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Fantastic Freshmen: Five of the most impactful playoff performances by rookies

Twenty years ago, Chris Drury became just the second rookie in NHL history to record four game-winning goals in one playoff. Let's look back at some other memorable post-season efforts by freshman skaters.
Chris Drury

Brian Bahr/Allsport

Chris Drury had just six goals and eight points for the Colorado Avalanche during the team's 1999 Stanley Cup playoff run, and given the fact that he finished ninth in team scoring. But merely a quiet contributor? Not even close.

Thursday marks 20 years to the day that Chris Drury tied Claude Lemieux for the most playoff game-winning goals by a rookie when the then-Avalanche freshman notched his fourth game-clincher and helped Colorado beat the Dallas Stars in Game 4 of the Western Conference final. Dallas went on to win the series and eventually the Stanley Cup (though Buffalo Sabres fans would argue the win should have an asterisk next to it), but Drury's goal helped give the Avalanche a 3-2 series lead at the time. Of his six goals that spring, four of them resulted in the Avalanche taking the victory. Can you spell "clutch"?

Drury went on to play 12 seasons in the NHL, recording at least 12 points in his next five playoff runs. His career was cut short due to injury, but the New York Rangers assistant GM has carved out a career in management, assembling what was one of the best on-paper rosters the United States has ever had at the World Championship earlier this month. And while he had a solid pro career, he never had as much of a playoff impact as he did for the Avs in 1999.

We've already looked at the top rookie goalie performances, so now it's time to remember some of the best rookie efforts by everyone else:

Roy Conacher, Boston Bruins (1939)
It’s been 80 years since Conacher put on one of the best rookie Cup final performances in league history. A runner-up to Frank Brimsek for the Calder Trophy that season, Conacher recorded 12 points in the playoffs, and his seven points in the final is the third-highest by a rookie in the championship series. Boston won the Stanley Cup in five games over Toronto, with Conacher scoring game-winning goals in three of his team's victories, the most by a rookie and tied with Jacques Lemaire, Frank Boucher and Jean Beliveau (twice) for the most in a single Stanley Cup final. Conacher won the Cup again two years later and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, 14 years after his passing.

Dino Ciccarelli, Minnesota North Stars (1981)
Ciccarelli's playoff run in 1981 is often considered the gold standard of newcomer prosperity. Ciccarelli recorded 14 goals (a record that stands today) and 21 points, which stood alone as the rookie record until Ville Leino tied the mark in 2009-10. Cicarelli was a key member of the North Stars that season, a team nobody expected to make the Cup final. With just 32 regular season games under his belt, Ciccarelli was given a shot on the top line and formed a high-scoring threesome alongside Steve Payne and Bobby Smith. The North Stars came up short in the Cup final, losing to the New York Islanders, but Cicarelli still managed to finish with five points in as many games. Ciccarelli's run was far from a fluke, and while he never won the Stanley Cup, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 after posting 1200 points in his career.

Claude Lemieux, Montreal Canadiens (1986)
Like Brad Marchand today, nobody enjoyed playing against Lemieux. If he wasn't punishing you physically or getting in your head, he was beating you on the scoresheet, something he did often in 1986. Lemieux was a solid AHLer and dominated the scoring ranks in junior, but with just six points in 19 games leading up to the playoffs, his 10-goal, 16-point outburst was far from expected. Sure, Patrick Roy's run in goal will forever be the top memory of the Habs' '86 Cup run, but Lemieux's four game-winning goals, including the one that led Montreal to a Game 7 Adams Division final victory over Hartford that year, put him in the Conn Smythe conversation. With four career Stanley Cups, it's safe to say the rest of Lemieux's NHL tenure turned out OK, too.

Jeremy Roenick, Chicago Blackhawks (1990)
Roenick was among the best goal-scorers of his era and will forever be remembered for how good he was in NHL 94, but his impressive career began with an explosive 1990 playoff run. Roenick's 11 goals in 20 games sat just behind Ciccarelli until Brad Marchand tied the total 21 years later. Roenick's four power-play goals sit behind Ciccarelli and Steve Christoff (five each) for most by a rookie in a single playoff and Roenick is one of just five rookies to hit the 10-goal mark in post-season history, joining the likes of Ciccarelli, Lemieux, Marchand and Jake Guentzel. Chicago came up short in 1990 against Edmonton, and Roenick, an eight-time NHL all-star game participant, went down as one of the best players to never win the Stanley Cup.

Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins (2017)
Today, Guentzel is one of the best wingers in the NHL and (usually) a top playoff performer for the Penguins. But his 2017 playoff run was magical. Guentzel had a good regular season, posting 33 points in 40 games alongside Sidney Crosby before the rookie went off in his first trip to the post-season. Guentzel had five points in the final round, with his four goals tying him for fourth among premiering playoff players in NHL history. When it was all said and done, Guentzel finished tied with Ciccarelli and Ville Leino with 21 points in a single playoff, and his five total game-winning goals are the most by a newbie. To cap it off, his 29.4 shooting percentage in 2017 is the best of any rookie with at least 10 goals in one run and 12th among all players. He scored on 12 of his 34 shots.

Other notables: Don Maloney (New York Rangers, 1979), Joe Mullen (St. Louis Blues, 1982), Barry Pederson (Boston Bruins, 1982), Ville Leino (Philadelphia Flyers, 2010), Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins, 2011).

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