Stanley Cup Final: The 5 most interesting players beyond big-name stars

The biggest stars playing for a Stanley Cup title include Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel and Sergei Bobrovsky, but there are other fascinating players to watch.

The Stanley Cup Final will include at minimum 18 skaters and a goaltender on each side, but just a few of them will have an outsized affect on the series and the discourse around it.

Whatever Matthew Tkachuk and Sergei Bobrovsky do will get plenty of ink, as will Jack Eichel's transition from failing to drag the Buffalo Sabres to team success to becoming the top center on a possible Stanley Cup champion.

Mark Stone's return from back surgery to put together a strong playoffs also deserves some attention, especially considering the way his opponents have specifically targeted him.

While those guys will get their shine, there's a tier of players who don't have that level of name recognition who will be fascinating to watch in the Stanley Cup Final.

Here are five guys to keep your eye on when the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights begin their battle on Saturday night.

Brandon Montour has transformed as a player this season and will be one to watch in the Stanley Cup Final. (Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brandon Montour

Montour entered the 2022-23 season with a career high of 37 points. Then he came one point short of doubling it. He'll stride into the Stanley Cup Final as one of the most dangerous offensive defensemen in the NHL.

That kind of breakout is always rare, but it's especially unusual for a 28-year-old in his seventh NHL season.

Montour set career highs in every offensive category in 2022-23, and became the quarterback of the Panthers' power play. His 33 power-play points during the regular season were more than he managed in the rest of his career combined (30).

The right-shot defenseman has also been impactful in the playoffs with six goals on 59 shots — the second-highest total of any skater.

Montour is in the midst of a mini offensive funk with no points in his last eight games despite averaging more than 30 minutes of ice time. Whether he's able to break out of it could play a major role in the outcome of this series.

Ivan Barbashev

The Golden Knights' top in-season acquisition came to the team in the midst of an uninspired season.

At the time, Barbashev had just 29 points in 59 games with the floundering St. Louis Blues after managing 60 in 2021-22.

Ever since joining Vegas, Barbashev has found a new level. Between the regular season and the playoffs the 27-year-old has 12 goals and 31 points in 40 games. That's good for 0.78 points per game, which is an outstanding number for a guy who's never topped 0.70.

Barbashev is thriving on the Golden Knights' top line alongside Eichel, showing off a dangerous shot...

and the ability to crash the net:

He could earn the title of best trade deadline addition with a big series.

Carter Verhaeghe

Verhaeghe is like Montour in that he broke out this season despite being an established NHL veteran approaching his late 20s.

After serving as a valuable secondary scorer for the Panthers in 2020-21 and 2021-22, he produced as many goals in 2022-23 (42) as he had in the previous two seasons combined.

In most cases, that kind of outcome is the result of a massive jump in shooting percentage, but Verhaeghe's 15.3% during the regular season precisely matched his career average. The winger simply found a way to get his shot off more and became a more potent power-play contributor.

With two more goals in this series he could reach 50 since 2022-23 began, a major milestone for the 2013 third-round pick.

It'd be tough to bet against Verhaeghe getting there. He'll be an important source of offense for the Panthers as he rarely skates with Tkachuk at even strength and, instead, helps drive the team's other scoring line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Anthony Duclair.

Jonathan Marchessault

Marchessault is the Golden Knights' all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points, but he gets overshadowed by the team's imported stars — Eichel, Stone and Alex Pietrangelo — at times.

The 32-year-old has been outstanding in the playoffs with 17 points in 17 games. No one has more shots (62) or even-strength goals (9) than the winger.

He's been especially impactful lately, too. Marchessault has seven goals in his last seven games, including a hat trick that helped send the Edmonton Oilers home.

An added wrinkle for Marchessault in this series is that he'll be facing a Florida Panthers team that left him exposed in the 2017 expansion draft.

The veteran doesn't have much to prove at this point, but he might get extra satisfaction from beating a team that determined he was surplus to requirements six years ago.

Marc Staal

Staal does not generate the kind of thrilling highlights the other players on this list do, but he's an interesting player in a different way.

The 36-year-old produces almost nothing offensively, but he's one of the Panthers' most trusted players. He's averaged 21:54 of ice time during the playoffs despite failing to register a single point.

If you keep a eye on Staal, you'll see all the things a player can do to help his team without getting on the score sheet. He's not perfect by any means, but he's consistently buried in difficult situations and tasked with helping make Bobrovsky's job easier.

In a Stanley Cup Final that lacks the type of veterans at the end of the line desperately hoping to win a title, Staal is the best candidate on the board.

He's played 123 playoff games in his career — primarily with the New York Rangers — without touching Lord Stanley's mug.