Cale Makar, a future Norris Trophy winner? Why not?
Makar’s first few weeks in the NHL have been nothing short of fantastic. Not only did he score in his first career playoff game against the Calgary Flames, the team he grew up cheering for as a kid, but through seven games, Makar has five points as a fearless freshman playing with Samuel Girard on the third defensive pairing. Heck, Makar already looks like a favorite for the 2020 Calder Trophy as the top rookie in a class that will include Jack and Quinn Hughes, Cody Glass and Vitali Kravstov, among others.
It’s too early to hand Makar any awards just yet, but his first few games have been eye-opening. We talked about his potential as one of the best defensemen in the league on the latest episode of The Hockey News Podcast, and he was crowned the top prospect in our Future Watch issue. Makar has already shown that he’ll be capable of carrying the Avalanche on his back for years to come.
Rookies don’t typically play big roles in the playoffs, but a select few have earned respect for their play in their first post-season. With that in mind, here are five rookies who have had notable playoff runs thus far:
Jordan Binnington, G (St. Louis Blues)
The lone Calder Trophy finalist in the playoffs, Binnington had the tough task of bringing the St. Louis Blues out of the depths of the NHL standings, and the previously unproven goaltender did just that. Of course, with high-expectations on the Blues after spending big in the off-season, the great turnaround wouldn’t matter if Binnington couldn’t get the job done in the playoffs. Binnington, however, has been up for the task. He kept the Blues in the series against Winnipeg, a round that saw the Jets outplay St. Louis often but without the results to show for thanks to a hot goaltender in the Blues net. Though Binnington’s high-danger save percentage of .808 is among the bottom-feeders in the playoffs, he has faced the third-most high-danger chances.
Robert Thomas, C (St. Louis Blues)
Thomas has had a relatively quiet playoffs with just three points in 10 games, but his defensive game has been notable. Thomas gave the Blues renewed momentum late in the third period of Game 4 on Wednesday by scoring late to cut Dallas’ lead in half, but it wasn’t enough in an eventual 4-2 loss. Thomas, a strong winger with great speed, has held his own with veterans Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak in a defensive role. Thomas projects to be a big part of the Blues’ future, and fans are getting a taste of his two-way abilities.
Miro Heiskanen, D (Dallas Stars)
Many people were surprised that Heiskanen wasn’t one of the Calder Trophy’s three finalists, but unlike Rasmus Dahlin or Elias Pettersson, Heiskanen is making significant noise in his playoff debut. As Jared Clinton wrote earlier this week, Heiskanen has been among the leaders in most stat categories for the Stars and has been applauded for his two-way play through two rounds. Heiskanen is averaging 25:15 in ice time in the playoffs, up from 23:07 in the regular season. His four points (two goals) are second among rookie defensemen behind Makar and second among ‘D’ on the Stars, behind John Klingberg’s eight points.
Roope Hintz, LW (Dallas Stars)
Hintz’s fantastic playoff run has been well publicized, and for good reason: his eight points in 11 games are the most among rookies and a vital part of Dallas’ successful playoff run that has seen some incredible scoring depth throughout the lineup. The Finnish winger has been great against the Blues, scoring three goals and five points, including the insurance marker in Game 4 for his fifth goal of the playoffs. Given how Hintz had just 22 points in 58 regular season games, it’s safe to say his playoff run was a little unexpected, but he’s one of the main reasons why Dallas is giving St. Louis so many issues in this series.
Alexandre Texier, C (Columbus Blue Jackets)
It’s still early, but Texier could be one of the best hidden gems in Blue Jackets draft history if he proves to be the real deal someday after nabbing him in the second round in 2017 out of France. Texier has had a big year, winning the Spengler Cup with Liiga club KalPa in December before scoring five goals and seven points in as many games with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. In the series-clinching Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Texier’s first two playoff goals helped lead the way in Columbus’ biggest victory to date. Texier hasn’t recorded a point against Boston, playing mostly a shutdown role with limited minutes and just one shot in three games, but his mix of energy and speed has been valuable further down the lineup.
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