Prospect Ramblings: How are youngsters faring in playoff cauldron?

by Mark Allan on April 16, 2017

Signed to an entry-level NHL contract just two days before the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin, 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is on the spot to solidify Boston's blueline, which has been ravaged by injuries.

 

The NHL playoffs are the most gruelling championship gauntlet in pro sports.

After a daunting 82-game audition that challenges the limits of players’ physiques, emotions and will, the eventual Stanley Cup winner must win four best-of-seven series, an absolute minimum of 16 hard-fought post-season victories.

While sparing no man or lad, it’s hardest of all on youngsters, many of whom are experiencing Lord Stanley’s endurance test for the first time.

So which players still considered prospects by Dobber and deemed by their teams good enough to make playoff rosters are handling it well?

Anaheim Ducks

D Shea Theodore: Two assists so far and one on the PP as he’s playing on the first man-advantage unit and logging big minutes with Kevin Bieksa at even strength.

D Brandon Montour: With Sami Vatanen on the second PP unit, he’s logging big minutes with Hampus Lindholm at even strength.

Boston Bruins

D Charlie McAvoy: Signed in desperation by the Bruins with their blueline in tatters, Boston’s prized young defense prospect logged a hefty 27:47 in Game Two. On the second even-strength pairing with Kevan Miller, McAvoy was by far Boston’s most-used PP pointman (3:25) in Game Two.

C Frank Vatrano: On the second PP unit with David Backes and Drew Stafford, Vatrano skated with various even-strength linemates. He got 13:35 even-strength icetime in Game Two and 45 seconds on the PP.

Calgary Flames

LW Matthew Tkachuk: Pointless in the first two games and only 12:14 TOI in the opener, the bruising winger was on the ice a lot at even strength to begin Game Two with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. He’s making his physical presence felt.

LW Micheal Ferland: The big, swift, rambunctious winger was also without a point and on ice for just 11:49 in the opener yet on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan to start Game Two.

Chicago Blackhawks

C Ryan Hartman: Playing mostly on a third line with Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger. Only 11:03 of ES icetime in Game Two. Nobody is doing much for the ‘Hawks, who were blanked by Nashville two straight.

Columbus Blue Jackets

D Zach Werenski: Outstanding rookie playing huge minutes on top pairing with Seth Jones as well as both special teams, but no points to show for 11 SOGs in two losses.

RW Oliver Bjorkstrand: Barely used (9:47 ES, 1:06 PP) in a second straight loss as the Penguins dominated the visiting Jackets. Played on a third line with Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell, although John Tortorella will likely shuffle lines back home.

Edmonton Oilers

F Drake Caggiula: On an extremely effective third line with Zach Kassian and Mark Letestu as the Oilers thrilled their long-suffering followers by blanking San Jose 2-0 to even the series. Caggiula remains pointless but got invaluable playoff experience with more than two minutes each on the PP and PK in Game Two.

D Darnell Nurse: Playing mostly with Matt Benning, Nurse saw time on both specials teams and assisted on Connor McDavid’s SH insurance goal in Game Two.

Minnesota Wild

D Christian Folin: Playing on a third pairing with fellow Swede Jonas Brodin, the third-year NHLer appears to be caught up with the rest of the Wild in Boudreau's Bane, namely the NHL playoffs. Folin is getting precious post-season experience albeit without special-teams play.

C Joel Eriksson Ek: Between veterans Chris Stewart and Jason Pominville on the fourth line, the young Swede got only 13 shifts and 8:08 TOI with no special-teams usage in a 2-1 Game Two loss. That’s not likely to change as increasingly desperate coach Bruce Boudreau relies on vets to try to salvage the opening round.

Montreal Canadiens

Phillip Danault: Unexpectedly thrust between Max Pacioretty and Alex Radulov on the top line, the former Chicago first-rounder assisted on a Jeff Petry goal to open scoring in Game Two, which the Habs won to even their series with the Rangers. Danault, who finished with 29 shifts and a robust 19:58 TOI, played 1:54 on the PK.

Nashville Predators 

LW Viktor Arvidsson: Following a 61-point breakout sophomore campaign, the Swede has a dream gig on the first line with sniping countryman Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. Arvidsson, who had the lone goal in a 1-0 series-opening triumph, is playing on both special teams for Nashville, which has shockingly shut out the mighty Blackhawks twice in Chicago.

W Kevin Fiala: After going pointless in Game One, the explosive Swiss rookie had 15:08 TOI and closed Nashville’s scoring with the man advantage as the Preds again shocked heavily favoured Chicago. Like Arvidsson, this European kid has a bright future in Music City.

New York Rangers

LW Jimmy Vesey: With hotshot rookie Pavel Buchnevich a scratch for the first two playoff games, the much-ballyhooed Vesey is getting a big-stage opportunity after an underwhelming 27 points as a first-time NHLer. Scoreless in the Rangers’ Game One win, Vesey assisted on Rick Nash’s game-tying 2-2 goal in Game Two. In 17:16 TOI, Vesey had 2:47 on the PP as coach Alain Vigneault showed faith in him.

D Brady Skjei: Playing a whopping 42 shifts and 23:17 in a 4-3 Game Two OT loss, the husky rookie defender is playing on both special teams.

Ottawa Senators

D Chris Wideman: Pointless in the opener, the offense-minded blueliner scored on an assist by Dion Phaneuf to tie Game Two 3-3 before Phaneuf ended it in OT to knot the series with Boston. Wideman had 18:30 TOI, playing less than a minute each on special teams. Wideman’s Game Three partner is in doubt after hard-rock Mark Borowiecki was hurt when he crashed feet first into the boards and had to leave the game.

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary assist Sidney Crosby at :46; Crosby returns the favor to Guentzel at 2:44.

 

RW Jake Guentzel: The dynamic rookie and linemate Conor Sheary assisted on Sidney Crosby’s 1-0 goal to open Game Two, then Guentzel notched a GWG on a helper by Crosby as the Pens won their second straight at home. Guentzel added six SOGs.

LW Conor Sheary: Like Guentzel, considered a prospect for only a little longer, the hard-working mite is another perfect complement to Crosby on what looks like a dominant line for years to come. 

RW Bryan Rust: The speedy winger (does Pittsburgh have any other kind?) is too good not to be in the NHL, although his Penguin linemates will vary according to performance, injuries and contract status. Playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in Game Two, Rust killed penalties for 1:07, although he’s also a PP asset.

G Matt Murray: After suffering a lower-body injury in the Game One warmup, last season’s Cup champion goalie (when Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt) watched his fellow Cup-winning netminder win the first two games this time. It’s conceivable that coach Mike Sullivan will stay with Fleury as long as he’s hot, which ironically could be all the way to another championship. Make no mistake, though, thanks to ability, age and contract, Murray is Pittsburgh’s undisputed No. 1 goalie going forward.

San Jose Sharks

C Timo Meier: Like fellow European rookie Marcus Sorensen, the Swiss forward is getting limited fourth-line minutes with Chris Tierney, and only a smattering of special-teams work.

St. Louis Blues

D Joel Edmundson: The physical, defense-first defender is developing a reputation as a dark-horse playoff sniper. After potting the OT winner in a series-opening 2-1 victory over the Wild, he opened scoring in a 2-1 Game Two win in Minnesota. That gives Edmundson, who has amassed 24 points in 136 NHL league games, three goals in 18 post-season encounters.

C Ivan Barbashev: The Russian rookie has no points in the first two playoff games. The Blues haven’t needed his offense so far and, if he keeps playing with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, the points will come.

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

With his second goal of the game, Kasperi Kapanen scores in double OT to give Toronto a 4-3 triumph over heavily favored Washington.

 

RW Kasperi Kapanen: Promoted just before the playoffs began, the Finnish kid made scads of new fans in Toronto by scoring in double OT to thwart Washington 4-3 and even the series 1-1. Playing on the fourth line with industrious hulks Brian Boyle and Matt Martin, Kapanen scored earlier to tie the game 2-2.

RW Mitch Marner: With 24:14 TOI including 4:03 on the PP, Marner assisted on a PP goal by Morgan Rielly to put the Leafs up 3-2. A goal by the dynamic Marner began scoring in the series opener, a 3-2 OT loss.

Auston Matthews: Like linemate William Nylander scoreless in the first two games, Matthews had four SOGs and five blocked shots in the double OT triumph, totaling 39 shifts, 27:49 TOI and 4:12 on the PP. He helps the Leafs even when he’s not scoring.

RW William Nylander: Like linemate Matthews scoreless and minus-1 in the opener, Nylander poured five shots on goal in Game Two and is dangerous whenever he’s on the ice.

Washington Capitals

None.

 

Mark Allan