After one round of postseason action, one of the big stories is the impact this year's crop of rookies is having. Washington's Michal Neuvirth was sensational in shutting down the New York Rangers; Logan Couture upstaged San Jose's big names in their win over the Los Angeles Kings; and the big goals have been scored by the likes of Montreal's P.K. Subban, Boston's Brad Marchand and even Nashville's latest acquisition, Matt Halischuk. How do they stack up against recent history's greatest postseason rookie performances?
Couture scored two goals and had five points in the first round, while Marchand bagged five points and was plus-5 against the Habs. Since 1998, only nine rookies have scored at least 10 points in a single postseason, so they could each join a surprisingly select club by the end of Round 2. Also within striking distance is Marcus Johansson of the Caps, who earned two goals, four points and was plus-3 in just five games against the Rangers.
Most postseason points for a rookie, since 1998
Season Rookie Team GP G A PTS +/-
2009-10 Ville Leino PHI 19 7 14 21 +10
1998-99 Milan Hejduk COL 16 6 6 12 +3
2008-09 Kris Versteeg CHI 17 4 8 12 -5
1999-00 Jochen Hecht STL 7 4 6 10 +1
1999-00 Simon Gagne PHI 17 5 5 10 0
1997-98 Richard Zednik WSH 17 7 3 10 0
2005-06 Jason Pominville BUF 18 5 5 10 0
1999-00 Scott Gomez NJD 23 4 6 10 +1
2000-01 Ville Nieminen COL 23 4 6 10 -1
In all our analysis over the years, this is the first time we've made a list with two players named Ville. Ville Leino was simply amazing last season -- his plus-10 is tied with Dustin Penner's 2005-06 effort as the best playoff performance ever, his 7 goals ties Richard Zednik and his 14 assists and 21 points stand very much alone. The next highest is 8 assists from Kris Versteeg and Niko Dimitrakos in 2003-04. Leino followed up his heroic postseason by scoring 53 points in 81 games, up from 11 in 55 last season. While admittedly a small sample size, any rookie who scores 10 points in the postseason has typically been a legitimate top-six forward, such as Milan Hejduk, who posted a 36-goal, 72-point season following his big year.
As for the blue line, there aren't a lot of rookie defensemen left in the hunt, but had the Montreal Canadiens advanced, Subban would be battling himself; he fell just one point shy of Francois Beauchemin's 2005-06 mark last season. The most disappointing elimination was Buffalo's Marc-Andre Gragnani, who scored seven points in the Sabres' opening-round loss to the Flyers, just two points back of Beauchemin.
Most postseason points for a rookie defenseman, since 1998
Season Rookie Team GP G A PTS +/-
2005-06 Francois Beauchemin ANA 16 3 6 9 0
2009-10 PK Subban MTL 14 1 7 8 +2
2008-09 Jonathan Ericsson DET 22 4 4 8 +9
1999-00 Brian Rafalski NJD 23 2 6 8 +5
2010-11 Marc-Andre Gragnani BUF 7 1 6 7 0
There's far more competition in net, but Neuvirth is already well-positioned, having advanced out of the first round with the best goals-against average and save percentage of any rookie goalie that faced at least 100 shots. Interestingly, the list also includes his backup, Semyon Varlamov, twice, once in his rookie season and once in the postseason before -- a distinction made possible by the NHL's definition of "rookie".
Best postseason save percentage for a rookie, since 1998
Season Rookie Team W-L GAA SPCT
2010-11 Michal Neuvirth WSH 4-1 1.38 .946
2005-06 Ilya Bryzgalov ANA 6-4 1.46 .944
2010-11 Corey Crawford CHI 3-4 2.21 .927
2003-04 Andrew Raycroft BOS 3-4 2.15 .924
2005-06 Cam Ward CAR 15-8 2.14 .920
2008-09 Semyon Varlamov WSH 7-6 2.53 .918
1999-00 Brian Boucher PHI 11-7 2.03 .917
2009-10 Jimmy Howard DET 5-7 2.75 .915
2009-10 Tuukka Rask BOS 7-6 2.61 .912
2009-10 Semyon Varlamov WSH 3-3 2.41 .908
Minimum 100 shots faced
Neuvirth's performance so far has been very similar to Ilya Bryzgalov's for the Ducks in 2005-06. Within two seasons, Bryzgalov was among NHL's save-percentage leaders, stopping 92 percent of shots faced three of the past four seasons.
As for Corey Crawford, his first-round heroics are comparable to Andrew Raycroft in 2003-04. Unfortunately Raycroft followed up his outstanding rookie campaign with a long stream of league-worst shot-stopping, so despite Crawford's strong season the Hawks might want to be curb their enthusiasm when re-signing the 26-year-old RFA this offseason.
Rookies are one of the ultimate postseason wild cards. An outstanding run, such as Leino's last season, can help a team get much further than expected and can also foreshadow immediate scoring improvements, or at least the emergence of legitimate top-six talent. Given that potential significance of a hot playoff stretch, keep your eyes on rookies such as Couture, Marchand, Johansson and Neuvirth as Round 2 continues.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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