The National Hockey League playoffs kick off Wednesday, when alumni from the Canadian Hockey League will look to help their pro club vie for the Stanley Cup. Among the group, here are 16 select past players with a special story to share this spring:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Watch out for Nikita Kucherov, whose 128 points this season was the most by an Art Ross Trophy winner in more than 20 years. The Lightning have their sights set on their second-ever Stanley Cup, and no doubt will look for the former Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward to push the pace.
However, Kucherov isn’t the only former QMJHL skater ready to shine in the series. There is also one-time Brampton Battalion forward Matt Duchene, who hopes to turn a productive playoff performance into an even bigger payday this summer when he is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup championship in 2018, and will look to repeat the feat this spring, backed by former Saskatoon Blades netminder Braden Holtby, who came up big in last year’s win.
In the quarter-final, the Capitals will take to the ice against a surging Hurricanes squad that includes Barrie Colts alumni and the 2018 second-overall pick in Andrei Svechnikov. The rookie forward excelled in his first season in Raleigh and is now ready to shine on the playoff stage.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron appears to be the ageless wonder, as the 33-year-old is coming off a career season in which he finished with career highs in all categories, including 79 points. The Acadie-Bathurst Titan alumni has always got it done defensively, and now brings an equally impressive component to his game as well.
Bergeron forms one of the NHL’s most productive lines, and shutting it down will be the top priority for Maple Leafs blue-liner Morgan Rielly. Still, that’s not to say the one-time Moose Jaw Warriors rearguard isn’t capable of bringing offense of his own, as he wrapped up the 2018-19 campaign with 72 points to set a new career high.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Seattle Thunderbirds draft pick Mathew Barzal has had little difficulty in adjusting to the big stage with the Islanders. In qualifying for the playoffs in just his second-ever season, he’ll have his next opportunity to shine under the bright lines.
In going up against the Penguins, while the team boasts plenty of offensive weapons up front, perhaps overlooked is Val-d’Or Foreurs graduate Kris Letang, whose 16 goals this season set a career high despite missing 17 games.
Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche
There’s nothing boring about Sean Monahan’s ability to constantly decorate the score sheet as the former Ottawa 67’s skater wrapped up the 2018-19 campaign with career highs in all categories, including 82 points.
Shutting down the elite talent will be a top task for Avalanche blue-liner Tyson Barrie, though he brings an exciting offensive game of his own. In finishing with a career-high 14 goals this season, it served as a reminder of the impressive tallies Barrie put up during his days with the Kelowna Rockets.
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
An unfortunate back injury led to an abbreviated season for blue-liner and Belleville Bulls alumni P.K. Subban. But he’s now back in the lineup, ready to guide the Predators to their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the past three seasons, all while continuing to pull fans from their seats with his awe-inspiring play.
In their own end of the ice, Subban and the Predators will be tasked with shutting down a dynamic Dallas attack that includes superstar winger Alexander Radulov. The Russian forward has shown a knack for upping his game in the playoffs, as he did during the Quebec Remparts’ Memorial Cup win in 2006, and will get another chance to do so in his first playoff trip with the Stars.
Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
The Jets bring a potent offense that includes one-time Prince George Cougars rearguard Dustin Byfuglien. A litany of injuries forced the big-time blue-liner to miss 40 games this season, but he’s since returned to the lineup and will be ready to show off his ability to dominate in the postseason.
Byfuglien and the Jets will face off against Blues rookie netminder Jordan Binnington, who has been simply remarkable since joining the team in mid-December. The former Owen Sound Attack netminder won 75 percent of his games and pulled a dead-last team to one point shy of a division title.
San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Not only will the Sharks look to avenge last year’s semi-final opponent in the Golden Knights, but this postseason could be a special one for Joe Thornton, as retirement looms for the 39-year-old and former first-overall draft pick from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The Sharks will have their work cut out for them in facing Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, as the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles graduate already has three Stanley Cup championships to his name and came within three wins of guiding Vegas to the winner’s circle in the franchise’s first-ever season.