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These playoff rookies ready for date with destiny

by Mike G. Morreale

Much has been made of Calgary's Olli Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri finally getting their moment in the sun this spring.

Cammalleri, who previously spent five seasons in Los Angeles, was obtained in exchange for a first-round pick last June in an attempt to provide captain Jarome Iginla offensive support. Jokinen, a veteran of 10 playoff-less NHL seasons, was acquired by the Flames at this year's trade deadline to provide an additional boost once the postseason began.

Only time will tell whether or not those moves enable the Flames to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons; but it'll certainly be an intriguing plot line to follow along once the second season begins.

In addition to the dynamic duo in Calgary, has identified formidable duos -- each capable of leaving a lasting impression in their initial go-round in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- in Chicago and Columbus among nine players that are looking to make a good first impression this postseason.

Here's a look at some of the most likely players to not only survive, but thrive after their playoff baptism:

1. Rick Nash, Blue Jackets. The Columbus captain is the only real goal-scorer the Blue Jackets have ever had and this is his chance to finally shine on the NHL's biggest stage. Win or lose, you get the feeling he won't disappoint. In his sixth season, the left wing has dazzled fans with incredible moves and a soft touch around the net. At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, he's also a physical presence with a bit of an edge (71 hits). The top choice in the 2002 Entry Draft has produced a career-high 79 points (40 goals) this season, including six multi-goal games, and a personal-best five shorthanded goals.

2-Olli Jokinen, Flames. When Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter pulled the trigger to acquire the 30-year-old Finn at this year's trade deadline, there was little doubt the club would earn its way into the playoffs. But after posting 8 goals and 12 points during his first eight games with the Flames, Jokinen has cooled down considerably, notching just 3 assists in the past 11 games. Perhaps an opportunity to compete in the postseason will ignite Jokinen once again.

3-Mike Cammalleri, Flames. To keep things in perspective, Cammalleri, 26, is set to sign off on a career season; yet he is also considered one of the hottest commodities slated to hit the free-agent market this summer. Cammalleri leads the Flames with 39 goals. His 82 points are second only to captain Jarome Iginla, who led the team with 89. Cammalleri finished tied for second in the League with 19 power-play goals with Washington's Alex Ovechkin, one behind Thomas Vanek of Buffalo. Cammalleri was on a 44-goal pace the day after the trade deadline, but has scored just six times since.

4-Patrick Kane, Blackhawks. After helping to clinch his franchise's first playoff berth since 2002 and just its second in the past 11 years, you kind of get the feeling the 20-year-old Kane is going to do all he can to make this last. His 25 goals are four more than he potted during his Calder Trophy-winning campaign last season and he leads the club with 13 power-play goals and 35 power-play points. He ranks first on the team with 254 shots and is second with 45 assists and 70 points.

5-T.J. Oshie, Blues. The St. Louis Blues winger is becoming Mr. Excitement. Judging by his sheer joy and excitement for the game, it's likely Oshie, 22, has one more gear to reach -- and wouldn't you love to witness him hit it. Oshie was named NHL Rookie of the Month for March after collecting 4 goals, 13 points and a plus-6 rating during a 14-game stretch. He's part of the 'Kid Line' with David Perron and Patrik Berglund in St. Louis. For the season, he's registered 14 goals, 39 points, a plus-16 rating, 66 hits and 43 takeaways.

6-Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks - Isn't it about time the 20-year-old captain gets the opportunity to lead his team in the postseason? Toews has netted 25 of his team-leading 34 goals during the last 46 games and ranks second on Chicago with 12 power-play goals and third with 69 points. The Winnipeg native has also notched six shootout goals this season, which is tied for third in the NHL. He was named the 34th captain in Blackhawks history on July 17, making him the third-youngest player to earn that distinction in League history.

7-Blake Wheeler, Bruins - The top seed in the Eastern Conference reached the 100-point mark for the 18th time in team history and this rookie from Robbinsville, Minn., played a vital role on the team's top line with center Marc Savard. Wheeler, 22, finished with 21 goals, 45 points and a plus-36 rating.  The right wing was also named MVP of the 2009 YoungStars Game during All-Star Weekend after posting 4 goals and 5 points to lead the rooks to a 9-5 decision against the sophomores.

8-Steve Mason, Blue Jackets - It's hard to believe this 20-year-old is a rookie because, really, what team in the Western Conference would want to face him this postseason? Mason is 33-20-7 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 61 appearances. He has established a franchise records for wins and ranks second in the League in GAA. As icing on the cake, he also leads the League with 10 shutouts -- the most by a rookie goalie since 1969-70 when Chicago's Tony Esposito amassed 15.

9-Jonas Hiller, Ducks - The 27-year-old entered the season as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but he could be the goalie Randy Carlyle will lean on in the postseason. Despite the fact he would be making his first playoff appearance, Hiller has been involved in several pressure-packed confrontations during Anaheim's stretch drive to earn its fourth-straight postseason appearance. Hiller has won 11 of his last 16 decisions (11-5-0) dating back to Jan. 31. For the season, Hiller is 23-15-1 and is seventh in the League with a 2.39 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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