Ranking the 5 Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2013 NHL Playoffs
Every year we see players who unexpectedly make great contributions to their team's success in the NHL playoffs.
The atmosphere and pressure of the postseason often brings out the best in a lot of role players and rookies, many of whom are eager to make a name for themselves on the game's grandest stage.
Let's look at the five biggest surprise stars of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs thus far.
5. Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings
Slava Voynov is becoming a star in this year's playoffs with an impressive two-way performance for the Los Angeles Kings.
The 23-year-old blueliner has tallied four points in 10 games, and his three game-winning goals are a Kings playoff record for a defenseman. Voynov also ranks third on the team in ice time per game (21:35), third in shifts per game (30.8) and first in plus/minus (six).
As a great skater with an accurate slap shot, Voynov is an offensive threat whenever he steps onto the ice. He does a great job of determining when he should join the rush and when it's better to play safe defensively.
Voynov also makes an impact on special teams as a power-play quarterback who moves the puck well and creates scoring chances with his vision and playmaking skills.
The Russian defenseman has elevated his game during the playoffs and has a bright future on a Kings blue line that is loaded with offensive talent. It's not easy for a young defenseman to excel in a top-four role during the playoffs, but Voynov relishes the opportunity to play a key part in the Kings' success.
4. Derick Brassard, New York Rangers
When the playoffs started, hockey fans in New York were probably expecting star players such as Rick Nash, Derek Stepan or Brad Richards to lead the team in scoring and produce offensively on a consistent basis.
But it's been the impressive performance of young center Derick Brassard that has carried the Rangers offense in the postseason thus far.
He leads the team in scoring (10 points) and assists (eight), while tallying a point in six of New York's 10 playoff games.
Without Brassard's success as a playmaker in the postseason, the Rangers probably would not have beaten the Washington Capitals in the first round because many of the team's top-six forwards have made little to no impact offensively.
Nash, Richards, Stepan and captain Ryan Callahan have combined for just 13 points in 10 postseason games, which is one reason why the Rangers have scored the second-fewest goals of the remaining playoff teams.
In the first postseason of his career, Brassard has established himself as a key part of the Blueshirts' success now and for the future. He's a talented two-way center who plays a physical game and produces offensively on a consistent basis.
3. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
Rookie forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been one of the Ottawa Senators' best players in the playoffs even though he had no postseason experience prior to 2013.
He ranks T-1st on the Senators in goals (four), and his six points are two behind captain Daniel Alfredsson for the lead in scoring. His plus/minus rating of seven is tied with veteran defenseman Chris Phillips for the team lead. Pageau also leads all rookies in goals scored and points during the playoffs.
Even though he's just 20 years old, Pageau shows tremendous poise on the ice, and he relishes the pressure of having to perform in important situations late in games. He doesn't have tremendous size, but his compete level is very high, and he's not afraid to crash the net to score goals in the dirty areas.
Pageau is playing with a lot of confidence in the playoffs, and his production offensively has been a huge boost to a Senators team that has been without its top forward in Jason Spezza (who led the club in scoring last year with 84 points) for seven of its nine postseason games far.
2. Johnny Boychuk, Boston Bruins
Johnny Boychuk leads all NHL defensemen in the playoffs with four goals scored, which is four times the amount he netted in 44 regular-season games.
He has scored in back-to-back games for the Bruins in their second-round series versus the Rangers, and his goal in the third period of Tuesday's Game 3 in New York tied the game 1-1.
In addition to the surprising offensive contributions Boychuk has made in the postseason, he's also made a strong impact defensively. He leads all defensemen in hits (41) and blocked shots (37), while raising his ice-time-per-game average from 20:24 in the regular season to 23:06 in the playoffs thus far.
The veteran blueliner has also played an important role on the team's penalty kill (fourth best among remaining playoff teams) with 2:31 of shorthanded time on ice per game.
Boychuk has been a reliable player for Bruins head coach Claude Julien in the playoffs with consistent production at both ends of the ice as well as on special teams.
1. Damien Brunner, Detroit Red Wings
Damien Brunner has provided the Detroit Red Wings with consistent offensive production (points in six of 10 games) in this year's playoffs.
The 26-year-old rookie forward has tallied eight points (four goals, four assists) in 10 games, which is tied with superstar center Pavel Datsyuk for second on the team in scoring. Brunner is only averaging 13:27 of ice time per game, but he's making the most of his minutes.
One of the reasons why the Red Wings hold a 2-1 series lead over the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the second round is the scoring chances that Brunner has created for his team. He scored in the first two games of the series and then assisted on Gustav Nyquist's goal to open the scoring in Game 3 on Monday. His speed and skill has caused a lot of problems for the Blackhawks defensemen.
Detroit probably wouldn't have survived its first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks without Brunner giving the team some much-needed scoring depth. He tallied three points (one goal, two assists) in the Red Wings' Game 2 victory in overtime and helped his team even the series 2-2 with a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4.
You wouldn't be able to tell that Brunner had zero playoff experience prior to this season by watching him play. His poise with the puck and ability to score big goals is remarkable.
The Red Wings have found a star of the future in Brunner.