Two rookies to watch in the playoffs

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

Look for Brandon Saad to have a positive impact for Chicago in the postseason. (Rich Borkowski/Wikimedia Commons)

Look for Brandon Saad to have a positive impact for Chicago in the postseason. (Rich Borkowski/Wikimedia Commons)

Veteran know-how is all but required to win the Stanley Cup these days, but contributions from rookies are also key. Last season New Jersey’s Adam Henrique was just as important as veterans Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in their run to the Stanley Cup final, finishing fifth on the team in scoring with 5-8-13 including two overtime, series-winning goals. In 2011 Brad Marchand finished second in goals (11) and third in points (19) for Boston, including leading them with five goals and tying Mark Recchi with seven points in the Stanley Cup final over Vancouver. In 2010 Ville Leino tied a rookie record with 21 points as he helped the Philadelphia Flyers reach the Stanley Cup final which they eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

For a team to have a solid run, they need contributions from everyone and if untested youngsters can have a positive impact it makes winning it all that much easier. Here are two rookies, one from the Eastern Conference and one from the West, that have the potential to make a significant impact on their teams once the playoffs get under way.

Jakob Silfverberg – Ottawa Senators

The Eastern Conference pick would almost have to go to an Ottawa Senator as they have dressed 13 rookie skaters this season, five for at least 27 games. No other team in the NHL has had to dress more than nine rookies this year thanks to all the injuries they have suffered to crucial members of the team.

Silfverberg is currently 10th in rookie scoring with 8-9-17 and with a plus-7 while playing 16:15 a game, seventh most among rookie forwards. His offense has picked up in the second half of the season as he only recorded 3-3-6 in the first 24 games, but has posted 5-6-11 in 17 games since March 8. At 6-foot-1, 200 lbs., the 22-year-old Swede should be able to stand up against tight checking he is sure to see, though he could stand to instigate the physical play himself a little more. Fortunately it looks as though he finally feels comfortable on North American ice. It took him a while to get going in the American league as well, but he posted 23 points in 17 games after just six in his first 17.

In addition to two post season games for Ottawa last season, Silfverberg gained a ton of experience in the Swedish Elite League last season playing for Brynas. He helped them to the third best record in the regular season and broke Daniel Alfredsson’s league record by scoring 13 playoff goals while adding seven assists as he led them to a championship while taking home both regular season and playoff MVP honors.

Murray Pam of MetroNews.ca has more on how Silfverberg is making his presence felt as of late and the praise he is receiving from his teammates and coaches. Senators coach Paul MacLean believes Silfverberg is every bit as good as Alfredsson and Milan Michalek and uses him in all situations. From Pam:

While Silfverberg is busy flashing his offensive skills, his defensive play has coach Paul MacLean singing his praises. “He is very good defensively without the puck,” said MacLean. “He can play in all situations. I liken him to Milan Michalek and Alfredsson.”

Alfredsson likes what he sees from his countryman and knows Silfverberg can be dangerous. More from Pam:

Alfie calls Silfverberg’s shot “one the best in the league.” All-star goalies such as Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price can all vouch for it. Each was beaten upstairs in shootouts by the 22-year-old rookie.

He has experience winning and if the Senators are going to win a round for the first time since they reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007, Silfverberg is going to be a big factor.

Brandon Saad – Chicago Blackhawks

The 20-year-old winger has the benefit from appearing in two playoff contests last season, earning one assist, so he already has a taste of what is to come. He is fourth among all rookie forwards in the regular season averaging 16:20 a game, is fourth in total rookie scoring with 9-15-24 and is first witha plus-16. Saad is adept at working in the corners, the area of the ice in which crucial battles are won and lost and with them hopes of a championship. His scoring has become more consistent as the season has gone on. As Mark Lazerus of The Chicago Sun-Times notes, Saad enjoyed a monster March playing on Chicago’s top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, posting 3-12-15 in 14 games, failing to find the scoresheet just four times.

At 6-foot-1 and 202 lbs., Saad can definitely hold his own as the physical play increases while the weather gets warmer. His play has been improving all season long as he does all the little things right and is getting rewarded by increased ice time and respect from his teammates. From Lazerus:

Saad continues to play beyond his years in terms of skill, physical play and defensive awareness and continues to amaze his center.

‘‘He improves every single game,’’ Toews said. ‘‘I think that’s what says the most. You can talk about his skill all day, how fearless he is in the puck areas . . . but he’s one of those guys that’s determined to make a difference every night. He doesn’t want to just contribute once in a while. He’s out there creating plays and says, ‘You know what? If nobody else is doing it, then I’ll be the guy.’ You like to have a guy with that attitude that’s fearless and who’s going to bring something to the table every night.’’

Although Saad failed to make it past the second round in two seasons with the Ontario League’s Saginaw Spirit, he did record 11-18-29 and a plus-4 in 24 playoff games over two seasons. Look for Saad to continue improving and help the Blackhawks win a round for the firs time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

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