Rookies Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov have dazzled in the 2015 playoffs. Who are the 10 best freshmen of the past 10 post-seasons?
My oh my, these Washington Capitals rookies.
Evgeny Kuznetsov delivered a penultimate blow to the New York Islanders in round 1 with a dazzling two-goal, one-assist performance in Game 5. Then he finished the job with the Game 7 winner. It was Andre Burakovsky’s turn to put a team on the brink in round 2. He stole the show in Game 4 against the New York Rangers, showing soft hands and patience to score two beautiful goals against the netminder he idolized growing up in Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist.
The slick Caps forwards have been two of the best rookies to watch in the 2015 post-season, with Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Petr Mrazek and many others also deserving props. What are the best freshman playoff efforts of the past 10 seasons, excluding this yet-to-be-completed one? Here are 10 players to consider, each of whom was Calder eligible when he first wowed us.
10. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, 2013
Diminutive, scrappy Pageau did most of his damage during a one-game coming out party. But what a game it was. He exploded for a hat trick in Ottawa’s 6-1 thumping of the Montreal Canadiens May 5, 2013. He won 12 of 17 faceoffs that night, too. Best of all, he lost a tooth in the process. P.K. Subban knocked it out of Pageau’s mouth as Pageau scored his first of the night, and Pageau searched the ice for his missing pearly white instead of celebrating.
9. Chris Kreider, 2012, 2013 & 2014
Kreider spent three years as a rookie by NHL rules, never playing enough games to lose his Calder eligibility. His five-goal breakout in 2012 set a league record for the most post-season goals by a player who had never suited up in a regular season game. Kreider didn’t do much in 2013, but he tallied 13 points in 15 games last spring and infamously ran Habs goalie Carey Price, knocking him out of the playoffs and helping the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup final.
8. Logan Couture, 2011
Couture didn’t dazzle or produce any particularly memorable moments in 2011. Maybe that’s why he was so impressive. He was a major part of San Jose’s core even as a rookie thanks to his mature, well-rounded game, so his accomplishments blended in like those of the veterans. Couture followed a 32-goal regular season with seven goals and 14 points in 18 games as the San Jose Sharks reached the Western Conference final. He averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time.
7. Francois Beauchemin, 2006
You may remember the 2006 version of Beauchemin because he threw bombs in a first-round fight against Jarome Iginla. Beauchemin did a lot more than that, though. He was an absolute ox for a Ducks team that reached the conference final, notching nine points – seven on the power play – in 16 games. And he averaged a whopping 27:26 of ice time as a playoff rookie.
6. Nathan MacKinnon, 2013
“Shooting star” describes MacKinnon perfectly in the 2014 post-season. We caught just a seven-game glimpse of what he could do, but, man, was it fun to watch. MacKinnon torched the Minnesota Wild for 10 points in seven games, including an overtime winner. He scored the third-most points in NHL playoff history among players who started a season at 18 years old. Record holder Jaromir Jagr got his 13 points in 24 games, though, and Ed Olcyzk needed 15 games to get 11 points. MacKinnon’s virtuoso performance reminds us not to give up on him after a poor sophomore season. He’s friggin’ 19.
5. Braden Holtby, 2012
Holtby’s outstanding run this spring didn’t come out of nowhere considering how good he was in the 2012 playoffs, when he did come out of nowhere, at least in the eyes of layman fans. He helped Washington get within a game of the Conference final, posting a 1.48 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He failed to reach those heights in the two seasons to follow but has regained his form and then some in 2014-15.
4. That 70s Line, 2014
Jeff Carter, who wears No. 77, naturally doesn’t count, but he was flanked by two rookie beasts in 2014: No. 73 Tyler Toffoli and No. 70 Tanner Pearson. The trio came up especially huge in the epic Western Conference final war with Chicago, in which Toffoli scored four times and Pearson added two more. No way the Los Angeles Kings win their second Stanley Cup without them.
3. Ville Leino, 2010
Oh, Ville. My sweet Ville. We’ll always have 2010. The Flyers were the ultimate surprise team that year. They made the playoffs on the last day of the season. They deployed something called “Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher” to stop pucks. They rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to oust Boston in the Eastern Conference final. And then, of course, there was Leino. Including the regular season and playoffs, he had 62 games and 18 points to his name entering Philly’s run. He found some magical voodoo with Danny Briere and, voila, Leino was a star. He racked up 21 points in 19 games. Leino followed that up with a solid 2010-11 regular season, amassing 19 goals and 53 points. Then came the big-money contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Leino plunged into the abyss. He hit the bottom in 2013-14 with 0.0 goals in 58 games and no longer toils in the NHL.
2. Brad Marchand, 2011
Marchand, an all-world agitator, was everywhere during Boston’s Stanley Cup run in 2011. He produced eye-popping offense at age 22, with 11 goals in 25 games, including 10 goals at even strength. He got under opponents’ skin and drew penalties galore. And he’s probably most famous for repeatedly punching Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin, with no retaliation or even eye contact from Sedin, in the final. The act symbolized Boston mentally breaking the Canucks.
1. Cam Ward, 2006
Ward laps the field. He took over for Martin Gerber as the Carolina Hurricanes’ starting goalie after they dropped the first two games of their opening-round matchup with Montreal in 2006. Ward led Carolina to a series comeback and Stanley Cup run. He notched 15 of the Canes’ 16 wins that spring, posting a 2.14 GAA, .920 SP and two shutouts. Ward became the first rookie goalie to lead his team to a championship since Patrick Roy in 1986 and the first rookie goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy since Ron Hextall in 1987.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin