The 2023 Stanley Cup Final is set to get underway, and a first-time Stanley Cup champion will be crowned no matter if the Florida Panthers or Vegas Golden Knights come out on top. There are several players that are going to play a huge role in deciding which team will be hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.
It's been no secret that Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk has been the star of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tkachuk nearly single-handedly carried the Panthers to victory in the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Along with Tkachuk, Golden Knights star Jack Eichel will also be looking to rise to the occasion on hockey's biggest stage.
Here's a look at the most important players for each team in the Stanley Cup Final.
Jack Eichel | C | Vegas Golden Knights
This is the first go-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Jack Eichel, and he hasn't disappointed. The Golden Knights captain leads the team with 18 points (six goals and 12 assists) despite not being the goal-scoring threat that many may have expected when the postseason began.
Eichel registered four assists throughout the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars. While Eichel hasn't put the puck in the net at an absurd pace, the 26-year-old has registered points in 11 of Vegas' 17 postseason games throughout the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was solid against the Stars but really thrived in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers. In that particular series, Eichel registered three goals and six assists, including tallying a three-point performance (a goal and two assists) in a 4-3 Game 5 victory.
Eichel really helps to stabilize the Golden Knights' top line, which has been incredibly productive throughout the playoffs. It's not going to be a huge surprise if Eichel continues to flex his muscles as a playmaker against the Panthers. In fact, if the Golden Knights come out on top, it's likely that Eichel would win the Conn Smythe trophy as the league's postseason MVP.
Matthew Tkachuk | LW | Florida Panthers
You can't talk about the Panthers' success in 2022-23 without talking about Matthew Tkachuk. Florida's regular season was filled with inconsistency, but Tkachuk was one of the few reliable constants. He set a career high in assists (69) and points (109) while leading the Panthers to the playoffs, and Tkachuk has only gotten better on the NHL's biggest stage.
Tkachuk's on-ice impacts have been off the charts. Florida owns 56.9% of the expected goals and 73.7% of the actual goals when Tkachuk is on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick. Those numbers only get more impressive when you consider that Tkachuk is going up against some of the toughest matchups with opponents trying anything to slow him down.
In terms of actual production, Tkachuk is second among playoff scorers with 21 points, and those haven't been empty-calorie points either. The Panthers have needed every one of them, especially his four game-winning goals, which lead the league.
Tkachuk is a unique player whose combination of tenacity and skill make him very difficult to defend. He can beat opponents in any number of ways, and he will be a headache for the Golden Knights.
Jonathan Marchessault | RW | Vegas Golden Knights
There are just six players that remain from the Golden Knights team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season back in 2018. Jonathan Marchessault is one of the few holdovers from that team and will be looking to be an offensive force once again.
It's no secret that one of the Golden Knights' biggest strengths is their forward depth. Marchessault is a big reason for that and is probably the hottest player not named Matthew Tkachuk coming into this series. Marchessault currently ranks second on the team with nine goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and really came up big against the Stars in the Western Conference Final. During that series, Marchessault tallied four goals and three assists, including scoring the game-tying goal in Game 2 to help force overtime.
During Vegas' first Stanley Cup trip against the Washington Capitals, Marchessault registered three assists but wasn't able to find the back of the net. It's quite likely that it'll be a very different story for the Golden Knights star winger this time around. If Marchessault continues his hot scoring streak, the Golden Knights will be in great shape to win the Stanley Cup.
Sergei Bobrovsky | G | Florida Panthers
Speaking of headaches, the Panthers' playoff opponents have gotten migraines trying to solve Sergei Bobrovsky. The Florida goaltender can be inconsistent, but he has an incredibly high ceiling, and we are seeing it this postseason.
An uneven regular season from Bobrovsky led to Alex Lyon getting the starting nod for the first three games against the Boston Bruins. After Lyon struggled, Bobrovsky got his chance, and he ran with it. Bobrovsky has been the best goalie in the playoffs and is in the midst of the Conn Smythe Trophy discussion.
Bobrovsky has posted a .935 save percentage, which is only behind Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill. His 14.5 goals saved above average are second to none and his .864 high-danger save percentage ranks in the top five.
At this point, Bobrovsky has a warrant out for multiple charges of robbery, and he might need to steal at least one more game for the Panthers to win the Stanley Cup. To do that, he will have to outplay Hill, who has been just as brilliant over the last couple of rounds.
Adin Hill | G | Vegas Golden Knights
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Golden Knights had a huge question mark in net. In August, the team revealed that starting goaltender Robin Lehner needed hip surgery and would miss the entire 2022-23 campaign. The team then turned to Logan Thompson, who didn't have a ton of experience. However, Thompson ended up compiling an All-Star season before suffering a lower-body injury in March that has sidelined him ever since.
To start off the postseason, Laurent Brossoit served as the Golden Knights' starting netminder. In eight games in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Brossoit posted a less-than-stellar 3.18 goals-against-average and surrendered 23 goals during that stretch. That's when Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy made the change to Adin Hill in the crease. In 11 games this postseason, Hill has been sensational as the Golden Knights starting goaltender. He has tallied a 7-3-0 record to go along with a 2.07 goals-against-average and a .937 save percentage. Hill registered two shutouts against the Stars in the Western Conference Final and turned away at least 30 shots in four of the six contests in that series.
Hill has been incredibly consistent since taking over the starting job in net. Once being a position of weakness, now the Golden Knights have a stabilizing force in goal in Hill and he's stood on his head on multiple occasions this postseason. If that continues, the Panthers may have their work cut out for them.
Aaron Ekblad | D | Florida Panthers
When he's at his best, Aaron Ekblad is a bona fide No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, but he hasn't played at that level in the postseason. In fact, Ekblad has not fared well at five-on-five, and that will probably have to change for the Panthers to beat the Golden Knights.
Through the first three rounds, the Panthers have controlled just 41.7% of the expected goals with Ekblad on the ice at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. Ekblad does have a plus-8 goal differential in those situations, but those results have been buoyed by elite goaltending. If Bobrovsky takes even a slight step back in the next round, that goal differential might dip dramatically.
Ekblad has also had a hard time getting on the scoresheet. He has six points through 15 games, and half of those have come on the power play. Those points count the same, but if Florida is going to negate Vegas' edge at five-on-five, Ekblad must step up his game.
Ekblad hasn't played his best hockey in these playoffs, but he can erase all of that with a strong showing in a Stanley Cup Final.