Back in 1981, Dino Ciccarelli was 21 years old, playing in his first season with the Minnesota North Stars. He appeared in 32 games for the North Stars during the regular season, scoring an impressive 18 goals and 30 points. But what he did next was even more impressive: Ciccarelli scored 14 goals in 19 playoff games, a rookie record that still stands, helping lead the North Stars to the Stanley Cup Final, where they were overmatched by a New York Islanders team in the middle of their early-80′s dynasty, led by Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Potvin.
Ciccarelli finished with 21 points in the playoffs, a rookie record later matched by Ville Leino in 2010, who reversed Ciccarelli’s accomplishment with 14 assists and 7 goals.
In honour of Dino Ciccarelli’s impressive rookie run (and because Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy get enough love already, thank you very much), I’d like to institute the thoroughly unofficial Dino Ciccarelli Award for postseason accomplishment by a rookie. We have the Calder Trophy for the regular season, but it takes something special for a rookie to make a substantial contribution to a playoff team.
Last season, Brad Marchand would have been the runaway winner of the Ciccarelli, putting up 11 goals and 8 assists in 25 games, making his biggest impact when it mattered the most: the Stanley Cup Final. Honourable mention goes to Logan Couture, who scored 14 points in 18 games, but since he had played 40 games for the Sharks prior to the 2010-11 season, I have a tough time seeing him as a rookie that year at all.
The candidates for 2012 are:
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
Not only is Henrique the current active leader in rookie scoring in the playoffs, he’s getting things done at both ends of the ice. Henrique starts the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, showing the trust coach Pete DeBoer places in the 22-year-old. In fact, Henrique has the lowest offensive zone start percentage on the team, making his high Corsi rating and plus-7 plus/minus even more impressive.
Henrique plays in all situations for the Devils, averaging 1:48 per game on the penalty kill and 1:47 per game on the powerplay, and has 8 points in 14 games so far.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Kreider has just 6 points in 14 games for the Rangers, but 4 of those are goals. Most impressively, he’s contributing straight out of college, having joined the Rangers at the start of the playoffs. His 4 goals ties him for an obscure record: most goals scored before playing a regular season game.
Kreider will be hard-pressed to match the tough assignments given to Henrique – the only player on the Rangers who starts more in the offensive zone is Derek Stepan – but if he goes on a scoring streak, he’ll be hard to beat. Kreider has 3 points in his last 2 games and is seeing more ice time from John Tortorella.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
It’s tough to make an argument for a goaltender who doesn’t make it out of the second round, but Holtby had a magnificent run for the Capitals, posting a .935 save percentage with a 1.95 goals against average, placing him 3rd and 4th among playoff goaltenders in those categories. All but one of the 14 games he played in were decided by one goal, but Holtby was unflinching in the face of that much pressure.
Still, like the Conn Smythe normally goes to a player on the Cup-winning team, the Ciccarelli will probably go to a rookie that makes it to the Final.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings
It’s that caveat that the Kings seem likely to make it to the Stanley Cup Final that makes Voynov a dark horse candidate. Voynov is leading all active rookies in ice time and powerplay ice time. The defenceman has just 2 points, but gets bonus credit for being a rookie in a playoff team’s top-four defence corps.
With the benefit of a long playoff run, Voynov could emerge as the top rookie by the end of the postseason.
Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers – still the leading rookie scorer with 9 points in 11 games, but had some defensive issues. Without the ability to rack up more points through the rest of the playoffs, he falls by the wayside.
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers – shutdown job on Evgeni Malkin has been overstated, but still a very solid performance from the 19-year-old
Dwight King, Los Angeles Kings – tied with Kreider for the rookie goalscoring lead with 4 goals! Is extremely unlikely to score any more!