The Stanley Cup Playoffs are usually where the veterans shine, leading the way for their teams in the highest pressure moments. But there are always a few youngsters who go above and beyond what they did in the regular season, and begin building momentum for the next campaign.
Last year, Dallas’s Roope Hintz was a good example of this. The then-22-year-old had 22 points in 58 regular-season games before netting five goals and eight points in 13 playoff contests. This season, he more than doubled his goal total from 2018–19.
Who are this year’s early candidates for under-25 breakout post-season players? From this week’s Sportsnet NHL newsletter, we draw a few performances deserving of our attention from players who are stepping up even more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.
Liam Foudy, Columbus Blue Jackets
OK, so the numbers aren’t quite there yet with one goal and one assist in seven games, but his role and importance to the team is growing quickly. After his first two playoff games, Foudy’s ice time shot up over 15 minutes. In the deciding Game 5 against Toronto, he played the seventh-most minutes among all Blue Jackets forwards and scored the back-breaking 2–0 goal.
In Game 2 against Tampa Bay, he picked up the primary assist on Alexander Wennberg‘s insurance marker with pressure at the blue line and a nice outlet pass.
No matter how far the Jackets go, the 20-year-old is already one to watch for next season.
Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders
This was the fourth NHL season for the 23-year-old and he set a personal best with 18 goals and 39 points in 68 games. Does he have another level to get to, though?
The Islanders don’t score much, leaning on a defensive system to slow their opponents, but Beauvillier has managed to score four times and add two assists, recording at least one point in each of the five games New York has played so far. Nearly all of that production has come at 5-on-5 as well, signalling some level of sustainability.
Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks
Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that Dach, the third-overall pick in last year’s draft, is showing us something, but it’s notable because he seems to be having more of an impact than he did in the regular season.
Dach, 19, has five points in six playoff games, and has been a key second centre with a 5-on-5 shot share similar to Jonathan Toews, who, by the way, Dach has had more ice time than at even strength and on the power play.
Dillon Dube, Calgary Flames
Time will tell if Dube is really breaking out as a point producer in the NHL, but at the very least the Flames third liner is emerging as another effective pest in this lineup that loves to play with edge.
While Matthew Tkachuk is the heart and soul of that identity, Dube has been a key part of it in these playoffs so far.
The 22-year-old had a six-goal, 16-point regular season in 45 games, but has four goals already in six playoff contests. They’ve all been key, too: the game-winner in the series clincher against Winnipeg, the first two in a Game 1 win against Dallas, and the first in Game 2 of the Round 1 series.
Could he be this year’s John Druce/Fernando Pisani/Chris Kontos?
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
We may be cheating a little bit by including Hart here since he arrived a highly touted prospect and has had two pretty consistent regular seasons with save percentages of .917 and .914 (74 games total). But since the Flyers have been looking for a No. 1 for years, it’s nice for fans of the team to see how the 22-year-old has performed in his first playoff appearance. So far, he’s somehow been even better than his career started.
Hart has played three games so far against Boston and Tampa Bay in the round robin and Montreal in Round 1 of the playoffs. He hasn’t allowed more than one goal in a game yet, his .966 save percentage is tops in the league among all netminders who’ve played more than once, and he’s only allowed one high-danger goal at 5-on-5 on the 14 shots he’s faced.
Now playing against his idol Carey Price, Hart can really announce his arrival on the big stage.