We’ve seen some incredible performances in the playoffs so far; the most promising aspect of the trend being the fact youngsters have gotten into the act. But who will continue the magic next season? There are players who have good runs and then there are guys who use the post-season as a springboard. Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak is already well established in the NHL, so let’s look at some younger players who have yet to complete a full campaign in the world’s best league.
John Carlson, D, Washington Sure, the Capitals couldn’t get out of the first round, but don’t blame Carlson. All this kid does is win – just ask Canada, who had their world junior dreams crushed by his OT winner – and he has officially leap-frogged fellow blueliner Karl Alzner on the Washington depth chart. Big, smart, skilled – not much more you can ask of a player who just turned 20 in January.
Carlson has been on an accelerated path since his United States League days and the stats bear that out. He was a staggering plus-37 with 39 points in 48 games for the American League’s Hershey Bears this season and a plus-11 in 22 games with the Caps. In the first round loss to Montreal, Carlson was tied for fourth in team scoring with four points in seven games and second in plus-minus with a plus-6.
P.K. Subban, D, Montreal For all I know, they’ve already re-named a street after Subban in Montreal, as he and Halak are the latest to be fast-tracked to sainthood in Canada’s best party town. Subban came into the Washington series for the final two matches and promptly notched an assist in back-to-back elimination games.
Much like Carlson, Subban is speedy and responsible. He also had a crazy plus-minus in the AHL this year (plus-46 in 77 games for Hamilton) and put up tons of points (53) from the blueline. The youngster has a great deal of poise on the ice, which obviously serves him well as a rookie defenseman. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do as a full-time Hab next year.
Tyler Ennis, LW, Buffalo Having seen him in person during Game 1 of an eventual series loss to Boston, I can attest to the scary-good skills possessed by Ennis. The 5-foot-9 speedster has the sort of high-end offensive arsenal that the Sabres need moving forward, as I wrote earlier this week.
The way Ennis can quickly cycle and protect the puck gave 6-foot-9 Bruins defender Zdeno Chara fits early in the series and the rookie finished tied for first in playoff scoring on the Sabres with four points in six games; this after closing out the regular season with nine points in 10 games. Buffalo has graduated a lot of their draft picks over the past decade and while most of those players have been good, not a lot have been great. Ennis has that opportunity and has proven his scoring chops at every level of hockey.
Jonathan Bernier, G, Los Angeles So this one has an asterisk, because Bernier didn’t actually play in the post-season, but hear me out: The Kings have brought the goaltender along slowly, but I fully expect him to take a substantial role on the team next year.
Not only has Bernier performed well in spot duty for the Kings, but it became clear down the stretch run leading up to the playoffs that current starter Jonathan Quick took on too much of a workload this year. In fact, Quick himself has been a pleasant surprise for the Kings over the past two seasons and getting 72 appearances from him during the regular season was probably not in anybody’s playbook. In three appearances this season, Bernier rocked a 1.30 goals-against average and .957 save percentage, helping the Kings end a brutal skid near the end of the campaign.
A platoon of Quick and Bernier, with the rookie getting in perhaps 30 starts, would give the Kings a terrific combo heading into next year’s playoffs, where a first round loss will not be accepted, nor expected.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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