NHL Rookies Most Likely to Make an Impact in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The NHL playoffs are straight ahead, and several teams will be relying on rookies. The first postseason experience can often be overwhelming, and an effective regular season can be derailed by a subpar playoff performance.
Which teams are relying most on rookies? Do they have an alternate plan? What is the expected performance for these players in the postseason?
Here are 10 NHL rookies most likely to impact the 2014 playoffs.
10. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins
His Current Role: Torey Krug plays depth minutes for the Boston Bruins at even strength, but is the top defenseman on the power play. Recently, he's been paired with Kevan Miller and Andrej Meszaros. Overall, he's played most with Miller and Adam McQuaid at even strength during the season.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? Krug's role is likely to be reduced during the postseason, which is typical for rookie defenders. Injuries could impact his role.
Can He Deliver? His offense is impressive, and should mean he is among the six dressed defensemen most nights during the playoffs.
9. Frederik Andersen, G, Anaheim Ducks
His Current Role: Frederik Andersen is a highly regarded backup goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks. He's enjoyed a strong season in the NHL but has also spent extended periods in the minors.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Ducks have to be worried about starter Jonas Hiller. In the last 10 games, the veteran has been badly outplayed by Andersen. If that continues, the Ducks will have no choice but to go with a rookie goalie. John Gibson also enjoyed a tremendous debut and could impact the story.
Can He Deliver? Andersen's resume looks impeccable, but there's a reason NHL teams avoid playing rookie goalies in the playoffs. If he gets thrust into the starting role, fans can expect solid play and periods of inconsistency.
8. Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks
His Current Role: Hampus Lindholm is having an outstanding season for the Anaheim Ducks. Paired with veteran Francois Beauchemin, the duo has been very effective in all areas.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Ducks don't have enough quality alternatives to move Lindholm down the depth chart.
Can He Deliver? Lindholm has been a revelation this year. The Ducks have battle-tested him through the season and will let him loose in the postseason. We'll know in a few weeks.
7. Boone Jenner, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
His Current Role: Boone Jenner is a two-way player with offensive potential. The Columbus Blue Jackets employ him with skilled men like Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton. It's a very nice spot for a rookie, a complementary role with superior players.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? Columbus is not certain to make the playoffs, so Jenner has been performing in pressure situations for several weeks.
Can He Deliver? It's difficult to say with certainty, but Jenner appears to be stepping up as the season wears on. If he emerges as a more complete player, the Blue Jackets will benefit in the postseason.
6. Tomas Hertl, LW, San Jose Sharks
His Current Role: Tomas Hertl suffered a knee injury in December and hasn't played since. Before the injury, he was enjoying a brilliant season for the San Jose Sharks. Elliotte Friedman of CBC reported Hertl has taken off the no-contact jersey in practice and is progressing.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Sharks are likely to see an ease in pressure if Hertl is able to return to form. The Sharks have covered well for him but are less of a threat with him out of the lineup.
Can He Deliver? It isn't clear if we'll see the Hertl of October and November when he returns. If he can attain previous levels, the Sharks will have a much better chance to make their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
5. Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Blue Jackets haven't secured a playoff spot yet, but it looks good for them. Murray will see more pressure-packed games this week.
Can He Deliver? Murray has performed well in a starting role this season, and should be able to handle the load. He appears to be one of those players who defies the odds and plays like a veteran.
4. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
His Current Role: Ondrej Palat is an effective skill winger for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has flown under the radar for much of the season, but the results are impressive.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? Palat's role on the team becomes even more important after the trade of Martin St. Louis at the deadline. The Lightning will need their pure skill players to perform at a high level in the postseason.
Can He Deliver? He looks like he'll be fine in the playoffs. St. Louis and Palat played much of the season together on a line, and had success. However, the numbers over the last 10 games—without St. Louis—suggest he's stepping into the offensive void very well.
3. Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Penguins are likely to rely on Maatta during the playoffs. The increased importance of each game can impact young players, especially for those playing key positions.
Can He Deliver? Maatta should deliver under greater pressure. The Penguins endured several injuries during the season, thrusting him into a more prominent role while still a teenager. Maatta's performance this season should give the team confidence he can perform at a high level as the playoffs arrive.
2. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers
His Current Role: Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan have formed a solid combination this season for the New York Rangers. His impressive size and speed, added to offensive ability, make him a very valuable player.
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? Kreider suffered a hand injury and has now missed six games. He might be rusty when he returns to action.
Can He Deliver? He's a big man with skill and speed. Those qualities should make him less susceptible to a playoff slump. The Rangers have quietly enjoyed a strong season. Kreider's contributions could be a big help in the playoffs.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Will the Pressure Increase in the Postseason? The Avalanche have enjoyed a dream campaign, and MacKinnon is playing at a very consistent level. He will need to maintain his current production.
Can He Deliver? There's nothing about MacKinnon's season that implies he'll fall short. This is the best rookie in the game, and it isn't close.