When the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils meet in one of the unlikeliest Stanley Cup Finals since the first year after the lockout, much of the burden will fall on veteran players to get the job done. For the Kings, that means Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. For the Devils, that means Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
The X-factor will ultimately be how rookies who are getting their first respective tastes of Stanley Cup pressure will fare. Rookies have been a big part of the success of both teams this postseason and without their contributions, they likely wouldn't have made it this far.
Here are three rookies who will have the biggest impact on how the Stanley Cup Finals play out and whether their team is raising the Cup or going home disappointed.
He played in only 27 games during the regular season, but Kings forward Dwight King has become an absolutely integral part of L.A.'s playoff success. He has five goals in 14 games, and while that may not seem like anything special, he was a force in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Coyotes as he scored in the first three games of the series. At 6'3" and 234 lbs., he has the size necessary to excel with little space on the ice.
Not only does he have good, soft hands around the net, but he is a physical presence as well. The Devils were ultimately able to beat the New York Rangers thanks to a heavy forecheck, but forechecking is one of King's greatest attributes, so he'll look to give the Devils a taste of their own medicine.
King may not be a major star like many of his teammates, but he is a complementary player who will be quite important.
It's fair to say that no rookie has been more integral to his team's success in the playoffs thus far than Devils forward Adam Henrique. The Calder Trophy candidate leads all rookies in playoff scoring with 11 points and he is a +9 as well, so he is obviously responsible defensively. Henrique scored the biggest goal of his young career in Game 6 against the Rangers as he netted the overtime winner to propel New Jersey into the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was his second series-clinching goal of the postseason as he scored in double overtime in Game 7 against the Florida Panthers in the first round. There aren't many rookies with that much flair for the dramatic, but Henrique clearly has the "it" factor.
He is going to be a major difference-maker during this series as the Devils lean on him heavily, and perhaps he'll have another opportunity to score the biggest goal of his life.
Rookie defensemen generally aren't noticed unless they make a mistake, so it's probably a good sign that Kings blueliner Slava Voynov has been fairly anonymous during the postseason.
Voynov is a player with great offensive skill, and although he only has three playoff points, he has done well to sacrifice some of his offense in the name of playing strong defense. He has been rewarded for his solid play as he has played more minutes than any playoff rookie with 18:48 per contest.
Voynov also has a solid +3 rating, highlighting his status as a reliable defender. Voynov obviously benefits from having veteran defensemen like Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene to learn from, and he has clearly taken much of their advice to heart.
Now that Voynov is settled in, expect him to jump into the play a bit more while still maintaining his great defensive play.
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