Not much is expected out of rookies (well, unless your name is Tyler Seguin or Joe Thornton) in the regular season (never mind the Stanley Cup playoffs). The NHL postseason is a pressure cooker and not for the faint of heart.
The pace is lightning quick and even seasoned veterans crumble on hockey’s biggest stage (just ask Roberto Luongo). The odyssey which is the Stanley Cup playoffs usually chews up and spits rookies out.
However, there is a rare breed of hockey freshmen who transition well and perform beyond expectations. During the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run, a trio of youngsters helped fuel Boston to their first championship in almost four decades. Before the season began, some were highly touted prospects, while others were just depth chart afterthoughts.
Their names: Adam McQuaid (24 years old), Brad Marchand (23 ) and Tyler Seguin (19).
Tyler Seguin was the much-publicized No. 2 overall pick from the Plymouth Whaler and was perceived to have superstar potential along with top pick Taylor Hall coming out of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Hall received more playing time with the talent-starved Oilers as Seguin never found his comfort zone with the deep Bruins as the Tyler-Taylor tally decision went to Hall with 42 points in an injury-shortened season. Seguin barely scratched the scoring surface with 22 points in 74 games.
McQuaid and Marchand were also “rookies” but they spent time with the Bruins' minor league affiliate in Providence. Brad Marchand spent the ’08-’09 with the Baby Bruins posting 59 points in 79 games. He also started the ’09-’10 campaign in the AHL before being promoted to the parent squad where he registered one lone assist in 20 games as primarily a fourth-liner.
The gritty forward then became a starter in the 2010-’11 season where he found himself on the second line, joining Patrice Bergeron and veteran Mark Recchi. Playing with the talented duo provided great dividends for Marchand as he registered 20 goals and 21 assists in 77 regular season games. He also added some saltiness and chippyness reminiscent of former Bruin Ken Linseman.
Defenseman Adam “The Man with the Mullet” McQuaid, like Marchand, spent some time seasoning his game in the minors. The Prince Edward Island native played two-plus seasons in Providence before making the jump to Boston during the ’09-’10 season. In McQuaid’s first stint with the parent club, the lanky blueliner registered one goal in 19 games.
During his rookie campaign of 2010-11, McQuaid registered 15 points in 67 games. The most eye-popping stat was his plus/minus ratio of plus-30. This was good for eighth in the entire league—very impressive for any player, never mind a rookie. McQuaid also added a pinch of nastiness to the ice, piling up 96 minutes in the sin bin.
During the first two playoff series versus Montreal and Philadelphia, Brad Marchand was a consistent contributor with his offense and physical play. In his first 11 playoff games, he averaged a point per game (five goals and six assists) playing on the Bruins’ second line. However, he would soon struggle without his center Patrice Bergeron, who suffered a concussion at the end of the Philadelphia series.
Adam McQuaid was paired with newly-acquired Tomas Kaberle on defense. It was no surprise that the offensive-minded Kaberle was a defensive liability. Just a rookie, McQuaid was the calming force of the defensive tandem. He was playing well (three assists and a posting a plus-three in nine games) before having quite a scare.
Early in Game 2 versus the Flyers, the young defenseman missed a check on Mike Richards and fell awkwardly head-first into the boards. McQuaid would go on to miss the remainder of the Flyers series with a sprained neck and Shane Hnidy would take his place on the blue line.
While Marchand and McQuaid were getting invaluable playoff experience, Tyler Seguin would get his chance due to the misfortune of another.
In Game 4 versus the Flyers, Patrice Bergeron received a thunderous hit from Claude Giroux forcing the longest tenured Bruin to miss the first two games against Tampa Bay. Even though Seguin didn’t want to get his opportunity in this fashion, he'd be damned if he didn't make the most of it.
However, Seguin’s encore in Game 2 of the ECF would be nothing short of epic. The 19-year-old scored another breath-taking goal, leaving Roloson stunned. He wasn’t done however and took a feed from Nathan Horton to score glove-side. He also registered two assists in the Bruins' 6-5 victory. Seguin had tied a NHL record held by the likes of Super Mario and the Great One with four points in a period.
Seguin still didn’t assure himself a spot in the lineup though. When Bergeron returned, what would be his fate? Team leader and enforcer Shawn Thornton would be the odd man out until Nathan Horton was injured in Game 3 of the Stanly Cup Final.
Seguin didn’t have any more explosive performances in the playoffs off but he was always a perceived threat. His final playoff stat line read three goals, four assists and a plus-five in 14 games. These numbers are very impressive for a young player who was watching half the postseason from the press box.
Boston's quick dispatch of Philadelphia in four games was sufficient for Adam McQuaid's neck injury. He would play the entire series versus Tampa and Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver. McQuaid continued his physical play and was solid defensively against the offensive-minded Lightning and Canucks. In 23 playoff games, the rookie blueliner posted four assists and was a respectable plus-five.
Could the Bruins have won the Cup without the Youth Injection?
As bad as Marchand played in the previous round, he played that well against the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final. Just like the rest of his Bruins teammates, Marchand brought a physical swagger, starting in Game 3. He was an agitating gnat that got under the skin of the Vancouver superstars, the Sedin twins.
At every opportunity, he would jab at them and bark in their ears as his mission was to take the dangerous duo off their game. In Game 4, Marchand registered three minor penalties by face-washing Christian Ehrhoff, upending Daniel Sedin and squaring off with Keith Ballard.
In Game 6, he made Daniel Sedin a Punching Judy as Vancouver's alternate captain took the punishment without any rebuttal. Marchand was single-handedly breaking their will to fight.
Marchand’s contribution didn’t end with his taunts and terrorizing of the Sedin brothers; in the Cup Final, the scrappy forward added five goals and two assists against the Canucks, and tallied two of the Bruins' four goals in the deciding Game 7. Marchand’s second goal was the empty netter that all but clinched the Boston Bruins’ first Stanley Cup Championship since 1972.
The Stanley Cup playoffs is not a race, but a marathon. Veteran leadership is essential for any championship team, but sometimes a team needs a shot in the arm or an injection of youth to obtain their goals.
All three Bruins rookies, Marchand, McQuaid and Seguin all contributed in their own ways in the most pivotal times. Without this overachieving trio’s poise and passion, Lord Stanley does not make his way back to the Hub of Hockey.