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The rookie effect in the 2018 NHL playoffs

Matt Murray isn’t a rookie anymore and none of the Calder Trophy finalists qualified for the 2018 playoffs. Who are the NHL freshmen making the most noise in the post-season?

For the first time in three post-seasons, Matt Murray isn’t a rookie. So, with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie finally out of the running, we have to look elsewhere for freshman NHLers who are making a difference in the playoffs.

Here’s an overview of the rookie effect for the eight remaining teams in the NHL post-season. Teams are ranked by the number of rookies who have appeared in at least one playoff game – the Boston Bruins have dressed six first-year players, while the Nashville Predators’ lone rookie is their backup goalie. Also highlighted: combined playoff games played by each team’s rookies, combined rookie playoff goals and combined rookie playoff points.

(Note: Statistics are through games played as of May 4, 2018.)

BOSTON BRUINS
Number of rookies: 6
Playoff GP: 54
Goals: 10
Points: 18

The Bruins have dressed six rookies in the playoffs – including five on a regular basis, just like they did in the regular season. Jake DeBrusk leads all NHL freshmen in goals (six) and points (eight), including the Game 7 winner to eliminate Toronto in the first round. He’s playing 15 minutes per game, and has helped spark the power play with four points on the man advantage. Danton Heinen (one goal, 12:21 per game) and Sean Kuraly (two goals and four points, 11:32) have contributed in bottom-six roles, while NCAA signee Ryan Donato had been relegated to the press box for all but one contest prior to getting into Game 4 against Tampa Bay. Charlie McAvoy is playing on the top pair with captain Zdeno Chara, averaging 23:44 per game, easily the most among NHL rookie defensemen still remaining in the playoffs. In fact, McAvoy’s rookie blueline teammate, Matt Grzelcyk, is the next-busiest rookie blueliner who’s still alive in the playoffs, and he’s playing third-pairing minutes at 15:26 per game.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Number of rookies: 5
Playoff GP: 30
Goals: 3
Points: 9

Washington has sent out five rookies in the playoffs, but only three are playing regularly. Up front, Chandler Stephenson has chipped in two goals – including a shorthanded marker – and five points while averaging a responsible 16:33 in ice time per game, with Jakub Vrana collecting a goal and two points in limited action (9:25 per game). Christian Djoos is getting depth minutes on the blueline (11:23 per game). Defenseman Jakub Jerabek (2 GP) and winger Shane Gersich (1 GP) have also seen the ice.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Number of rookies: 3
Playoff GP: 27
Goals: 5
Points: 12

The Lightning have three rookies and they’ve all dressed for every playoff game. With four points, Mikhail Sergachev is tied with the Bruins’ McAvoy for the playoff scoring lead among rookie defensemen. The 19-year-old is being sheltered, playing just over 11 minutes per game, but he’s making his presence felt with two goals and three power play points. Up front, 26-year-old do-it-all rookie Yanni Gourde is skating close to 15 minutes per game, with two goals and six points to show for it. Anthony Cirelli played just 18 games in the regular season, but he scored five goals and 11 points and the Lightning can’t take him out of their playoff lineup. The 20-year-old has a goal and two points while averaging nearly 14 minutes per contest.

WINNIPEG JETS
Number of rookies: 3
Playoff GP: 18
Goals: 0
Points: 5

The Jets have dressed three rookies in the 2018 post-season, with forwards Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic playing regularly. Connor scored 31 goals in the regular season and was in the running for the Calder Trophy (spoiler: he’s not a finalist), but he’s still looking for his first playoff tally. Jets coach Paul Maurice is giving him every chance to get going, playing him 17:38 per game, which is the most among rookie forwards in the playoffs. Connor has just three assists to show for it, but a player with his speed and skill can only stay quiet for so long. Jack Roslovic is playing just under 10 minutes per game, but his presence in the Jets’ stacked lineup is impressive considering he only broke into the NHL in January. Tucker Poolman got into two games on the blueline.

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SAN JOSE SHARKS
Number of rookies: 2
Playoff GP: 11
Goals: 4
Points: 5

The Sharks have dressed two rookies, but Marcus Sorensen is the only one who’s playing regularly. And no wonder – after scoring five goals and seven points in 32 games in the regular season, the 26-year-old depth winger has four goals and five points in nine playoff games (10:16 per game). He scored in three straight games against Anaheim in Round 1. Defenseman Joakim Ryan has seen two playoff games.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Number of rookies: 2
Playoff GP: 15
Goals: 0
Points: 4

The two-time defending champs were dressing two rookies until Washington’s Tom Wilson took out Zach Aston-Reese with a high hit resulting in a three-game suspension – not to mention, a broken jaw and concussion for the 23-year-old center who had played in Pittsburgh’s first nine games of the 2018 playoffs despite getting into just 16 games in the regular season. Dominik Simon, another 23-year-old who had an abbreviated rookie campaign (33 games), sat out the first four games of the playoffs. But he’s collected three assists in the past six games, averaging 11:43 in ice time – and getting some time on the top line with Sidney Crosby.

VEGAS GOLDEN ROOKIES
Number of rookies: 1
Playoff GP: 9
Goals: 4
Points: 7

In a way, every member of the expansion Golden Knights could be a considered a rookie as part of the team’s first-ever NHL playoff run. But in another, more correct way, only one member of the expansion Golden Knights is a rookie. And he’s a good one. Alex Tuch is tied for the team lead with four goals and he’s second in rookie playoff scoring with seven points, not to mention second among rookie forwards in average ice time at an impressive 17-plus minutes per game. He’s been a big part of the Vegas power play, with three PP goals and four PP points, and netted the game-winner against San Jose in Game 5.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Number of rookies: 1
Total playoff GP: 2

Juuse Saros, the 23-year-old safety net behind the Preds’ veteran starting goalie Pekka Rinne, has been Nashville’s backup for the past two seasons but retained his rookie status this year since he played fewer than 26 regular season games in 2016-17 (he played 21). He’s come on in relief twice in the playoffs, seeing 51-plus minutes of action and facing 20 shots – stopping every one.