Milan Lucic and Carey Price are two solid rookies going head-to-head in the opening round. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
First things first, the playoffs are not a time for rookies.
Storylines surrounding the NHL’s second season focus on players who’ve had long, illustrious careers, but have been unable to reach the NHL’s tallest hill (see Teemu Selanne in ‘07 and Jeremy Roenick this year); not about players trying to claim the grail their first time around.
Heck, most of the Calder candidates (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Peter Mueller, Tobias Enstrom, Sam Gagner) didn’t even make the round of 16.
With that said, there are still several youngsters who will play key roles during this season’s run to the Cup. Here are five fab freshmen to keep your peepers peeled for:
Carey Price, Montreal
Splitting time with Cristobal Huet early in the season will likely cost him the Calder, but if the Canadiens are the last team standing in the playoffs, expect the 20-year-old to hoist the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP as well as the Stanley Cup. Besides Martin Brodeur, there may not be a tender in the NHL as calm and poised as the former Tri-City American.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington
Perhaps no player on the Captials’ roster benefited more from the hiring of Bruce Boudreau than the young Swede. Centering the world’s greatest goal-scorer makes life pretty easy, of course, but let’s give credit where credit’s due – Backstrom was 11th among all NHLers in assists with 55 and was second in rookie scoring – three behind Kane – with 69 points.
Brandon Dubinsky, Rangers
Jaromir Jagr’s season would’ve been even less Jagr-esque had the temperamental Czech not found chemistry with the 21-year-old Dubinsky. The Anchorage native - what is it with the Rangers and Alaskans? - suited up in all 82 of the Blueshirts’ games, collecting a respectable 14 goals and 40 points, but he, and Jags, will have to up their game for playoff success.
Milan Lucic, Boston
The Vancouver native is not only popular with fans of the rough stuff, he’s also adored by the ladies (I can present the plethora of letters we’ve received from teenage girls if you need proof). The big man may not find the back of the net very often (eight goals in 77 games), but he led the Bs in fights with 13 and can change a game’s momentum with one hit.
Matt Niskanen, Dallas
The 21-year-old blueliner averages on the bright side of 20 minutes of ice time per game and has helped cushion the blow of losing Sergei Zubov to injury. Born in Minnesota, Niskanen was tied for 17th league-wide in plus-minus with a plus-22 and was first among all freshmen. He’ll be counted on heavily to shutdown Anaheim’s offense in a series where every goal will be huge.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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