12 NHL veterans eyeing their first playoff appearance

The proof is right there for how much the Florida Panthers missed Jonathan Huberdeau as the centre took a stretch pass, showed patience to freeze the defender before passing the Jagr, who went top shelf.

Some NHL players have become synonymous with the post-season. Stars like Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews, and Steven Stamkos are on track to to suit up in the second season once again.

For others, though, the playoffs are something of an unknown pleasure.

Here are a dozen-plus players who could make their first post-season appearance this season.

Sam GagnerPhiladelphia Flyers

Despite skating in 604 regular-season games in the NHL, Sam Gagner has never played in a playoff game.

The first-round pick (sixth overall, 2007) of the Edmonton Oilers could get his first taste of the post-season as the Flyers are in the middle of late-season push. Philadelphia trails the Detroit Red Wings by one point for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot, with one game in hand.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, and Aaron EkbladFlorida Panthers

Call it some loose usage of the term “veterans” here, but several of the league’s most exciting young players are set to make their first trip to the playoffs with the Florida Panthers this spring.

Former Calder Trophy winners Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, along with Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad make up a significant portion of the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers’ core group. They’ll have their collective mettle tested this spring.

Ron HainseyCarolina Hurricanes

At the age of 34, Ron Hainsey is the elder statesman on this list. A lot has to go right and little can go wrong for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs this year.

Hainsey has played 825 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets, and Hurricanes. Save for the Canadiens, that list is heavy on clubs that have struggled to make the post-season over the course of the last decade.

Hainsey’s remarkable run of no playoff experience is likely to be extended.

Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk – Carolina Hurricanes

Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk have a ways to go before they reach Hainsey territory, but they’re both vying for their first trip to the post-season with the surprising Hurricanes this season.

Carolina currently sits seven points back of the Red Wings for a wild card spot, with the New Jersey Devils and Flyers both ahead of them in the standings. Caught in a four-game skid, the Hurricanes’ chances are almost cooked.

There’s always next year for this pair of exciting young players.

Al Montoya – Florida Panthers

A first-round pick (sixth overall, 2004) of the New York Rangers and veteran of 133 NHL games, goaltender Al Montoya has never played in the playoffs. Montoya’s never sat on the bench for an NHL team in the post-season.

There’s no guarantee the Panthers’ No. 2 will see game action this season either. Such is the life of a backup.

Montoya’s been sharp in limited duty behind Roberto Luongo this season, so count on him being ready if the chance arises.

Brayden McNabbLos Angeles Kings

Defenceman Brayden McNabb played an integral role in the Kootenay Ice’s march to the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2011. The 25-year-old is set for his first NHL post-season appearance having secured a spot on the Kings’ blue-line.

John KlingbergDallas Stars

Albeit another case of loose application of the term “veteran,” Stars defenceman John Klingberg is poised for his first post-season test this spring.

Stars defenceman John Klingberg (3) skates with the puck against Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner (53), both players have yet to play in the NHL playoffs. (LM Otero/AP)

Stars defenceman John Klingberg (3) skates with the puck against Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner (53), both players have yet to play in the NHL playoffs. (LM Otero/AP)

The 23-year-old will see his share of minutes the dubious Dallas blue-line. The slick Swedish rearguard is fourth in defenceman scoring with 10 goals and 53 points in 67 games.

Brett ConnollyBoston Bruins

Steve Yzerman’s first draft as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning will never be remembered as the organization’s most fruitful.

Yzerman’s first pick (sixth overall) in 2010 was Brett Connolly. It’s been a long road to regular duty in the NHL for Connolly, but the 23-year-old winger has finally found a fit with the Bruins. Connolly should see time in the Bruins’ bottom-six forwards group at playoff time.

Honourable mentions: Riley Nash, Brandon Pirri, Magnus Paajarvi, Vincent Trocheck