Conn Smythe Watch: Top 10 candidates after Round 1

Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov has 10 points through five playoff games, putting him right in the middle of the Conn Smythe conversation. Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Eight teams are still standing in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs after a first round that was notable for its relative brevity, sans the seven-game Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins series. That said, there was enough of a sample to deliver 10 players who are on track for the Conn Smythe Trophy should their teams have the good fortune of advancing through the playoffs.

Here are some early MVP candidates in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

10. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Sometimes the Conn Smythe goes not only to the most valuable player but also to the most compelling narrative. Holtby has a .932 save percentage and was solid in the Capitals' first-round win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. But it's his journey from the bench in Games 1 and 2 to reclaim the crease as the starter that attracts MVP votes.

9. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins

While we feel that one of his teammates has the edge for playoff MVP, Guentzel made a case for himself with an outstanding performance in the Penguins' win over the Philadelphia Flyers, notching 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in six games. He has 19 goals in 31 career playoff games, including a team-leading 13 goals as a rookie in Pittsburgh's Cup run last season.

8. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets center had four goals and an assist in Winnipeg's five-game defeat of the Minnesota Wild, with all but one goal coming in their Game 4 and 5 victories. Scheifele is tied with Dustin Byfuglien (five assists) for the team lead in points.

7. Austin Watson, Nashville Predators

Oh, hey, look: Nick Bonino is leading another juggernaut of a line in the postseason. Bonino, who starred on the Penguins fabled HBK Line, has meshed with Colton Sissons and Watson to form the Preds' most potent line in their first-round win over the Colorado Avalanche.

"They're just smart defensively," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "They can contribute offensively as they showed in this series, too."

We'll give Watson the edge here with four goals and three assists in six games, including at least a point in every game. He's already doubled his career postseason goal total.

6. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Ovechkin has been labeled a playoff choker for years, which is symptomatic of his team's failures, because in reality, the Capitals' star has put up solid postseason numbers. In 103 playoff games since 2008, Ovechkin has 51 goals. That's a higher goals-per-game average in the postseason than any other player with at least 80 playoff games in that span. Ovechkin had two goals in the Caps' Game 6 finale against the Blue Jackets and has five goals and three assists in the playoffs. Washington winning the Stanley Cup with Ovechkin as MVP just might send Earth off its axis due to everyone's head simultaneously spinning.

5. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

The Bruins have a few heroes after their dramatic seven-game victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rookie Jake DeBrusk has five goals. Torey Krug has nine points to lead all defensemen in the postseason. But Pasta gets the nod here for being tied for the playoff lead with 13 points, having that six-point Game 2 as a calling card and being the de facto representative of the Bruins' dominant top line.

4. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Jones has been rather rock-solid in the playoffs, but he doesn't exactly get the notice for it. He has a .931 save percentage in his past 34 playoff appearances to go along with a 1.95 GAA. Jones stopped 128 of 132 shots in sweeping the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1.

"This time of the season, that goes such a long ways," captain Joe Pavelski told the AP. "You know you're going to face a little adversity, you know you're going to maybe have it in your own end at times and you need some saves and he's always been there. Nothing's really fazed him. As a team playing in front of a goalie like that, it gives you a lot of confidence."

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby is going for a Conn Smythe three-peat (even if Phil Kessel deserved the first one Crosby captured) as the Penguins attempt to win their third straight Cup. He's off to a strong start with six goals and seven assists in six games, including a four-point effort in Game 3. He gained extra attention for passing Mario Lemieux as the Penguins' leading playoff scorer.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning winger has five goals and five assists in five games, while showing an all-around game in their first-round win over the New Jersey Devils. Consider that critical Game 4 win: Two goals, an assist and a crushing -- and controversial -- hit on the Devils' Sami Vatanen.

"When you're playing both sides of the puck, and you're physical and engaged, it does nothing but lift your team," coach Jon Cooper said.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

'Twas a time when Fleury and the Conn Smythe Trophy were far from synonymous, but that time has passed. Fleury was the heartbeat and backbone of the Golden Knights in their Round 1 sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 127 of 130 shots for a .977 save percentage. That number rose to .981 at even strength. The first face of the franchise was the No. 1 reason an NHL expansion team moved 12 wins away from the Stanley Cup.