Ranking every player on the Penguins and Predators Stanley Cup finals rosters

When Roman Josi, left, and Evgeni Malkin face one another in the finals, it will be a battle between a star defender and a franchise center. John Russell/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup finals between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins promise to be a fast-paced, hard-hitting, entertaining series between a pair of well-coached teams.

It will feature two of the greatest players of all time (Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) facing Conn Smythe Trophy favorite Pekka Rinne and a swarming Predators defense led by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi.

Here's a player-by-player ranking of each team's playoff roster heading into Game 1 on Monday night (8 ET) in Pittsburgh:

1. Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins. Yes, Malkin leads all players with 24 points in 19 playoff games, but the 29-year-old captain finds a way to elevate his game when needed most -- like when he set up Chris Kunitz's winner in double overtime in Game 7 against the Senators.

2. Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins. It's hard to imagine Crosby having as much success in his career without Malkin and the attention he receives from opposing defenses. No forward protects the puck as well as Malkin, who uses every bit of his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame to create offense and wear down defenses.

3. Pekka Rinne, G, Predators. Criticized throughout his career for being inconsistent, Rinne has been lights-out in these playoffs, with a 12-4 record, 1.70 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and two shutouts. He never gives up on a play, can handle the puck like a third defenseman and at 6-foot-5 is nearly impossible to beat up high.

4. Filip Forsberg, LW, Predators. Acquired from the Washington Capitals in 2013 in exchange for disgruntled forward Martin Erat, Forsberg has been the Preds' best forward in the postseason (8 goals, 7 assists in 16 games) and will need to be at his best with center Ryan Johansen (thigh surgery) out for the remainder of the playoffs.

5. Roman Josi, D, Predators. He might be overshadowed by the more flamboyant Subban, but Josi can dictate the pace of the Nashville offense and is second on the team behind Forsberg with 52 shots in 16 playoff games.

6. Matt Murray, G, Penguins. He was injured during warmups before the Penguins' playoff opener and missed 15 games. But Murray hopped on a moving train in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, replacing Marc-Andre Fleury, and never seemed to miss a beat, surrendering just seven goals in five games. Murray, 23, has already won a Cup and is the fresher of Pittsburgh's two starting goalies.

7. Phil Kessel, RW, Penguins. Like Crosby and Malkin, Kessel seems to thrive when everything is on the line. Two of his seven goals this postseason have been winners, and his playoff plus-11 leads the Penguins. Whatever he's saying when he yells at himself on the bench, it's working.

8. Ryan Ellis, D, Predators. Hidden behind the impish red beard is a dynamic offensive player who has developed into a solid defender despite his 5-foot-10, 180-pound body. Ellis has become a perfect complement to Josi, with both pushing a pace that few opponents can handle.

9. P.K. Subban, D, Predators. Only Josi (25:56) averages more ice time than Subban (25:53), who has effectively shaken his reputation of choosing offensive risk over defensive responsibilities, evidenced by his plus-6 in the playoffs. His physicality, especially against Malkin, can have a major impact on this series.

10. Mattias Ekholm, D, Predators. If you see a trend here it's because Nashville's top two defensive pairs are unmatched. Ekholm ranks third among the Predators in ice time, with 25:34 and has eight assists -- and his steady play allows Subban to roam free.

11. Justin Schultz, D, Penguins. When Kris Letang went down with a neck injury, Schultz stepped up in a big way. His three goals and 10 points lead all Penguins defensemen, and his go-ahead power-play goal in Game 7 was a laser off the right post. He is underrated everywhere but Pittsburgh.

12. Jake Guentzel, LW, Penguins. Back in November, few knew who Guentzel was. Today, he shares the league lead in playoff goals, with nine -- including three game winners. Small in stature but quick with his release, the 5-foot-10, 167-pound Guentzel is a perfect complement to the playmaking Crosby.

13. Viktor Arvidsson, LW, Predators. After a breakout regular season during which he had 30 goals and 31 assists, Arvidsson will need to make more noise in the finals than he did in the first three rounds. He has two goals and eight assists and is a team-high plus-13, but the Preds will need more production.

14. Olli Maatta, D, Penguins. Besieged by injuries during his first two seasons, Maatta has been rock-solid in these playoffs, averaging 21:02 of ice time and logging nearly 32 minutes in Game 7 Thursday night. At 22, he's emerging as a two-way force.

15. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Penguins. Sidelined with an upper-body injury for the final six games of the Eastern Conference finals, Hornqvist took pregame warmups before Game 7 but did not play. His return would be a major boost for the Penguins, especially on the power play, where his work in the crease would be a disruptive force in front of former Nashville teammate Rinne.

16. Nick Bonino, C, Penguins. He is not having the kind of offensive postseason he had last spring, when he recorded 18 points in 24 games, but Bonino is a bulldog on faceoffs, wins most 50-50 pucks, and loves to be on the ice in the final minutes of a one-goal game, whether the Penguins are leading or trailing.

17. Bryan Rust, RW, Penguins. A tireless worker who can hunt down the puck in all three zones, Rust plays bigger than he is and is a proven playoff performer, with six goals and one assist in 17 games this postseason.

18. James Neal, RW, Predators. Neal is tied for second on the team with five playoff goals, but he's also a team-worst minus-3. He has done a nice job of staying out of the penalty box, but he needs to free himself more often for that wicked shot.

19. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Penguins. The Penguins hope they don't see Fleury in the finals, yet they wouldn't be here without him. His 9-6 record, 2.56 goals-against average and .924 save percentage helped propel the Pens past the Columbus Blue Jackets and Capitals before Murray took over during the Ottawa series. If needed, Fleury is hardly a step down from Murray.

20. Chris Kunitz, LW, Penguins. Watching him skate, hit and score big goals -- as he did in Game 7 against Ottawa -- makes it hard to believe this guy is 37 years old and aiming for his fourth Stanley Cup ring.

21. Brian Dumoulin, D, Penguins. No one on the Penguins has played more playoff minutes than Dumoulin, who logged more than 30 in Game 7 against the Senators and is averaging 21:55 in the postseason. He'll go entire stretches without gaining much notice, mostly because he plays mistake-free hockey.

22. Ron Hainsey, D, Penguins. At 36, Hainsey might be the most undervalued player on the Penguins' roster. He's second behind Dumoulin in average ice time (21:12) and, like Dumoulin, logs heavy minutes on both the penalty kill and power play.

23. Colton Sissons, C, Predators. When the Predators needed someone to step up big in Game 6 against the Ducks, Sissons netted his first NHL hat trick. It's pretty remarkable that he has already matched his regular-season total, with 10 playoff points.

24. Ian Cole, D, Penguins. At 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, Cole effectively uses his body to push opposing forwards to the outside and can punish opponents in front of the net and in the corners, while averaging close to 20 minutes a night.

25. Calle Jarnkrok, C, Predators. Because Johansen is sidelined for the rest of the playoffs after thigh surgery, Jarnkrok will be asked to contribute more in every area. He has just one goal and two assists and is a minus-1, and he has been tested physically through the first three rounds.

26. Matt Cullen, C, Penguins. Speaking of veterans, Cullen will be the oldest player on the ice in the finals, at 40 years old. He has played in 117 career playoff games, won a Cup under Peter Laviolette with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and is 7-0 in career Game 7s.

27. Mike Fisher, C, Predators. Sidelined for the final two games of the Western Conference finals with an apparent head injury, Fisher is expected to return against the Penguins. A premier penalty killer, the 37-year-old will need to contribute offensively (no points in 14 playoff games) if he wants to hoist a Stanley Cup for the first time.

28. Austin Watson, RW, Predators. One player who can make a physical difference in a playoff series is Watson, who is willing to throw his 6-foot-4, 204-pound body into opposing goal creases and create havoc all over the ice. He has also chipped in with four goals (one fewer than he had in the regular season) and two assists.

29. Conor Sheary, LW, Penguins. After contributing 23 goals and 53 points in 61 games in the regular season, Sheary has fallen silent in the playoffs, with no goals and four assists -- and he is a minus-6 in 16 games. Maybe Sheary can find more space to operate against the Predators than he did against Columbus, Washington and Ottawa.

30. Trevor Daley, D, Penguins. Another quietly effective player on the Penguins' no-name defense, Daley plays a simple game and uses his skating and body positioning to keep pucks to the outside and transition the Penguins to the attack.

31. Carl Hagelin, LW, Penguins. Like Bonino, Hagelin has not been as effective in these playoffs as he was last year, when he recorded 16 points in 24 games. This spring he has one goal in 11 games but still possesses the skill to score goals at crucial times.

32. Pontus Aberg, RW, Predators. After leading the Milwaukee Admirals with 31 goals, Aberg is proving his value in the postseason, where he's averaging just under 12 minutes and has one goal and three assists in 10 games.

33. Matt Irwin, D, Predators. If it is true that a team is only as good as its third defense pairing, Irwin and Yannick Weber have held up their end of the bargain. Irwin has stepped up his physical play in the playoffs and has chipped in with two assists while averaging 11:46 a game.

34. Yannick Weber, D, Predators. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Weber can have trouble against bigger forwards, and Laviolette will need to do his best to protect his bottom pair, which is a combined plus-5 in the postseason.

35. Scott Wilson, LW, Penguins. He sees a little less than 12 minutes a game but can have an impact with his speed, smarts and physicality. Wilson has produced two goals and three assists and is reliable in all three zones.

36. Craig Smith, RW, Predators. Sidelined since May 7 with a lower-body injury, Smith was playing just under 13 minutes in his first four playoff games and would be a welcome addition offensively (12 goals in the regular season) if he can return for the finals.

37. Colin Wilson, LW, Predators. At 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, Wilson is a north-south player who could use his size more aggressively. He does chip in with offense, as evidenced by his 12 goals during the regular season and four points in 12 playoff games.

38. Vernon Fiddler, C, Predators. He is averaging only 8:03 minutes and is a minus-3 in seven playoff games, but the Preds acquired Fiddler from the New Jersey Devils because of his hockey smarts. At 37, this could be his last crack at a Cup.

39. Cody McLeod, LW, Predators. Known more for his fists than his wrists, McLeod has made the most of his 6:53 of ice time in the playoffs, providing strong energy shifts and punishing opponents in all three zones.

40. Frederick Gaudreau, C, Predators. He can play all three forward positions, and when Johansen and Fisher went down, Gaudreau was solid in relief, proving he can play at an NHL pace.

41. Miikka Salomaki, RW, Predators. A second-round pick of the Predators in 2011, Salomaki has played in one more playoff game for the Predators (six) than he posted in the regular season -- but he has seen just 8:12 of ice time.

42. Harry Zolnierczyk, LW, Predators. Speedy and tenacious, Zolnierczyk has a goal and an assist in eight playoff games and can be trusted to play against the Pens' top line when Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has the last change at home.

43. Juuse Saros, G, Predators. The fact that Saros has not played a single minute in the playoffs is a credit to Rinne. Saros, 22, had a solid regular season (10-8-3, 2.35 goals-against average, .923 save percentage). The Finn has cat-like reflexes but is small (5-foot-11) by today's NHL standards and plays back in his crease, making him susceptible to high shots.

44. Tom Kuhnhackl, RW, Penguins. At 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds, Kuhnhackl can provide a strong forecheck and is excellent along the boards. He has seen action in 11 playoff games this spring and has a goal and an assist.

45. P.A. Parenteau, RW, Predators. A healthy scratch in 13 of Nashville's 16 playoff games, Parenteau, 34, is probably 15th on the forward depth chart. He had 13 goals during the regular season but was a defensive liability this season (minus-18 overall) for the Devils (minus-16) and Predators (minus-2).

46. Mark Streit, D, Penguins. Picked up at the trade deadline as defensive insurance, Streit has played in only three games in the postseason but is a strong leader who can step in and help on the power play if needed.

47. Ryan Johansen, C, Predators. Johansen missed the final two games of the Western Conference finals and underwent season-ending surgery for acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh. But he hobbled out on crutches for a team photo after the Preds' Game 6 win over the Ducks and will provide emotional support in the finals.

48. Kris Letang, D, Penguins. Very few teams can lose their top defenseman and win in the playoffs. Like Johansen, Letang will spend the next two weeks rooting on his teammates in hopes of hoisting the Stanley Cup.