Ranking the Best NHL Players Who Have Yet to Reach the Playoffs
In the spring of 2013, a number of NHL veterans got their first-ever taste of postseason action.
Jay Bouwmeester had the record for the longest active career without a playoff appearance: 764 regular-season games over 10 seasons with the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames. At the 2013 trade deadline, he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues and finally skated in his first six playoff games.
John Tavares and many of his New York Islanders teammates also joined the party for the first time while the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff drought brought debuts for players like Tyler Bozak and James Reimer.
Quite a few young stars still have yet to experience the postseason. Many have spent their entire careers with one moribund team or another, some have been traded at just the wrong time and others are only beginning to show what they can do.
This list of NHL playoff virgins is limited to players in at least their fourth NHL season. I've also limited the slides to one per team, though I've included some honorable mentions.
Who do you think will tear it up when he finally gets his playoff opportunity?
6. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
26 years old
62 games played; career .915 save percentage, 2.56 goals-against
Ben Bishop hasn't played many NHL games, but he's been around for awhile. The big goaltender was drafted in 2005 and has made occasional appearances in the NHL since 2008-09. He played 13 games over two seasons for the St. Louis Blues before moving on to the Ottawa organization where he posted a record of 11-8-2 in two years before being moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year's trade deadline.
Bishop has lived up to GM Steve Yzerman's hope that he could assume the Lightning's No. 1 position in net. If Tampa Bay can stay on course after the injury to leading scorer Steven Stamkos, Bishop may get his first chance at playoff action next spring.
Goaltending Honorable Mentions
—Ondrej Pavelec has now played 249 regular-season games over seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization.
—Ben Scrivens is admirably carrying the load for the Los Angeles Kings while starter Jonathan Quick deals with a groin injury.
5. Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets
22 years old
282 games played; 86-86-172
One of the Winnipeg Jets' core values is loyalty to its developing players. As a result, the team has a tight-knit group that has played together for years but has sat on the outside every spring. The Atlanta Thrashers and then the Jets have missed the playoffs every year since 2006-07.
Of that group, Evander Kane is arguably the best player. Drafted fourth overall in 2009, Kane is a power forward with the potential for spectacular play but continues to be a lightning rod for unsubstantiated rumours in Winnipeg. He scored 30 goals in 2011-12 but has just 13 points in 21 games for the Jets so far this season.
With his big body and soft hands, Kane is the sort of player who could wreak havoc in the playoffs—once he gets there.
Winnipeg Jets Honorable Mentions
—Bryan Little, at 26 years old, is currently leading the Jets in scoring with 21 points. He has played 427 games over seven seasons with the Thrashers/Jets franchise without ever reaching the playoffs.
—The Winnipeg roster also includes other lifers like Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and the aforementioned Pavelec, who have yet to see postseason action.
4. Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche
25 years old
349 games played; 29-109-138
Johnson was drafted first overall in 2006 by the St. Louis Blues, who made the playoffs just once during Johnson's time with the team. That was in 2008-09, when he missed the entire year after an offseason knee injury.
Johnson was traded to Colorado late in the 2010-11 season, the year after the Avalanche's most recent playoff appearance, so he has kept his playoff virgin status intact.
After an uneven start to his career, the 6'4", 230-pound Johnson is hitting his stride this season. He's a plus-13 through the Avs' first 20 games and has been an important part of the team's strong start—second in ice time and scoring among defensemen. Some had written Johnson off, but at just 25, he has plenty of years left to become an impact player in the NHL.
Colorado Avalanche Honorable Mention
—P.A. Parenteau, a 30-year-old, was a late bloomer who made a name for himself with the New York Islanders before signing a free-agent deal with Colorado in 2012. Parenteau has just 256 NHL games on his résumé but has developed into a reliable offensive force and is having another solid year with the impressive Avalanche.
3. Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers
24 years old
424 games played; 91-171-262
The last time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs was when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. Sam Gagner joined the team in 2007-08 as an 18-year-old rookie. He's now in his seventh NHL campaign and hasn't had so much as a sniff at the postseason.
During their seven years outside the playoff picture, Edmonton has stocked up on enough young talent that this entire list could have been made up of Oilers. Gagner gets the nod here as the senior member of the Young Guns—and because of that amazing eight-point game he racked up in February of 2012.
Edmonton Oilers Honorable Mentions
—Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall are both in their fourth NHL seasons and still have untapped potential while youngsters like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov also await their chances to build on the Oilers' esteemed playoff tradition.
2. Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes
21 years old
198 games played; 67-73-140
2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner is a bright, young NHL talent. Playing in his fourth season at just 21 years old, Skinner has dealt with some injury issues but has shown impressive skills and maturity through the first stages of his career.
The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009 but have yet to make it back to the postseason since drafting Skinner seventh overall in 2010.
Carolina Hurricanes Honorable Mention
—Jiri Tlusty, a 25-year-old, has 118 points in 297 NHL games. He spent parts of three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before being dealt to the Hurricanes during the 2009-10 season, just as the team's playoff drought began.
1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
24 years old
283 games played; 89-127-216
The Dallas Stars captain is coming into his own this season, showing great chemistry with his new linemate Tyler Seguin, as the pair is leading the team back into the playoff hunt. After a red-hot trip through Western Canada last week, the pair is tied for eighth in NHL scoring with 23 points.
A relatively unheralded junior, Benn has climbed the ladder slowly but surely since being drafted in the fifth round, 129th overall, back in 2007. He's a two-way center with good size, good hands and good leadership. All are good qualities to be able to tap into when playoffs roll around.
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