NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The final edition of the 2018-19 regular season features "NHL on NBC" analyst Keith Jones.
Keith Jones believes the best part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the players who step their game up in unexpected ways in the glare of the postseason spotlight.
"What I enjoy the most is the breakout player that takes his game to a level we've never seen him play before," Jones said. "Players like John Druce, players like Bryan Bickell. The guys that have had nice careers and have been nice pieces on their respective teams, but when the playoffs arrive and they get on a roll, I love watching those guys go. These are the type of players that I'll be looking for to emerge."
Druce scored 14 goals in 15 games for Washington Capitals in the playoffs in 1990 after he scored eight goals in 45 regular-season games. Bickell helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 when he was second in points with 17 (nine goals, eight assists) in 23 playoff games after he had 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) 48 regular-season games.
Who does Jones think could be that player this season?
"Josh Anderson with [the] Columbus [Blue Jackets] is a guy I think that can become a household name by having a strong playoff run," Jones said. "[Tomas] Hertl and[Timo] Meier with [the] San Jose [Sharks]. For [the] Vegas [Golden Knights], Alex Tuch was a player last year that really became one of those guys that influenced pretty much every game he was involved in. [Alex] Killorn has done it a couple times with [the] Tampa (Bay Lightning), maybe even a J.T. Miller all of a sudden catches fire. That type of player.
"Once you see it start, it tends to snowball. I think that's always a lot of fun for me to follow and pay attention to see which guy is going to emerge."
Here are Five Questions with ... Keith Jones:
Can the Washington Capitals repeat as Stanley Cup champion?
"They look strong, there's no doubt about that. They're going to miss (defenseman) Michal Kempny if he's not back in time for the playoffs. That really changes that top pairing. I do not feel as confidently about them as I did prior to him going down to (lower-body) injury. All that being said they are solid throughout their lineup. The addition of [Carl] Hagelin really helped solidify that third line when he was playing with [Brett] Connolly and [Lars] Eller. It's been different recently but I would expect (coach) Todd Reirden to go back to that. So they added speed, they have depth. They can always, at least at the forward position, pull Devante Smith-Pelley up (from Hershey of the American Hockey League) if need be. Chandler Stephenson hasn't had a major role this season but is capable of playing well like we saw him do last year in the playoffs. And (forward) [Andre] Burakovsky has played better in the second half. I don't think we have to remind anybody of the star power on the team. But you're asking a lot of John Carlson on the back end in the absence of Kempny, and that's the one question I have."
The Blue Jackets made so much noise before the Trade Deadline with the acquisitions of forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid but then struggled. Now they've won five straight games. Have they finally figured out how best to integrate all their new players?
"The formula has been figured out. Now they're playing like a team. The players who had been bumped down and maybe felt like their roles were diminished have now found their footing, (forward) [Oliver] Bjorkstrand being one of those guys, Anderson being another one. Now everyone is contributing to the team's success. I think it just took a little bit of time. Hockey would not be the great game it is if chemistry didn't matter. And it matters. Nice to see Columbus eventually find it, and (coach) John Tortorella deserves credit for it now that it's there and deserved some heat when it wasn't there at the start. But it was understandable."
Between the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, who do you give the edge to in the Central Division?
"Winnipeg wins it. (Defenseman) [Dustin] Byfuglien has one game (back from injury). I think he becomes the difference. It's asking a lot from a player who's missed a significant amount of time, but you'd have to think he's ready to go based upon how long they waited to insert him into the lineup. That's my difference maker. He's another one of those playoff guys that really emerges when the playoffs roll around as a player that I love to follow.
"The Blues have been great. To me they were straightened out by a head coach (Craig Berube) that is as honest as the day is long and is not going to allow you to play a game you're not capable of playing. He's going to be honest with you and he's going to tell you what you need to do and he's going to be straight up, in your face and do it in a respectful way that you walk away from talking to him understanding that you can do more for the hockey team even if your ice time might be diminished or your role might be different. That's what's different in St. Louis right now. I know Craig from playing with him on two different teams and that's the type of influence he had in the locker room. The players in that lineup are fully capable of playing the way they're playing now. They were when the season started and they just needed someone to straighten them out."
The Golden Knights are 10-4-2 since the trade deadline. Are they better, and better equipped, for a long playoff run than they were last year when they went to the Cup Final?
"I think at this point in the season they obviously are better with (forward) [Mark] Stone in their lineup, that did change the complexion of the team. But I think they have a chip on their shoulder again. Which is really what, in my eyes, drove the team all of last season where no one really believed they could be as good as they were and everyone was waiting for it to stop. That team played with something to prove on a nightly basis during the regular season and that carried forward into the playoffs. At the start of this year the expectations were extremely high and it was no longer a chip on their shoulder, it was now meeting the bar that they had set so high in the previous year and I think some players were choking under that pressure. Stone has alleviated some of that pressure and the timing was perfect. Especially with the William Karlsson line (along with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault) getting on track and getting healthy at the most opportune time. I do think those factors play into why Vegas is hitting its full stride at the right time of the season.
"The key though is (goalie) [Marc-Andre] Fleury. If they don't have him they're not getting out of that division. If he's back (been out since March 15 because of lower-body injury) they can head right back to the Stanley Cup Final. That's what it comes down to there."
Who are the last two teams playing come June?
"Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. For me, it's Winnipeg's size. I think their top players are big and durable. And I think they have the perfect mix of speedy little guys with big-bodied guys that have skill. That's why I believe that Winnipeg is going to be very successful. Especially with Byfuglien healthy and being part of that."