While elite players around the League rise to the occasion in the postseason, it's also far from unusual to see second- or third-line players burst onto the scene as well with Lord Stanley's Cup at stake.
But with every success story in a particular playoff series, there is a less favorable outcome. When teams advance or are eliminated, individual performances are scrutinized by fantasy owners and hockey fans around the world, resulting often in either praise or scorn.
Which begs the question -- how much should a player's postseason performance impact his value leading up to a fantasy draft the following season? Fantasy hockey campaigns obviously do not include postseason statistics, but it is impossible to ignore the ups and downs of the past year's Stanley Cup Playoffs when assembling your roster.
When walking this fine line, it's important for fantasy owners to use their perception, but also take their assessments with a grain of salt. Because, after all, a player's regular-season numbers are what matter most, fantasy-wise.
NHL.com takes a look at 10 of the most compelling names from last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, evaluating each player's postseason and determining whether or not the perception of their performances is reality -- in terms of their fantasy value.
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In his first full regular season with the Bruins, Marchand proved to be an absolute steal for fantasy owners who took a chance on the sparkling 23-year-old last season.
Then came an even bigger surprise: the 71st pick in 2006 put forth consistent grit and production throughout the playoffs, helping guide the franchise to its first Cup since 1972. Despite being undersized on the frontline for the B's, there was nothing diminutive about the 5-foot-9 center's game all season. After notching 21 goals and compiling 20 assists in the regular season, the hard-nosed Marchand followed that up by breaking the franchise rookie record for postseason goals with 11 in 25 playoff games.
Marchand developed such a strong comfort level on the ice last season (plus-25 regular-season rating) that he was able to not only make an impact on a deep Bruins' roster, but also be at the forefront in helping Boston overcome a 3-2 series deficit in the Cup Final. With a full season under his belt and the Bruins preparing to defend their championship, Marchand has the talent and drive to emerge as a 30-goal, 60-point scorer in 2011-12.
Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings
An experienced Detroit Red Wings squad weathered the storm last season, as Datsyuk missed a month and a half after suffering a broken hand on Dec. 22. But when push came to shove, Mike Babcock's team could not have survived as long as it did in the postseason without its most explosive weapon.
Reminding the entire League of his dangerous two-way talents when healthy, the Russian-born center dazzled nearly every time he touched the puck. Beyond the 4 goals he scored, his 11 assists and plus-10 rating made him instrumental in helping Detroit take San Jose to seven games in a back-and-forth second round series.
Because of his ability to turn his dekes and maneuvers into scoring chances on any given shift, the perception of Datsyuk following the postseason is truly the reality. If the 33-year-old avoids the injury bug, a 100-point season is not out of the question, especially after he generated 97 points in both 2007-08 and 2008-09.
Sean Bergenheim, LW, Florida Panthers (2010-11 team: Tampa Bay)
After five ordinary seasons with the Islanders, Bergenheim stayed healthy last season for Tampa Bay, playing 80 games and putting forth touches of energy and scoring for the Bolts' third line. Despite setting a career-high with 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in the regular season, Bergenheim was set to become an unrestricted free agent in July.
With only the postseason standing between him and free agency, the 27-year-old burst onto the scene, powering the Bolts to an unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Finals. After stifling the injury-depleted Pittsburgh Penguins with 3 goals in the opening round, the left winger caught fire again in the Bolts' 4-game disposal of Washington, netting 4 goals in the series. All in all, the 2002 first-round pick compiled 9 goals and 2 assists in 16 playoff contests -- earning him a 4-year, $11 million deal this offseason with the new-look Florida Panthers.
But as this 2011 playoff hero embarks on a new chapter of his career in South Florida, Bergenheim will need time to adjust to the Panthers' new system. The Cats added 10 free agents, including Bergenheim, on July 1, and will likely mix and match their lineup out of the gate under first-year coach Kevin Dineen. While Bergenheim emerged impressively in an under-the-radar type role last postseason, he has yet to display consistent scoring prowess in his career. Being a top-six forward with Florida this upcoming season, he will need to produce on a nightly basis -- and that will take some major adjustments.
Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks
Anyone who followed the entirety of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs would know that Luongo dealt with a ton of adversity in helping Vancouver translate its Presidents' Trophy to a berth in the Cup Final. When Luongo was pulled numerous times in the postseason, his confidence seemed shaken. But more times than not, he subsequently followed with sound performances in net to get his team back on track. Holding off the defending champion Blackhawks in Game 7 of the opening round comes to mind.
With the Canucks remaining the clear favorite to reclaim the Northwest Division and Western Conference crowns, Luongo remains the top fantasy netminder in the League because of his strong pedigree of regular-season stardom. Six straight seasons of 33 or more wins does not lie.
So despite enduring all 60 minutes of the Canucks' frustrating loss in Game 7 of last year's Final, Luongo is still in his prime at 32 years old and will be just fine when he laces up in October with such a talented supporting cast by his side.
Marian Gaborik, RW, New York Rangers
The New York Rangers' offensive issues in their first round exit at the hands of the top-seeded Washington Capitals were defined by the struggles of Gaborik. He has always sported quite the arsenal of scoring ability, but last season, he saw his regular season numbers dramatically drop -- and his disappointing season reached a boiling point in the playoffs.
In the Rangers' five postseason games last April, the power play was simply a non-factor, as its putrid 1-for-14 output speaks for itself. As a six-time 30-plus goal scorer, the 29-year-old right wing is in the prime of his career and is expected to be anchoring the Rangers' frontline offensively. Now, offensive-minded center Brad Richards is in the fold for the Blueshirts, and greater expectations will fall on the shoulders of Gaborik to deliver in 2011-12.
The perception of Gaborik in a Rangers sweater has dramatically shifted from his first season to his second. A major drop in goals (42 in 2009-10, 22 in 2010-11) was a cause for concern, and Gaborik's glaring postseason struggles that ensued last spring (1 goal, 1 assist in 5 games) simply made matters worse for New York's struggling top line.
Joel Ward, RW, Washington Capitals (2010-11 team: Nashville Predators)
As Nashville was set to match up against Anaheim in the opening round of the 2011 postseason, it was unclear where the Preds would find the offensive strength to keep up with the Ducks' dangerous Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line. They soon discovered a hidden gem in their rotation in Ward.
Ward notched 7 goals and dished out 6 assists in 12 playoff games to burst onto the scene and ignite the surprising Predators to the second round -- where they fell to Vancouver. But entering the 2011-12 season after earning a hefty four-year, $12 million deal with the Capitals, it remains to be seen whether or not Ward will be able to replicate his breakout stretch over an 82-game season.
While Ward was one of the great stories of last postseason, based on his track record, the 30-year-old is unlikely to live up to expectations amongst a star-studded offensive cast in Washington. He has not produced a 20-goal season in his four years at the NHL level, and so it is risky to rely on him to generate top-tier fantasy numbers in 2011-12.
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals
Bruce Boudreau's squad in the postseason. Despite being healthy and productive all season long for Washington's high-powered attack, Backstrom did not score a goal in nine postseason games, and tallied only 2 assists in that span.
While it's natural for players to struggle under intense scrutiny in the postseason, Backstrom's slump is a bit of a concern for fantasy owners, especially considering he is a top-line center and he followed his remarkable 101-point season in 2009-10 with a 65-point campaign last season. With lethal wings Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the newly-acquired Joel Ward in the mix next season, Backstrom will certainly have talent around him. However, Backstrom's goals dropped from 33 in 2009-10 to 18 in 2010-11, which is alarming for one of the better offensive-minded centers in the League.
Entering his fifth season with the Capitals, the 23-year-old Backstrom is durable and will have opportunities to bounce back if he continues to stay healthy. While it would be unfair to assess Backstrom's season solely on the small sample size from the playoffs, his lack of progression in the goal-scoring department all of last season is alarming for a young player with such great success in the past.
Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver Canucks
While Henrik Sedin is traditionally one of the NHL's top fantasy players, he -- like his teammate, Luongo -- received more than his fair share of criticism throughout the Canucks' run to the Final.
Henrik failed to score in the first 10 games of the postseason, and his first tally came on an empty-netter to seal Vancouver's Game 4 win over Nashville in the second round. He also compiled a minus-11 rating in the playoffs. But when it was all said and done, Henrik helped his team reach Game 7 of the Final, generating a healthy 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 25 games.
While Henrik without a doubt appeared to be more passive than usual from an offensive standpoint, that comes with the territory of playing under intense scrutiny for two months worth of postseason games. Sedin's puck-moving ability and scoring touch have enabled him to score 206 total points over the past two regular seasons. He is an elite point producer -- and should be viewed accordingly.
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
As the Lightning fell into a 3-1 series hole in the first round against the Penguins, Stamkos struggled to live up to the lofty expectations he set for himself after reeling off his second-straight 45-plus goal regular season. But that slump was short-lived, as Stamkos invigorated the Bolts with 2 goals and an assist in Game 5 on the road. The Bolts ultimately took the series in seven games, and rolled to the Eastern Conference Finals, due in large part to the somewhat sporadic but game-breaking production of Stamkos.
Despite having only played three NHL seasons, Stamkos has already earned a reputation as an elite force in the League. While his 6-goal, 7-assist postseason may not look spectacular on paper, the overall perception of Stamkos -- after his offensive firepower and clutch play willed the Bolts deep in the playoffs -- remains sky-high. Even from a fantasy standpoint, scoring nearly a point per game in one's first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is rather impressive.
After inking a lucrative five-year deal to remain with the Lightning, Stamkos' confidence will be soaring entering the 2011-12 regular season. Last season, there was a direct correlation between his strong production in both the regular season and playoffs, which is why Stamkos could be on his way to another 50-goal campaign for Tampa Bay.
Dany Heatley, RW, Minnesota Wild (2010-11 Team: San Jose Sharks)
Heatley, for the vast majority of his career, has dealt with intense pressure in the postseason. With the exception of his 7-goal, 22-point performance in leading Ottawa to a Cup Final appearance in 2006-07, he has not traditionally performed well at all in the playoffs. But it is hard to argue how potent Heatley has been in the regular season throughout his career -- from a fantasy perspective.
But for this two-time 50-goal scorer, that trend took a turn for the worse in 2010-11. The right winger tied the second-worst scoring output of his career, dropping from 39 goals in 2009-10 to 26 tallies in 2010-11. Then, Heatley followed up a disappointing regular season with a 3-goal, 9-point output in 18 playoff games for the Sharks.
Heatley has played 70 or more games in eight of his nine NHL seasons, and will likely benefit from playing in Minnesota -- a team with much less scoring depth and talent than in San Jose. But while Heatley has consistently put up strong numbers over the years, he showed a decline in last year's regular season and postseason. Now 30 years old, Heatley may no longer be the scoring phenom he once was.