The NHL playoffs is no place for rookie mistakes, but some of the eight teams remaining in the 2019 post-season have relied on key contributions from their first-year cohort. Here's a team-by-team look at the rookie contributions so far in the playoffs:
St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington, Robert Thomas
Binnington probably won’t win the Calder Trophy after spending the first half of the season in the minors before getting called up to St. Louis in early January and leading the Blues from last place overall to the brink of a Central Division title. But the 25-year-old netminder, whose previous NHL experience was a grand total of 13 minutes of action back in January 2016, has a chance at the Conn Smythe Trophy if he continues to be a revelation in net. With the elimination of virtually all of the playoff favorites in the first round, the 2019 post-season has taken on an anyone-can-win vibe and the Blues – an original expansion team in 1967-68 that’s still seeking its first Stanley Cup – have the hottest goalie in the game. A team that was a wreck from start of October through the end of December found its stride once Binnington arrived, and they’ve been rolling ever since. St. Louis has the scoring, defense and depth to go all the way, and now they’ve got the goaltending, too. The Blues also have rookie center Thomas in their bottom-six. The 19-year-old has been limited to one assist in his first eight playoff games, averaging 13:22 per contest.
Dallas Stars:Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz
Heiskanen isn't going to win the Calder Trophy either, and he’s also unlikely to take home the Conn Smythe. (Only one defenseman has been named playoff MVP in the past 11 seasons – Chicago’s Duncan Keith in 2015 – and a rookie defenseman has never won the award.) But the 19-year-old blueliner continues to be a huge part of the Stars’ success. After playing 23:07 per game in the regular season, he’s being leaned on for 25:48 per playoff game. The Stars have another high-impact Finnish freshman up front, too, in 6-foot-3 left winger Roope Hintz. He’s the leading rookie scorer in the playoffs, with four goals and seven points in eight games. He’s big, he’s fast and he's already recorded a pair of two-goal games in the post-season.
Carolina Hurricanes:Warren Foegele, Andrei Svechnikov, Saku Maenalanen, Aleksi Saarela, Clark Bishop
The Hurricanes might not have the best rookie in the 2019 NHL playoffs, but they’ve got the most rookies in the 2019 NHL playoffs. And before all is said and done, who knows, they might have the best rookie in the 2019 NHL playoffs, in fact they might even have the two best rookies in the 2019 NHL playoffs. Foegele is vying for the post-season’s rookie scoring lead, with four goals and seven points, and Andrei Svechnikov has the offensive instincts – and big shot – to be a potential difference-maker. Before scoring his fifth of the post-season in a massive Game 2 victory against the Islanders, Foegele scored four of his goals in the final five games of the seven-game showdown with Washington in the first round and, it should be noted, he was also the guy who broke T.J. Oshie’s clavicle by shoving the Capitals winger into the boards in the game that followed Alex Ovechkin’s brutal KO of Svechnikov. Maenalanen (five games), Saarela (one game) and Bishop (one game), meanwhile, have been bit players, averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time when they do get into the lineup.
Columbus Blue Jackets:Alexandre Texier
If you want to talk about teenagers from France who have burst onto the NHL playoff scene, the conversation starts (and ends) with Texier. The 19-year-old center was drafted 45th overall in 2017 and spent the 2018-19 campaign playing for KalPa in Finland’s top league. He joined the Blue Jackets at the end of the regular season, scoring once in two games, and apparently showed enough to earn a playoff roster spot. Texier’s shining moment so far was a two-goal effort in Game 4 of the first round as Columbus swept highly favored Tampa Bay out of the playoffs.
New York Islanders:Devon Toews
A 25-year-old in his first NHL season, Toews has taken on a No. 4-5 role on the Isles’ blueline since joining the team in late December. Quietly efficient, he’s a fixture on the power play while also getting some spot duty on the penalty kill. The Islanders have a no-name defense corps – Pelech and Pulock and Mayfield, oh my – and Toews fits right in.
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar
He turned pro after his NCAA season with UMass came to an end and immediately joined Colorado midway through its first-round series against Calgary. The fourth overall draft pick in 2017 – and No. 1-rated prospect in The Hockey News’ 2019 Future Watch issue – is a defenseman built for today’s NHL, with great mobility, passing and puck skills, and he wasted no time making an impact, scoring in his first big-league post-season game and averaging 20 minutes a night in the next two contests as the Avs eliminated the Flames. Consider the rest of the spring a preview for next year’s Calder Trophy favorite.
Boston Bruins:Karson Kuhlman, Connor Clifton
Kuhlman, 23, spent most of the year with AHL Providence, save for 11 NHL games from mid-February onwards in which he tallied three goals and five points. He showed enough to suit up for five games in Boston’s seven-game victory over Toronto in Round 1, then sat out Game 1 versus Columbus. A good skater who can play it fast, he appears to be a depth option if the Bruins want some speed, but he might sit when the B’s want brawn instead. Clifton, meanwhile, is a 23-year-old defenseman who played 19 games during two separate stints with Boston in the regular season, and dressed for the first two games against Toronto before getting hurt and missing the rest of the series. He returned to action in the first two games against the Blue Jackets.
San Jose Sharks:Dylan Gambrell.
Depth center saw his first playoff action in Game 1 of the second round against Colorado, going minus-1 in 6:10 of ice time.