It’s Sunday, and we’re back again with our weekly look at the very best NHLers in the past seven days. As always, we focus on players from all positions before narrowing it down to the top three stars of the week. On to business we go:
3. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers: Panarin is one of two Rangers who stood out above the rest this week, thanks to a three-goal, eight-point showing in four games. All of Panarin’s goals came at even strength, and he amassed that total despite playing only 17:48 per game in three of those games. The 30-year-old Russian has a career-high 67 assists in 68 games this season, and with 88 total points, he still could match or beat his career-high of 95 points, which he set in his first year as a Ranger in 2019-20. Regardless of his individual numbers, he’ll be a key component of any playoff success the Rangers enjoy this spring.
2. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers: The Russian goaltender is no stranger to the Three Stars honors, most recently earning the second star of the week in late February. Once again, he has led the Rangers to victories - in this case, in two of three games, including a 30-save shutout of Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday – and he continues to make a compelling case to win his first Vezina Trophy as the game’s top netminder. The Blueshirts have now caught the slumping Carolina Hurricanes for top spot in the Metropolitan Division, and it’s in no small part because of Shesterkin’s performance. The 26-year-old is a deserving honoree this week, and he may be one again before the end of the regular season.
1. Auston Matthews, Toronto: From his first NHL game – in which he scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators in the 2016-17 campaign – Matthews has had a flair for the dramatic, and that was no different this week, as the 24-year-old center broke the Maple Leafs’ franchise record for goals in a single season. But, not only did Matthews beat Leafs legend Rick Vaive’s mark of 54 goals, he steamed right through the opposition, generating a league-best seven goals and 11 points in four games to give him 58 goals and 99 points (both new career-bests) in 67 games. Six of those seven goals came at even-strength, and Matthews (along with star linemate Mitch Marner) was chiefly responsible for Toronto’s current hot streak that’s seen them win seven of their past eight games. Matthews is very likely to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer, and he’s also going to get a significant amount of votes for the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the league. He’s a generational talent whose best days remain ahead. That should delight Leafs fans, and terrify the opposition.