While it is not possible every year, the just-concluded 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs offered enough noteworthy freshman performers at each position to compose an All-Rookie team.
Each member spent all or part of the 2011-12 regular season at an amateur or minor league level. But for two or more NHL postseason rounds, they jutted among or above their teammates by either holding their own in a showdown with veterans, having a hand in multiple game-winning plays, or just getting rewarded for grunt work.
Two of this author’s selections took part in the act of dethroning the top two seeds in their conference. Another came within one win of doing the same, but settled for cutting off the reigning champions’ title defense.
Two more either topped or hovered around the upper echelon of their team’s plus/minus column while another arguably gave his tired and worn out team a fighting chance in the third round.
And two of them are now champions.
From the net out, the top six rookies from the 2012 playoffs are as follows.
Entering the postseason with only 21 games worth of NHL experience, Holtby was pressed into service due to injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, as he otherwise would have been backstopping the Hershey Bears.
As it happened, Holtby would expand his combined regular-season and playoff profile by 67 percent. He did it by out-dueling defending Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas in four out of seven one-goal decisions, then pushing the presumptive 2012 Vezina winner in Henrik Lundqvist to a rubber match.
Although the upset-minded Capitals were ultimately snuffed out by the Rangers, Holtby’s stat line in Game 7 all but matched his radiant 14-game transcript with two goals against and a .935 save percentage.
Gustafsson appeared in seven of Philadelphia’s 11 playoff tilts with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, many of which exposed the Flyers for being offensively challenged.
With Gustafsson in action, the Flyers went 2-5, but he was hardly a liability in their five-game demise in the second round. He finished second only to Max Talbot for the team lead with a plus-four rating and never finished a single night in the minus range.
One of the shortcomings the eventual champions needed to compensate for was their power play, but head coach Darryl Sutter apparently had no qualms with putting a green blueliner on the point with the man advantage. Voynov saw an average of three minutes and two seconds of ice time per game on the power play.
In addition, he placed sixth on the physical Kings’ hitting chart with 40 checks in 20 playoff games, and was fifth among all L.A. players in terms of blocked shots with 22.
Joining the team on the fly, on the heels of winning an NCAA championship with Boston College, the towering forward’s expectations were all but incalculable.
Perhaps not surprisingly, after playing for the better part of Rangers' three rounds, Kreider emerged with mixed reviews. In particular, the first half of the second round versus Washington exposed some flaws in his defensive game.
On the other hand, the opening round versus Ottawa and the first half of the New Jersey series set a promising tone for Kreider to translate the promising offensive talents he showed in college to the professional level.
Henrique narrowly eclipsed Kreider for the freshmen lead with three game-winning goals in the postseason. His first two each came in the form of an overtime series-clincher, knocking off Florida in the conference quarterfinals and Kreider’s Rangers in the third round.
He added a third game-winner to help New Jersey avoid a sweep in the Cup final and then tallied his team’s final goal of the season in an eventual 6-1 loss.
Henrique finished the postseason with a 5-8-13 scoring log and retained a team-best plus-12 rating.
The third-liner was largely invisible during the opening round and the first half of the Kings’ sweep of St. Louis. But then King exploded out of the blue for five goals in as many games, including back-to-back winners in Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference finals.
In the championship, King converted to a playmaker. In Game 3, he did the bulk of the work on Martin Brodeur’s porch to set up Alec Martinez’s icebreaker and decider in a 4-0 triumph that gave L.A. a commanding 3-0 lead.
Precisely one week later, King dropped a soapy rebound in front for Trevor Lewis to nudge home and give the Kings a 3-0 edge, all sculpted on a five-minute power play. Two periods later, he would set Lewis up for an empty netter, giving himself a final transcript of 5-3-8 along with a ring.