The 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs are half done.

That’s it. We are two rounds into the four-round marathon that defines the toughest championship to win in professional sports.

While there is still a long way to go before the captain from the last team standing raises the Stanley Cup in jubilation, a big enough sample size has been amassed to start discussing those players who have been most important to their teams so far in this postseason.

The Florida Panthers and New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference and the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference each need to win two more rounds to be called champions.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final is at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET: ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS, CBC). The Western Conference series starts at American Airlines Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT, SN, TVAS, CBC). 

Which player after the first two rounds has the inside track to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the player voted to be most valuable to his team in the postseason?  

We asked seven writers and here, in alphabetical order, are the choices. 

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

I’m not surprised everyone overlooked the Panthers captain and his contributions toward getting his team back to the Eastern Conference Final. Story of his career, it would seem. But Barkov, who was named the winner of the Selke Trophy this season, voted as best defensive forward in the NHL, was a force against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Second Round. He might be second on his team in the playoffs with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) to forward Matthew Tkachuk’s 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) but though Tkachuk had a relatively quiet second round, Barkov dominated. He led Florida against the Bruins with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the six games, including the game-winning goals in Games 2 and 4. And that doesn’t even count his defense, including the block that saved the clinching Game 6 for the Panthers on forward David Pastrnak late in the third period of a one-goal game. His teammates are calling him the best player in the world. They may be biased, but they’re not far off. He’s my mid-tournament MVP. -- Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

FLA@BOS R2, Gm6: Barkov blocks the shot by Pastrnak late in the 3rd

Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers

When you accomplish something Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque or any other defenseman in NHL history has never done, well, what more evidence do you need in making your case for Stanley Cup Playoff MVP halfway through the tournament? Consider this: Bouchard is the first defenseman to record 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) through the first two rounds of the postseason. And it’s not just the stats; it’s the key times he has come up with them. Bouchard scored the lone goal in Edmonton’s 1-0 victory against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round, then had three assists in the series-clinching 4-3 win in Game 5. In the Western Conference Second Round against the Vancouver Canucks, he scored the overtime winner in Edmonton’s 4-3 victory in Game 2, scored the last-minute winner in Edmonton's 3-2 victory in Game 4, then had a pair of assists in the series-clinching 3-2 win in Game 7. Case closed. -- Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers center is a proven postseason performer and is doing it again in this one. He leads all NHL playoff scorers with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 12 games. Draisaitl has at least a point in every playoff game this season, extending his streak to 12 games with an assist in a 3-2 win in Game 7 of the second round against the Canucks. Draisaitl’s streak is the third longest in Oilers history behind Wayne Gretzky (16 in 1988) and Mark Messier (13 in 1985 and 14 in 1988). Draisaitl has 101 points (39 goals, 62 assists) in 61 playoff games and is the third fastest player to reach 100 playoff points (60 games) behind Gretzky (46 games) and Mario Lemieux (50 games), which is pretty impressive company. -- Derek Van Diest, staff writer

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

The defenseman leads the Stars with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 13 games, and is averaging 28:01 of ice time. That’s the most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs among skaters who have played more than four games. The Stars have been relying mostly on five defensemen in the playoffs, and Heiskanen is a big reason why they have been able to get away with that against the past two Stanley Cup champions, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games in the Western Conference First Round and the Colorado Avalanche in six in the second. Heiskanen led Dallas with eight points (four goals, four assists) in six games against Colorado. Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, the 2022 Conn Smythe winner, had six points (three goals, three assists). -- Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

Wyatt Johnston, Dallas Stars

Even-strength goals, power-play goals, a short-handed goal, game-winning goals in regulation and an overtime goal: Johnston has checked all of the scoring boxes through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The forward, who turned 21 on May 14, has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 13 games, third on the Stars behind Heiskanen and forward Jason Robertson with (12 points; three goals, nine assists). It has been an outstanding postseason for a forward of any age, let alone someone in the early years of his NHL career. Johnston has played like a veteran and has been a big key on a deep Dallas team. -- Tracey Myers, staff writer

How the Stars built their team through the draft

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

There are other fine choices for the midseason MVP of the playoffs. Though they’re all worthy, we all know the most important player in the game is the goalie, and no one on the four teams remaining has been better or more impactful than Shesterkin. His numbers speak to his impact; 8-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. But it’s the timely saves he has made, coming up big in the big moments when the Rangers needed him most. Perfect example: his point-blank save on center Jordan Staal at 10:09 of the third period of Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes to keep it a 3-2 game, allowing forward Chris Kreider and New York to mount the comeback for the series-clinching 5-3 win. When it got to 4-3, he made another massive point-blank save on forward Andrei Svechnikov with 2:45 left. Without those two saves, the Rangers might have been in a Game 7, staring down the wrong side of history. Shesterkin faced an average of 37.2 shots on goal in six games against the Hurricanes and still posted a 2.80 GAA and .919 save percentage. He has allowed four goals on 41 shots on the penalty kill for a .902 save percentage. He’s arguably the biggest reason the Rangers have dominated special teams in the playoffs. There are plenty of good choices, but none are better than the best player at the most important position. -- Dan Rosen, senior writer

Vincent Trocheck, New York Rangers

The center has done it all through the first two rounds. The 30-year-old is tied with center Mika Zibanejad for the Rangers’ lead with 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 10 playoff games and is leading all New York forwards with 23:12 of average ice time per game. In addition to leading the Rangers with four power-play goals and eight power-play points in the postseason, he is first in the NHL among forwards (at least five games) in averaging 2:56 in ice time on the penalty kill. He also leads the Rangers and is fourth in the NHL among players to take at least 100 face-offs in winning 58.3 percent. In the second round against Carolina, his former team, Trocheck had eight points (three goals, five assists), scored the winning goal in the second overtime in Game 2 and set up forward Artemi Panarin’s overtime winner in Game 3. -- Tom Gulitti, staff writer

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