Top 5 young stars standing out in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are being dominated by several young stars.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs a different beast. Rivalries are formed, old foes reunite, the men are separated from the boys. Not everyone can take on the pressure of playing in a playoff series, especially some of the younger players who have never been to the postseason.

When a young hockey player shows up in the playoffs, everyone takes notice. This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have served as a stepping stone for a few young stars. Here are five players who have played well under pressure in their first Stanley Cup playoffs.

Carter Hart – Philadelphia Flyers

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Carter Hart making this list shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. In his second season in the NHL, the 22-year-old Sherwood Park, Alberta native won 24 games in 40 starts and posted a .914 save percentage. Hart helped lead the Flyers to the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs after going 2-0 in the seeding games.

Hart is the main reason why his team is up three games to two against the Montreal Canadiens in round one of the playoffs. He has only given up nine goals in five games throughout the series, with eight of those coming in the losses in Games 2 and 5.

Hart posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4, in which he saved 52 shots combined. Philadelphia has only scored eight goals in five games and has seen limited offensive support from their key forwards. If Hart wasn’t standing on his head for the Flyers, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be 3-2 up in the series.

Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks

Elias Pettersson has been one of the most exciting players to watch since he entered the league last season. The reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner has had consecutive 66 point seasons and is the Canucks number one center. In his first Stanley Cup playoffs, Pettersson has lived up to expectations. He has nine points in eight games and tied for fourth in playoff scoring.

Pettersson played a big role in helping Vancouver win their first playoff series since their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Vancouver is currently up 3-2 in their series with St. Louis at two games each. Pettersson has seven points through five games against the Blues and has been one of the main sources of offense for the Canucks.

Pettersson’s main matchup in this round of the playoffs has been against last year’s Conn Smythe winner. Ryan O’Reilly. It’s a tough task for a 21-year-old to match up against one of the best two-way centers in the league, but he hasn’t cracked under pressure and he will need to continue to perform if Vancouver wants to upset the 2019 Stanley Cup champions.

Dominik Kubalik – Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were just eliminated in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights in round one, but the 12th seed Hawks have a lot of positives to take away from the postseason. The play of their 24-year-old breakout rookie Dominik Kubalik should be near the top of that list.

Kubalik finally made the jump to the NHL this year after spending the last five seasons in Europe. He was named a finalist for the Calder and scored 30 goals in his rookie year. When the Blackhawks qualified for the 24-team playoff format, they were the lowest seed in the Western Conference play-in and had to come up against the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers.

Kubalik’s welcome to the playoffs moment occurred in Game 1 against Edmonton when he put up five points in a 6-4 win. Kubalik went on to pick up three more points in the playoffs before the Hawks were sent home by the Golden Knights.

His playoff stats were due in large part to his five-point performance but he still was able to finish third on his team in playoff scoring behind Jonathan Toews and Patrik Kane. Chicago has a lot of young talent and Kubalik will be a big part of their future.

Quinn Hughes – Vancouver Canucks

Another Calder finalist has performed beyond expectations in the playoffs. Quinn Hughes led all rookies in scoring this season with 53 points and was tied for fourth in points by a defenseman. Once the playoffs rolled around, Canucks fans were hopeful that their star rookie could continue his dominance in the postseason. Nine games and nine points later, I don’t think Canuck fans have to worry about anything.

Hughes currently leads all rookies in playoff points. He plays on the top power play unit for Vancouver and is relied upon for both offensive and defensive stability. Defensemen usually take longer to develop than forwards, but the 20-year-old rookie is proving that he can play at an elite level now.

He is only 5’10″ but what loses in size, he makes up for it in speed and creativity. Hughes was able to help the Canucks win Game 2 in overtime when he fed Bo Horvat a stretch pass from his own zone, leading to the overtime winner. The Canucks still have work to do if they want to move on to the next round, but Hughes being a pillar on the backend will be a big help.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Montreal Canadiens

Before the play-in round started, most hockey fans would have thought that 21-year-old Nick Suzuki would be the most dangerous Habs youngster. Suzuki has played well and is still one of Montreal’s main weapons on the powerplay, but all eyes have been on another young Habs forward – Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Kotkaniemi was taken third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft and had a decent rookie season last year. Unfortunately for Kotkaniemi, he seemed to hit a sophomore slump, only getting eight points in 36 games. He was sent down to Montreal’s AHL affiliate Laval and averaged a point a game.

After nearly a five-month break, the playoffs came around and Kotkaniemi looked like a different person. He played a more physical game, used his size and body more in the corners and was more aggressive on the puck.

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Kotkaniemi scored six goals in the regular season with Montreal but has already scored four goals in the playoffs. Kotkaniemi’s play has let Montreal freely rotate three lines, taking pressure off of Suzuki and Phillip Danualt. Kotkaniemi has been the most dangerous Canadiens’ player in the series against Philadelphia. Montreal is on the brink of elimination and will need offense from the likes of Kotkaniemi to stay alive in the series.