With the first round of the NHL playoffs complete, today’s Prospect Ramblings will take a look at some of the rookies and young players that have made an impact for their teams. The intensity of the playoffs has allowed some players to shine while others are left in the dust. Almost every series has been impacted by the NHL’s youth movement in one way or another.
The crown jewel of these young players is Colorado Avalanche defenceman, Cale Makar. After completing his season with UMass, the Hobey Baker winner jumped right into the Avalanche lineup for game three of their series with the Calgary Flames. Scoring a goal in his NHL debut, the skilled blue-liner has shown poise and puck moving ability immediately upon entering the line-up. Taking all of three games in the first round to establish himself as a quality top-four defenceman, Makar has been previewing what should be an outstanding rookie season in 2019-20. His ability to adapt to the NHL game seamlessly, without any real practices with the team, have proven that Makar will be a force to be reckoned with in these playoffs. He will benefit from the extended rest in between the first and second round, allowing himself to become acclimated to both the NHL and his new surroundings and system.
One of the more surprising revelations to come out of the first round was the play of Alexandre Texier of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Helping sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning was impressive enough, but the way he did it was even more impressive. With two goals and one assist in the four-game sweep, the speedy winger was able to impact the game in multiple facets of the game. Whether it was on the power play or at 5-on-5 play, his speed was able to give the Lightning defence fits throughout the series. Scoring two goals in the series-clinching game, Texier solidified the offensive attack for the Blue Jackets who victimized the injury-plagued Tampa backend.
Possibly the best young player in these playoffs, Miro Heiskanen has been an absolute workhorse. Averaging 26:32 of ice time through the first round, the outstanding rookie rearguard was a major factor in the Dallas Star advancing to round two, defeating the Nashville Predators in six games. His performance in game one of the series set the tone for the rest of his series. He scored a goal and had a shot tipped in by Alex Radulov giving him an assist, which ended up being his only two points of the series, yet his play has continued to be imperative to his team’s success. His defensive game and transition game was absolutely outstanding throughout the series. Dallas’ has the luxury of riding Heiskanen along with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell, always having a matchup they were comfortable with. The young Finnish defender has been able to use his skating and strong puck-moving ability to stop sustained pressure and clear the zone with efficiency not seen among many veteran defencemen.
Former Carolina Hurricanes third-round pick Warren Foegele has been their heartbeat through this series. With four goals, six points in the seven-game series with the Washington Capitals, he was able to produce in crunch time. Averaging under 14 minutes a night, Foegele has been able to produce with limited ice-time, providing timely secondary scoring behind the few stars that Carolina possesses. Filling in for fellow Canes rookie scorer, Andrei Svechnikov who has been out of the lineup since game three, he was a major factor in the Hurricanes defeating the reigning cup champions in seven games.
One of the less exciting developments in the first round is the aforementioned Svechnikov. The second overall pick in last June’s entry draft was producing at a good rate with three points in as many games until he engaged in a fight with Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin. The spirited bout resulted in a final blow from the Washington captain that knocked Svechnikov clean out. Suffering a concussion on a play that he isn’t expected to be involved in seemed like a waste of his playoff coming out party. While he began practicing prior to game six, he didn’t play for the remainder of the series. Their hope is to have him back for the second round against the New York Islanders.
On a brighter note, the legend of Jordan Binnington continues to grow. The rookie netminder has helped the St. Louis Blues to a first-round victory of the Winnipeg Jets. While he didn’t stand on his head throughout the series, he provided a security blanket for the Blues that they had been missing prior to this season. His performance only faltered in game three where he allowed six goals against, not allowing more than three in any other game in the series. The rookie goaltender was outstanding laterally all series and his positioning has been good. As the calming presence on the backend, the Blues will likely go as far as Binnington takes them. With a possible Calder trophy nomination around the corner, the Blues backstop will look to push the Blues towards greater hardware as one of the hottest teams in hockey led by the hottest goalie in hockey.
Although heavily sheltered, Predators defender Dante Fabbro showed a great deal of promise in his first taste of the NHL playoffs. With just an assist in the six games he played, he didn’t contribute offensively but excelled defensively using his skating and stick work to break up plays and force attackers to the outside. Excellent at closing the gap in the neutral zone, his ability to break up plays before entering the zone was key in showing that he belonged in the Predators playoff line-up despite having a veteran like Matt Irwin available. While only averaging 12:05 of ice time, he was effective in his limited role. Showing off a mature game, a big summer of training and solid training camp could set the Predators up to have an even deeper backend, possibly leading to a trade of one of the current top-four to shore up the offensive deficiencies that led to an early exit in this year’s playoffs. Look for the former Boston University product to force his way into a larger role with Nashville next season.
The NHL playoffs have provided a number of unexpected scenarios and their young stars have not disappointed in that regard either. Whether it be a Svechnikov fight, a big save from Binnington or a number of young defencemen making their marks on their teams, the first round on the NHL playoff has been exciting, to say the least. With most of the betting favorites being eliminated, the excitement is sure to continue. Enjoy the second round, the games will continue to become higher intensity as the goal becomes closer to reality for these teams. Will one of these young stars in the making come out on top, helping lead their team to the promised land?
Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari)