NHL Playoffs 2012: Braden Holtby and 5 Unknowns You Need to Watch

Robert TheodorsonSenior Analyst IApril 15, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Braden Holtby and 5 Unknowns You Need to Watch

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    Emphatic saves, bone crushing hits, bare-knuckled enforcement and laser precision shots are a few things you will see from a list of relative unknowns who have made a huge impact in the NHL Playoffs after only a few days.

    They may not get their names in the headlines of the paper, but they will soon enough. 

    After tracking five players from five different teams in the postseason, these are goaltenders, defensemen and skaters you need to start paying attention to. 

Braden Holtby

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    If you haven't heard about Braden Holtby by now, it's obvious which series you aren't watching.

    Toe to toe against the heavily favored Boston Bruins, Holtby was predicted to be the weak chain in the link for the Capitals. 

    Quite the opposite has occurred to the dismay of the Bruins and the surprise of hockey analysts everywhere.

    In two games, Braden has given up a total of three goals—twice in a row sending his Capitals to overtime and during Saturday into double overtime.

    Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas was the hero of the 2011 playoffs and went relatively unchallenged at times throughout the series.

    The pressure has never been higher for Holtby at the other end.

    After being bombarded with 44 shots, young Braden was able to stop 43 of them, enabling star center Nicklas Backstrom to score the winning goal in double OT. 

    If there was any question if Holtby would be pulled in favor of Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth when either returned from injury, there is absolutely no question now. Holtby has won the starting job—not only for the entire postseason, but perhaps for next year as well.

Alex Pietrangelo

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    Alex Pietrangelo is the man who made former first overall draft pick Erik Johnson expendable.

    That's saying something when you've surpassed your franchise's "chosen one" as the team's best player.

    Pietrangelo is one of the great two-way defensemen in the game today. Photogenic and charismatic, Pietrangelo is highly marketable on a St. Louis team that doesn't have too many stand out, star power names. 

    Although he is an underdog Norris Trophy candidate, Pietrangelo's career high 51 point—including a hefty 12 goals—should not go overlooked. Solid in both zones, Pietrangelo figures to be a mainstay in St. Louis for a very long time.

    Look for young Alex to make a huge impact against the Sharks in any situation. 

Andrew Shaw

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    Unexpectedly, Logan Shaw has found himself a home on the Chicago Blackhawks.

    After being taken in the third round of the entry draft after a few good, but unremarkable years with the Quebec Remparts and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, it looks like Shaw is in the NHL to stay.

    The young winger has scored some timely goals this year, but it is this play pictured against Phoenix's Mike Smith that will get Shaw on everybody's map.

Brayden Schenn

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    Schenn was once the most highly-touted prospect in the entire NHL during his time with the Los Angeles Kings' organization.

    Schenn would never get to play for those Kings who drafted him fifth overall in the 2009 draft. Instead, Brayden found himself traded for former Philadelphia captain Mike Richards.

    Projected as a top six center who would excel in the defensive aspect of the game, Schenn is a hard worker who has already made an immediate impact on a very experienced and skilled Philadelphia Flyers squad. 

    Schenn regularly targets Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby during the current Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals matchup. 

    Those who pay special attention to his attributes and contributions to the team, both physically and in intangibles, will see what good things are to come. 

Chris Neil

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    Chris Neil has been around for a long time; as a lifelong Senator, he has had plenty of postseason experience.

    Due to the market Neil plays in, a lot of American viewers might not know just who he is. 

    For starters, Neil scored the game winning overtime goal against the New York Rangers Saturday night to send the series to a 1-1 tie.

    Neil also currently leads the entire NHL postseason in penalty minutes. The big enforcer has never met a fight he didn't like and is always ready and willing to drop the gloves or stick his nose in somebody else's business.

    Neil isn't your typical tough-guy enforcer—he is a top six forward with skill and grit, the kind that has kept him in the NHL while most of his counterparts usually end up frequently recalled and sent down to the minors.

    If you haven't keep your eyes on Neil in the Ottawa-New York series, you need to now.