The start of the Stanley Cup playoffs is filled with anticipation, excitement and … expectations.

One team just completed the most proficient regular season in NHL history, and is a heavy favorite to continue steamrolling its way to a championship. And yet, that’s not going to stop people in most of the other 15 cities from harboring dreams of a deep playoff run.

Narratives are built in a hurry at this time of year. One great playoff run can bolster the perception of a player’s career, while a tough series or two can be a black mark that takes years to fully scrub away.

Who are the players with the most to prove during the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs? We’ve got one for each of the 16 participants, though plenty of teams have more than one — looking at you, Toronto.

Eastern Conference

Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs

“Everyone” or “everyone but Ryan O’Reilly” would have also been an acceptable answer for the Maple Leafs. No club has more pressure on it, and all Toronto has in front of it is the best franchise of this era in Round 1 (Tampa) and then potentially one of the best teams ever in Round 2 (Boston).

Samsonov has one playoff victory on his resume — that’s one game, not one series. He was 1-6 with the Washington Capitals. He’s had a nice bounce-back year after the move to Toronto, but what’s next is all that matters.

All of Toronto’s stars could also be on this list, but they also have long track records of success to fall back on. Samsonov does not, and Matt Murray’s availability is unclear after a recent concussion.

Tanner Jeannot, Lightning

Let’s be honest — the Lightning roster is stocked with players who have nothing left to prove to anyone. Legacies are secure up and down the lineup, behind the bench and in the front office.

Which leads us to Jeannot, who Tampa Bay rather famously gave up five draft picks for. He has one goal and four points in 20 games for the Lightning. One good series/playoff run would make everyone forget about his slow start with the club, though he’s expected to miss the start of the series after a late-season lower-body injury.

Aaron Ekblad, Panthers

Sergei Bobrovsky could be the answer here for the Panthers, but he might not be the starter after Alex Lyon’s late-season star turn to help Florida get in and the club’s stay might be a short one if the Boston Bruins keep rolling.