ekblad. Florida hopes he can continue to play like a true top-pair defenseman in the Final.

William Karlsson

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Last but certainly not least is Golden Knights forward William Karlsson. Karlsson has rather quietly been one of the best players in these entire playoffs. He’s played up and down the lineup for Vegas, locking things down defensively while also leading the team in goals. Karlsson has played like a superstar for the Golden Knights but has done it in his usual under-the-radar style.

2022-23 was another very solid year for Wild Bill. He notched 14 goals, 39 assists, 53 points, and a +14 rating while playing all 82 games in the regular season. He’s upped his production even further in the playoffs, especially goal-scoring. Through 17 playoff games, Karlsson leads the team with 10 goals, has also added 4 assists for 14 points, earned a +8 rating, and is 54.9% at the faceoff dot.

Karlsson has given the Golden Knights great offensive production while also playing a shutdown defensive role. He continues to show why he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the league and also continues to fly under the radar. He’ll be a crucial piece of the puzzle at both ends of the ice in the Final.

There are obviously way more than five players to watch in the Stanley Cup Final. Every player on each roster will affect the series in some way. However, I believe these five players are worth special attention in this series. They all are vitally important to their respective teams and will play an important role in determining who wins the Cup. They all have had great postseasons so far, but now is when it counts the most.

Because of their playoff performances so far and their importance to their teams, I believe Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel, Ivan Barbashev, Brandon Montour, and William Karlsson are five players to watch closely in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.

Jonathan Duncan

Jonathan Duncan is a lifelong hockey fan. He has covered the NHL, via video content, since 2017 on his YouTube channel Off the Wall Hockey. He has also produced written content for Overtime Heroics and now Inside the Rink.

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