The NHL's return-to-play format certainly hasn't satisfied everybody, but the plan does have its benefits.
Fans get to indulge in more playoff hockey than usual after a layoff that has felt like an eternity. The league and its owners get the chance to recoup some lost revenue. And many players who would have missed out on a traditional postseason get to compete for the Stanley Cup.
In light of this, we've identified eight playoff participants to keep an eye on if and when the 24-team format comes to fruition.
Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad
The New York Rangers may very well have qualified for the postseason on their own merit if the league hadn't been forced to cut the regular season short, and it's predominately thanks to their dynamic duo up front. Panarin and Zibanejad formed one of the NHL's most productive pairs this season, and the opportunity to watch their scintillating offensive talents on a grand stage for at least a few more games is something hockey fans should relish.
Panarin exceeded the expectations of his massive contract in his first campaign on Broadway, finishing fourth in league scoring with 95 points. Zibanejad, meanwhile, ranked fifth in goals (41) despite appearing in only 57 contests and was seventh in points per game (1.32).
The two also combined for 16 points in New York's season series against Carolina, so it's no wonder the Hurricanes weren't on board with a design that has them facing the Rangers in the play-in.
Though nothing was set in stone, Guentzel could have missed a standard postseason after he suffered a rough-looking shoulder injury in December. At the very least, his prolonged absence may have left him rustier than most. But the extended layoff will allow him to suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins' impending clash with the Montreal Canadiens.
The 25-year-old sniper was leading the Penguins in scoring with 43 points in 39 games at the time of his injury; with Guentzel and trade-deadline acquisition Jason Zucker in the fold, Pittsburgh's offense projects to be as dangerous as ever.
Guentzel may not be the flashiest or most popular player in Pittsburgh's lineup, but he's proven to be a highly valuable playoff performer with 43 points in 41 career postseason games. Look for him to produce when he finally hits the ice again.