The NHL playoffs have star-making potential.
Hockey fans in this country still frequently speak at this time of year of John Druce, the right-winger who scored 14 times in 15 playoff games in the spring of 1990. He had tallied 16 goals in his preceding 93 regular season games, spread over two seasons.
Druce’s outburst that post-season was a product of seeing offensive opportunities increase, as he went from playing on the fourth line to lining up alongside Geoff Courtnall and Dale Hunter on the Capitals’ top unit, due to an injury to Dino Ciccarelli.
It was also tied, obviously, to Washington making an extended run through the playoffs.
If you look at last year’s playoff scoring leaders, five of the top six and 10 of the top 12 took part in the final series. Going back to 2010-11, it was nine of the top 11, and, the spring before that, it was the first seven in a row.
With all that in mind, here’s some guesses at who might be this year’s playoff breakout star.
Carl Soderberg, Boston Bruins LW/C (regular season: 6 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, minus-2)
Soderberg, 27, only joined the Bruins a couple of weeks ago, after a protracted negotiation for his release from the Swedish federation.
Questions remain about his ability to handle the NHL playoff rigours, particularly with just six regular season games played.
On the flip side, he was second on the Bruins among regulars in power-play minutes per game (2:28), behind only Jaromir Jagr (3:05).
He has size (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) and has shown touch (scored Swedish Elite League high 31 goals in 54 games with Linkoping HC).
Viktor Stalberg, Chicago Blackhawks RW (47-9-14-23, plus-16)
He doesn’t have a sexy NHL playoff pedigree just yet (13 career games, one goal, two assists) but he has the makings with his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and his celebrated speed.
On the year, he was 10th among regular Chicago forwards in average ice time per game (14:07) but he was sixth in power-play minutes per contest (2:11), so you can suggest he gets a shot at focusing on offensive opportunities.
Stalberg, 27, is a pending unrestricted free agent, so you can argue he was something to show as well.
Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins D (34-6-17-23, plus-14)
The Penguins have that celebrated group up front and smooth puck mover Kris Letang as their No. 1 defenceman, but the veteran Martin, 32, has fit on that star-studded Pittsburgh power play as well.
He was seventh on the team in power-play minutes per game (3:11). He’s also a guy with 52 NHL playoff games under his belt, so he’s not likely to get rattled by the postseason pressure.
He had missed a month with a thumb injury, but returned Saturday and picked up two assists in 23:31 of ice time.
Joel Ward, Washington Capitals RW (39-8-12-20, plus-7)
A second chance at Druce status? You can argue that with Ward. He put up seven goals and 13 points in 12 playoff games with the Nashville Predators in 2011 after tallying just 10 times in 80 regular season encounters, and then scored the overtime goal last spring for the Capitals that sent the Bruins packing.
Ward, 32, hasn’t played this season since April 7 due to a knee injury, but the Capitals are saying that he’ll be back for Game 1 of the playoffs.
Daniel Winnik, Anaheim Ducks LW (48-6-13-19, plus-13)
Sometimes you have to go with the gut feel. Winnik had two goals in both of his first two games this season.
He doesn’t have much of an NHL playoff pedigree (12 games, no goals one assist) and he usually sees only seconds on the power play (he averaged 0:10 per game) but he’s a big, strong dude (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) who can cause havoc in front of the opposition’s net, and that’s how playoff goals tend to go in.
Winnik, 28, was fourth in ice time among Anaheim forwards (16:49 per game), in large part to his time killing penalties (2:32 per game).
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