5 NHL Players Who Would Make the Jump to Elite Status with a Strong Postseason

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystMay 3, 2013

5 NHL Players Who Would Make the Jump to Elite Status with a Strong Postseason

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    The NHL postseason presents an annual opportunity for rising stars to reach another level in their professional hockey careers. These Stanley Cup playoffs feature an abundance of young athletes aiming to become stars in a sport they've made an obsession.

    Last year, we witnessed the meteoric rise of Jonathan Quick. The Los Angeles Kings goaltender began the postseason with a 4-8 playoff record, anchoring an eighth-seeded squad that few gave a shot to escape opening-round action.

    The journey ended with Quick and company claiming the franchise's first Stanley Cup. He racked up three shutouts and a stunning 1.41 goals against average en route to Conn Smythe Trophy honors.

    Though Quick's emergence was entirely unexpected, we have an inkling of who may be ready to step up to superstardom. Here's a look at five standout performers who have the capabilities to make a similar leap.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

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    Couture is counted among the game's most promising young centers. The 24-year-old Ontario product previously produced at a high level, highlighted by consecutive 30-goal seasons during the 2010-'11 and 2011-'12 campaigns. 

    Couture increased his importance to the Sharks this year, scoring a team-high 21 goals. He also added 16 assists during the regular season and played in all 48 games.

    San Jose invested in Couture with the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft. He's validated lofty expectations so far and can cement his role as a franchise cornerstone with a strong postseason.

James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The 25-year-old netminder nearly matched his career-high win total during a shortened regular season. Reimer compiled a 19-8-5 record for Toronto this year, falling one victory shy of his 20-win effort in 2010-'11. 

    He took the reigns as the Maple Leafs' main man this season and it's worked out splendidly for the franchise. Reimer established career bests in GAA (2.46) and shutouts (four), taking Toronto to its first playoff tournament since 2004.

    The Maple Leafs have spent several years searching for a steady goaltender and many were apprehensive about relying on Reimer to shoulder the load in 2013. He continues to chart his own course and can convince Toronto management that he's real deal by shutting down opposing offenses on the biggest stage of his career.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadians

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    Subban is an intimidating defensive enforcer who manages to inflict highlight-worthy hits on a frequent basis. The Canadians' 2007 second-round selection never shies away from contact and provides the franchise with an energetic presence on the ice who thrills Bell Centre observers.

    His skills are hardly restricted to the defensive end. Subban scored 11 goals and dished out 27 assists to match the highest regular-season point total of his career. 

    He turns 24 on May 13. If the Habs are still playing at that point it means the squad overcame a substantial opening-round obstacle against Ottawa and advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2010.

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues

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    The 25-year-old enjoyed a breakout fifth season, leading St. Louis in scoring and displaying leadership capabilities in crunch time. Stewart collected 18 goals and 18 assists, accounting for eight more points than any other Blues player.

    The right winger really stepped up for a St. Louis team devoid of stars this season, two years after the team acquired him from Colorado. Stewart was part of a package sent to the Blues in exchange for first-overall draft pick Erik Johnson.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers

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    New York isn't lacking for starpower these days. Perennial standouts Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash reign supreme on billboards across Manhattan.

    However, this 22-year-old center is coming on strong as one of the team's most important players. Stepan participated in every game this season, leading an accomplished roster in points and assists. 

    He accumulated 18 goals and 26 assists in his third year with Rangers. Stepan hit his stride during the final stretch of the regular season, when New York surged ahead of several teams and salvaged an otherwise underwhelming campaign.

    Stepan scored eight goals in April, collecting 19 points and a plus-14 rating. 

    “He’s a 22-year-old guy that I use in every situation," New York coach John Tortorella told the Associated Press via the Register Citizen. "He was a guy that I was worried about him being our No. 2 center going into the year. He has proven to all of us that he has taken a huge step this year.”