Rookies shine in their Stanley Cup playoff debuts

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Lost among the major storylines of this postseason (violence, suspensions and upsets, predominantly) is the fact several playoff rookies have broke onto the scene in style, performing like grizzled vets.

They include…

Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

Key stats: 4-3, 2.00 GAA, .940 save percentage

After appearing in just seven games this season, the 22-year-old out-dueled Tim Thomas (you know, the reigning playoff MVP and Vezina winner) in a seven game stunner over the Bruins.

In doing so, Holtby joined Montreal’s Ken Dryden (1971) and Calgary’s Mike Vernon (1986) as the only rookie goalies ever to defeat the defending Cup champions in a playoff series.

Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey Devils

Key stats: 2G-1A-3PTS

Averaging over 16 minutes a game, the Calder Trophy nominee was a clutch performer for the Devils in Round 1. Henrique opened and closed the scoring in New Jersey’s series-clinching win over Florida, becoming the second rookie in NHL history to score an OT winner in Game 7.

The other? Montreal’s Claude Lemieux, in 1986.

Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers

Key stats: 1G-0A-1PT, 1 GWG

Kreider made history in Game 3, becoming the first player to win an NCAA title and make his NHL debut in the same year — in the playoffs — since Tony Hrkac did it in 1987 with the University of North Dakota and St. Louis Blues.

As New York’s opening-round series versus Ottawa progressed, so too did Kreider’s role. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 6, then received over 18 minutes of ice time in Game 7 — the only New York forwards that played more were Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan.

Brayden Schenn/Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Key stats: (combined) 5G-5A-10PTS.

Schenn, 20, was a point-a-game player in the opening round against Pittsburgh (2G-4A-6PTS in six games.) Couturier scored a hat trick in Game 2, becoming the youngest player (19 years, 128 days) since Toronto Hall of Famer Ted Kennedy accomplished the feat in 1945.

Gabriel Bourque, LW, Nashville Predators

Key stats: 3G-1A-4PTS

The 21-year-old — who only made his NHL debut on Dec. 28 — was huge in the opening round, leading all Predators with three goals and finishing second in scoring (4PTS). Bourque also tied for the club lead and for third in the NHL overall with a +5 rating.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.