In the National Hockey League, playing for the Stanley Cup is everything and more to a team and its players.
NHL veterans know what trials and tribulations a postseason brings. Veterans try to help spread confidence to the rest of the team while leading by example and telling the troops that they can accomplish anything if they play a team game.
Players who might not know what it is like to play for the Cup are the NHL rookies. Though they may have had playoff experience at the junior or college level, everyone knows that it does not hold a candle to playing for Hockey’s Holy Grail.
With that said, there have been many NHL rookies that have come through during hockey’s second season. Every once in a while, rookies buck the trend and are able to produce, be consistent and play like a veteran rather than someone who is experiencing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
In no particular order, here are our top rookie performances in the NHL playoffs.
1981: Dino Ciccarelli, Minnesota North Stars
In the 1981 postseason, the Minnesota North Stars made a surprising run to their first Stanley Cup Final.
One of the main reasons they got so far in that postseason was because of the play of rookie forward and now Hockey Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli. En route to the Final, Ciccarelli set an NHL playoff record for goals by a rookie with 14 that still stands today.
Ciccarelli also established a rookie record for points in a postseason with 21, only to be matched by Ville Leino in 2010.
1971: Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens
It is said that in the postseason, you need good, if not great, goaltending to win the Cup.
In 1971, a rookie goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens was absolutely outstanding in leading the Habs to a Stanley Cup over the Chicago Blackhawks. This man, as you probably know by now, was Ken Dryden.
Believe it or not, Dryden was not supposed to be between the pipes for that 1971 Canadiens’ playoff team but was a surprise starter for Rogie Vachon.
The Canadiens’ shocked everyone and started the green Dryden. Dryden ended up outperforming the likes of Boston Bruins’ Hall of Fame goaltender Gerry Cheevers as well as Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame masked man Tony Esposito and stopped Hall of Famers such as Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Stan Mikita, and Bobby Hull. Dryden finished his magical Cup run with a 12-8 record and a 3.00 GAA en route to earning the Conn Smythe as the league’s most valuable player in the playoffs.
1986: Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens
Much like Ken Dryden 15 years earlier, the Montreal Canadiens had a very special rookie netminder when they won the Stanley Cup in 1986.
At the ripe age of 20, Roy helped the Canadiens win the Cup by beating the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Final.
That postseason, Roy tied the NHL playoff mark of 15 wins and posted a miniscule 1.92 goals against average and won his first of two Conn Smythe Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player in the playoffs.
Roy currently leads all NHL netminders in career victories in the postseason with 151.
2010: Ville Leino, Philadelphia Flyers
During the Philadelphia Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, a rookie had a very similar impact on his team that Ciccarelli had on the North Stars in 1981.
Ville Leino, despite playing in his second season, Leino was considered a rookie by NHL standards and had a terrific playoffs for the Flyers in the 2010.
That year, Leino tied Ciccarelli’s rookie playoff record for points with 21 while also setting a rookie playoff record for most assists in one postseason with 14.
1994: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
In 1994, the New Jersey Devils were no longer a "Mickey Mouse" hockey team and instead, were one of the top teams in the NHL.
The Devils parlayed their regular season success into a run to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers. Had it not been for the outstanding goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Devils probably never would have made it that far.
Brodeur followed his Calder Trophy winning regular season with a terrific postseason for the Devils. Brodeur had a record of 8-9 with a terrific goals against average of 1.95, a great save percentage of .928 and 1 shutout.
Luckily for Brodeur and the Devils, they would win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in the strike-shortened 1994-95 season.
1986: Claude Lemieux, Montreal Canadiens
If you have made it this far, you have obviously noticed just how successful Montreal Canadiens’ rookies have been during the most important time of the season.
At just 20 years of age, Lemieux scored 10 goals in 20 games in helping the Canadiens to win another Cup.
Four of Lemieux’s 10 goals were game winners, including this one that helped the Habs beat the Hartford Whalers in Game 7 of the Adams Division Final series:
Lemieux ended his career with terrific numbers in the postseason with 80 goals and 78 assists for 158 points to go along with four Cups (1986, 1995, 1996, 2000).
2006: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
When you go into the postseason with a rookie netminder between the pipes, there are always going to be a lot of questions.
In 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes answered those questions by getting a Stanley Cup-winning performance out of their 22-year-old netminder Cam Ward. Originally, Martin Gerber was supposed to be the team’s goaltender in the playoffs but after struggling in Game 1 and again during Game 2, Gerber was replaced by Ward in their first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Ward, who came away with the Conn Smythe that year, won 15 games, including two Game 7’s and finished the postseason with a 2.14 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and 2 shutouts.
1993: Felix Potvin, Toronto Maple Leafs
In the 1992-93 postseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs gave their fans something to cheer and dream about as the club fell one game short of getting into the Stanley Cup Final, where they would have played the Montreal Canadiens.
One of the main reasons for the Leafs’ surprising run that postseason was the play of rookie netminder Felix Potvin. "The Cat" had a terrific rookie regular season in which he led the NHL in goals against average (2.50), had 25 wins, posted a .910 save percentage, picked-up 2 shutouts and more importantly, led the Leafs back to a mark of respectability.
In the playoffs, Potvin’s heroics helped the Leafs beat both the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues in seven games. Potvin would then get his team to within one game of clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Final before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings.
It was Potvin’s strong play that got the Leafs back into the Western Conference Finals the very next season, where they ended up losing to the Vancouver Canucks.
1979: Don Maloney, New York Rangers
There is no doubt one of the main reasons the New York Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979 was due to the play of their netminder John Davidson, who is now the President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues.
However, while Davidson was acrobatic and spectacular between the pipes for the Blueshirts, the team had a rookie forward who was just beginning to make his mark as a Ranger. He was none other than Phoenix Coyotes’ General Manager Don Maloney.
In the 1979 postseason, Maloney led all players with 7 goals and 13 assists, which at the time set a rookie record for points in a postseason. Maloney’s performance in the postseason helped spark a successful nine seasons with the Rangers and three more with the Hartford Whalers and New York Islanders.
1984: Patrick Flatley, New York Islanders
In the early 1980’s, the New York Islanders ruled the hockey world by winning four straight Stanley Cups.
While that dynastic run would come to an end in 1984, a strong performance from an Islanders’ rookie almost enabled the Islanders to win their fifth straight Cup before bowing out to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. That player was 20-year-old Patrick Flatley.
Flatley had 9 goals and 6 assists for 15 points in 21 playoff games and his strong play made him one of the most likeable and popular Islanders for the next 12 seasons and beyond.