Many of the biggest storylines of the NHL playoffs are monopolized by the game's top stars. It's not too often that you hear about the lesser known guys on the cusp of breaking out.
There are multiple players who are about to catch the attention of NHL fans everywhere this postseason. The road to the Stanley Cup is a long one, and while the not-so-deep squads are relying on their stars, there are multiple teams that have the luxury of leaning on these breakout candidates.
These players will catch defenses off guard if they aren't prepared. Expect unexpected performances from players who you've probably never heard much about. They'll be heroes for their respective teams when all is said and done.
Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are back in the playoffs for the 23rd straight season—the longest streak in professional sports. It wasn't a familiar road to the playoffs this year, however. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were out for a good amount of time this year, allowing the younger guys on Detroit's roster to step up.
One such player was Tomas Tatar.
Tomas Tatar, he can stick handle in a phone booth Doc— Nick Aleva (@SenorAleva) April 18, 2014
Tatar has great hands and was sixth on the team in points during the regular season. Gustav Nyquist received more attention than Tatar, but Tatar is the one I predict will have the better playoff numbers.
John Niyo of The Detroit News breaks down what makes Tatar so valuable to Detroit:
What he does is what every team needs this time of year. Tatar plays with passion, and he scores goals, finishing second on the team with 19 this season. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger has good instincts and better hands, and he’s eager to play in traffic. Too eager, at times.
Tatar will need to be a factor against a Boston Bruins team with a deep group of forwards. Their depth is matched by few, and the Red Wings have the best chance of going head-to-head with each of them.
Tatar will be invaluable to this year's push to the Stanley Cup.
Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks
When opponents hone in on the wide array of stars on the Chicago Blackhawks, Brandon Saad will be put in opportunities to produce. He was sixth on the team in points and goals this year, while finishing seventh in assists. This came mostly as a member of the second line, though he is a guy who can play in all situations for Chicago.
His second-half of the year wasn't all that great, leading to his benching on March 6 by head coach Joel Quenneville. That benching should serve as motivation for him moving forward, however.
Despite the fact that he benched him, Quenneville speaks very highly of Saad, via Brian Hedger of NHL.com:
He's a big part of our team... He gives us a lot of intangibles that he brings. He brings some skill to our lineup, some speed, he's dangerous off the rush, heavy in the puck area and I think [he adds] that element you can use him on both sides of the ice and play him with top players.
Perhaps the benching, then, was a way to open Saad's eyes and show him the type of expectations the Blackhawks have of him. It's those expectations that he will need to live up to this postseason.
If Chicago wants to repeat as champs, they'll need contributions from everyone—not just the top guys. Saad is extremely important.
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Pittsburgh Penguins will witness first hand in Round 1 that Columbus Blue Jackets youngster Ryan Johansen is a future star in the NHL.
Johansen found the back of the net 33 times during the regular season, the second-highest mark in Blue Jackets history. Not bound to any particular situation, Johansen's speed, size and strength allow him to make an impact on all lines.
In Game 1 of the series, Johansen tallied no points, but he did block two shots, win 10 of 21 faceoffs and notch three of his team's 48 hits. The Blue Jackets ultimately dropped Game 1, however.
For them to win against Pittsburgh, they'll need Johansen to start making plays. Whether it's scoring goals or setting up goals, Johansen needs to make his presence felt. Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen knows it won't be easy to contain him, via Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
He can really skate, and he can play at a high pace. He's got really good skill. And he's got a pretty good nose for the net, too. He knows what areas to be in. He's got a knack for finishing.
He's going to be a handful this series.
Watch for his playoff breakout to begin in Game 2.