From Eakin to Tarasenko, some of the NHL’s finest young talent has been on display in these playoffs and it has not disappointed. Early in the playoffs, some of the least experienced players in the league have also been the best.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Boston Bruins overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings marked the ninth time in these playoffs that a team has overcome a two-goal deficit to win a game. Not only did that surpass the record of eight for the first-round that was established in 1991, it bettered by one the number of comebacks that were recorded in the entire playoffs last season.
Yes, as always, this first round has provided us with some compelling viewing and storylines. Among them are a number of young players for whom the first round has served as a coming out party. The biggest stage of the season has allowed some of these young players to show the hockey world what fans in their local markets already know.
Here are five youngsters who have seized the opportunity in the spotlight and have provided notice they intend to stick around in the consciousness of hockey fans for a long time (in alphabetical order). We did not include Nathan MacKinnon on the list, for obvious reasons. Even though he has probably surprised some people with just how great he is, his coming out party happened during the regular season.
Cody Eakin, 22, Dallas: The Washington Capitals essentially gave up on Eakin two years ago when they dealt him to Dallas for Mike Ribeiro in a trade that could come back to haunt them for years to come. Eakin has provided ample offense for the Stars, but more importantly he and his linemates Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt were matched up against the Ducks top line for the two games in Dallas when the Stars had the last change and held it off the scoreboard in both games.
Dougie Hamilton, 20, Boston: The Bruins defenseman basically sat and watched last season while his team romped to the Stanley Cup final because he wasn’t ready for the elevation in the level of competition that the playoff demands. He obviously learned his lesson well. His assist on Jarome Iginla’s overtime goal against Detroit in Game 4 was his third point of the series, despite playing the fewest minutes of any regular defenseman on the roster. His play at both ends of the ice has been impressive.
Boone Jenner, 20, Columbus: You can just see this kid wearing the ‘C’ in Columbus one day, can’t you? Using his solid rookie season as a springboard, Jenner has had an enormous impact in the Blue Jackets success against the Penguins in the first round. When Penguins coach Dan Bylsma points out his team is being outworked, it’s players such as Jenner that he’s talking about. Jenner has been a physical force with 20 hits and has made life miserable for the Penguins defense and Marc-Andre Fleury by providing a lunar eclipse in front of their net.
Matt Nieto, 21, San Jose: The kid from Long Beach, Calif., is second to MacKinnon in rookie playoff scoring with five points and has been an offensive force for the dominant Sharks. His speed has made him an effective player at both ends of the ice and even though size is an issue, he doesn’t allow it to be a detriment. And his off-ice story is a great one, too.
Vladimir Tarasenko, 22, St. Louis: The Blues went 6-9-0 in the last 15 games of the regular season and perhaps it was no coincidence that Tarasenko sat out those games with an injury. He and Patrick Kane took turns dazzling in Game 4 and have become the focal points of the series. Tarasenko’s size and speed makes him a demon along the boards and in puck battles and both the accuracy and speed of his shot are elite. With four goals, he leads all NHLers in that category.