The NHL regular season is daunting enough for rookie players trying to navigate the jump to the big leagues. The NHL post-season is another level of difficulty altogether – but you might not know it if you've been watching the likes of Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes and Dominik Kubalik. The three finalists for the Calder Trophy kept the good times going in the playoffs, easily earning a spot among the top 10 most impactful rookies thus far in the NHL post-season.
CALE MAKAR, COLORADO AVALANCHE
The leading candidate for the Calder Trophy was making a case as the most impactful rookie in the playoffs, too. The smooth-skating Avs defender was dueling with Hughes for the freshman post-season scoring crown, and they took turns setting the NHL rookie record for points in a single post-season. Makar, at least, can lay claim to the league record for career playoff points by a rookie (21 over two years) and he's also scored three game-winning goals in the 2020 playoffs – setting another record for rookie D-men.
QUINN HUGHES, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
If anyone has a chance to swipe the Calder from Makar, it's Hughes. And he was right there with Makar as the best rookie option in the post-season as well before both suffered a second-round exit. Hughes has been key to the Canucks' transition game with his supreme skating, vision and passing ability, and he's a driver on the power play, collecting nine of his 16 playoff points with the man advantage.
DENIS GURIANOV, DALLAS STARS
No rookie has scored more goals in the 2020 NHL playoffs than Gurianov, who was vying for the overall post-season lead with eight goals in 17 games. The highlight was a four-goal, five-point performance in Game 6 against Calgary in the first round, and Gurianov was also riding a five-game point streak into Game 7 against the Avs.
DOMINIK KUBALIK, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Kubalik was a seventh-round pick by L.A. in 2013 who was traded to Chicago in 2019 for a fifth-round pick. Then he went out and scored 30 goals in 68 games in the regular season – to lead all rookies – and then added four more goals (and eight points) in nine playoff games. The Hawks would be wise to give him more than 14 minutes a game next season.
NICK SUZUKI, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Suzuki asserted himself as the regular season unfolded, including a stretch from mid-November through mid-February in which he produced 34 points in 45 games. He hit the scoresheet with four goals and seven points in the playoffs, and his continued ascent – as well as the post-season emergence of sophomore Jesperi Kotkaniemi – gives the Habs hope that they've found their top-line centers for the foreseeable future.
VLADISLAV GAVRIKOV, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Defensive defensemen deserve love, too. Gavrikov's value to the Blue Jackets is plainly evident in the fact that he averaged 23:21 per playoff game, more than any other NHL rookie including Makar and Hughes. Yes, his ice time was inflated by four games that required overtime, including a five-OT marathon against Tampa Bay. But Gavrikov was on the ice in a lot of late, one-goal-game situations, and ranks among rookie leaders in playoff hits (20) and blocked shots (27).
DILLON DUBE, CALGARY FLAMES
After scoring six times in 45 regular-season games, Dube chipped in with four goals in 10 playoff contests for the Flames. That's a 30-plus goal pace over a full season, which seems overly optimistic, but don't be surprised if he crests 20 next season.
PHILIPPE MYERS, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Like Gavrikov in Columbus, the defensive side of the puck is Myers' top priority in Philadelphia. And the Flyers have been leaning on him more and more as the playoffs have progressed – he's played more than 20 minutes in six of his past seven games after failing to reach that mark in the Flyers' first eight post-season contests. And he's added some offense for good measure, scoring three times in 16 games, including the OT winner in Game 2 against the Isles, after four goals in 50 regular-season outings.
KIRBY DACH, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
You can see the future in Chicago in the form of the 19-year-old Dach. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft collected six points in nine games as the Blackhawks upset Edmonton before falling to Vegas. The production was great to see, of course, but in the big picture, the chance to get some playoff experience on a team that wasn't expected to qualify for the post-season is a bonus for his long-term development.
NICHOLAS ROY, VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The unheralded Roy split the regular season between the AHL and NHL, but he's been a mainstay in the Golden Knights' playoff roster. Hitting the scoresheet in the first four games of the post-season certainly helped, and he's collected seven points in 16 playoff games overall.
THATCHER DEMKO, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Thanks to Demko's spectacular play late in Round 2, this top-10 rookie list is one louder. It goes to eleven. Thrust into the Canucks' crease in place of injured starter Jacob Markstrom in Game 5 against Vegas, Demko was almost unbeatable, sporting a 0.64 goals-against average and .985 save percentage. Vancouver's goalie of the future has arrived.