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Rookies to watch in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Binnington, Heiskanen among 11 newcomers ready to shine in postseason

by Mike. G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

It's becoming more common to see talented rookies earn their keep during the NHL regular season and then make key contributions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins received a huge boost from rookie Jake Guentzel during their run to the 2017 Stanley Cup when he scored 21 points (13 goals, eight assists) and five game-winning goals in 25 playoff games.

Rookie forward Jakub Vrana had eight points (three goals, five assists) and two game-winning goals in 23 games for the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. And forward Alex Tuch contributed 10 points (six goals, four assists) and two game-winning goals in 20 playoff games for the Vegas Golden Knights, who lost to the Capitals in five games in the Final.  

Here are 11 rookies, listed alphabetically, to keep an eye on in the playoffs this season:

Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues

Binnington made his first NHL start Jan. 7 and went 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and five shutouts in 32 games to help the Blues return to the playoffs following a one-year absence. The 25-year-old set a franchise record for most wins in a season by a rookie goalie and became the second goalie in the NHL's modern era (since 1943-44) to have five shutouts in his first 18 career regular-season starts, joining Hall of Famer Jacque Plante. He led the NHL in GAA and was fourth in save percentage among goalies having played at least 10 games.

Video: VAN@STL: Binnington turns away bid from Boeser

Travis Boyd, F, Washington Capitals

Boyd made the most of minimal ice time (9:50 per game). The sixth-round pick (No. 176) in the 2011 NHL Draft, who can play wing or center, had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) and a plus-7 rating in a fourth-line role. The 25-year-old had 18 points at 5-on-5 and nine primary assists in 53 games. Boyd had a 2.30 average points per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time, which ranked seventh on the team among players to play at least 10 games. 

Erik Cernak, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 21-year-old has been part of a shutdown pairing with veteran Ryan McDonagh. He brings speed, strength and toughness, is a key penalty-killer, and added stability to the right side. The Slovakia-born defenseman averaged 19:15 ice time per game. He was second on the Lightning with 198 hits and fifth with 79 blocked shots. Cernak (6-4, 225-pounds) had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 58 games.

Anthony Cirelli, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Cirelli's work ethic is second to none; he was first among NHL rookies and third on the Lightning in takeaways (47), ninth in blocked shots (49) and 11th in hits (94). He led all rookies and the Lightning with five shorthanded goals, four more than any other rookie. The third-line center was third among NHL rookies having taken at least 125 face-offs with a 52.8 face-off winning percentage (502 of 951). He played all 82 games and had 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists).

Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars

Heiskanen (6-1, 185) was tied for 10th among NHL rookies with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 82 games, most by a teenage defenseman in Stars franchise history, and his 12 goals were the most by a Dallas rookie defenseman. The 19-year-old, who has been playing a top-four role, averaged 23:07 ice time in the regular season.

Video: DAL@EDM: Heiskanen picks the corner on Koskinen

Roope Hintz, F, Dallas Stars

The 22-year-old center (6-3, 215) has earned a top-six role for the Stars and could play a big part if he gets the chance between Jamie Benn and Jason Dickinson. Hintz had 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 58 games. He was eighth on the Stars with a 1.62 points per 60 minutes average.

Andreas Johnsson, F, Toronto Maple Leafs

The 24-year-old forward, who spent much of the season on a line with center Auston Matthews, finished fourth in NHL rookie scoring with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) and ranked fifth with a plus-14 rating in 73 regular-season games. He was one of four rookies to score 20 goals, joining Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson (28), Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk (22) and Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov (20). He was fourth on the team in Points Per 60 Minutes (2.57) and sixth in Goals Per 60 Minutes (1.22) among players having played at least 10 games.

Mathieu Joseph, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

Joseph is the right wing on a line centered by Cirelli and was 13th in NHL rookie scoring with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 70 games. He ranked among the top 15 NHL rookies in takeaways (28) and hits (129). Joseph can play top-line minutes with captain Steven Stamkos or do the grunt work on the checking line, averaging 11:22 in ice time per game.

Video: VGK@TBL: Joseph jams puck by Fleury

Marcus Pettersson, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

Pettersson, acquired by the Penguins in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for forward Daniel Sprong on Dec. 3, has shown patience, poise and good vision. He led all Penguins rookies with 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 57 games (and had six assists in 27 games with the Ducks) and averaged 17:57 in ice time as a defense partner with either Jack Jackson or Erik Gudbranson. Pettersson, who has also earned time on the second power-play unit, had 85 hits and ranked fifth on the Penguins with 76 blocked shots.

Andrei Svechnikov, F, Carolina Hurricanes

Svechnikov (6-2, 195), has used power and speed to be an impact forward. He tied for seventh among NHL rookies with 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) and was seventh among rookie forwards with 126 hits. The 19-year-old had 34 takeaways, eighth among rookies. 

Robert Thomas, F, St. Louis Blues

Thomas possesses speed, finesse and is hard on pucks, something coach Craig Berube can appreciate. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound right wing tied for 10th among NHL rookies with 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) while averaging 13:04 in ice time. He has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his past 19 games.

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