In 1981, Dino Cicarelli was a fresh-faced rookie for the Minnesota North Stars. In the playoffs, he went on the greatest scoring run of any rookie in NHL history, scoring an amazing 14 goals in 19 games, a rookie record that still stands today. Ciccarelli was third behind Steve Payne and Mike Bossy in goalscoring that year. He even had as many points as Gretzky! Granted, Gretzky played in 10 fewer games, but still.
In Cicarelli’s honour, I inaugurated the Dino Ciccarelli Award last year for the NHL’s best rookie in the playoffs. The regular season has the Calder for top rookie, but it takes something special to excel in the playoffs as a rookie. Many of the league’s top rookies don’t even make the playoffs, as teams with high-impact rookies generally aren’t particularly good. There’s a reason they have ice time available for rookies.
The first round of the playoffs had some excellent performances from rookies. Let’s run down the top candidates for the 2013 Dino Ciccarelli Award. Warning: get ready for a lot of Ottawa Senators:
Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Ottawa Senators
Pageau was a relative nobody heading into this season, an undersized fourth round draft pick with decent but unspectacular numbers in the AHL in his first professional year. The 20-year-old made an immediate impact when he was called up to Ottawa near the beginning of April, picking up an assist in his first game, then scoring the gamewinning goal in his second.
In the playoffs, however, is when Pageau really made his mark. In game 3 against the Canadiens, Pageau scored the go-ahead goal (and eventual gamewinner) in the second period, losing a tooth in the process thanks to a high stick from P.K. Subban. He celebrated his first NHL playoff goal doubled over in the corner, spitting out blood.
Of course he returned — he’s a hockey player — but what a return. Pageau went on to score a hattrick, tallying the Senators’ third and sixth goals in the rout. Pageau added 2 assists in the deciding game 5 and is the only rookie in the playoffs who is a point-per-game. Who knows if he’ll continue to score in the subsequent round(s), but his tooth-losing performance in game 3 will be remembered for a long time.
Mika Zibanejad – Ottawa Senators
The second in a trio of rookie stars for the Senators, Zibanejad has a less dramatic story than Pageau, but has been a little more consistent. Zibanejad has 4 points in 5 games after scoring 20 in 42 regular season games.
Zibanejad assisted on two important goals in a game one win, then in game four, after the Canadiens went up 2-0 in the first period, Zibanejad got the comeback started with a (somewhat controversial) deflection in front. He picked up his third assist and fourth point of the series in the game five rout.
Jakob Silfverberg – Ottawa Senators
Completing the trifecta of Senators, Silfverberg has been the most important of the three. He sees the most ice time of the Senators rookies and plays in all situations, with significant minutes on the penalty kill and powerplay.
Silfverberg has 3 points through 5 games, including the gametying goal in game one. Since he plays more minutes, it seems likely that Silfverberg will likely play a larger role for the Senators should they embark on a long playoff run.
Brendan Smith – Detroit Red Wings
Smith is the leader in ice time among rookies headed to the second round, playing 19:26 per night for the Red Wings. His minutes have been largely sheltered, starting mainly in the offensive zone, and Smith has looked questionable at times, but his puck possession numbers have been solid during the playoffs.
That’s damning with faint praise, of course, but Smith has still logged a decent amount of minutes for the Red Wings in a tight seven-game series and now has an opportunity to have a bigger impact in the second round. His best performance came in game 2, as he picked up a goal and an assist, both tying the game. Some more games like that and he’ll have a shot at the Ciccarelli.
Brandon Saad – Chicago Blackhawks
It may seem odd to mention a player who has just one point in the first round, but Saad is due. He is leading all rookie forwards in ice time in the playoffs and currently has the top Corsi rating of any rookie, though it helps that he is playing with Jonathan Toews.
Saad seems primed for more success in the second round. He had 7 shots in game 2, but just couldn’t buy a goal. That’s the kind of hard luck that seems likely to turn around. Or, alternately, he could get bumped off the Blackhawks’ top line and disappear for the rest of the playoffs. But it still seems worth mentioning the Calder nominee as he seems a likely candidate to go far in the post-season.
There were a number of rookies who performed well in the first round who, unfortunately, won’t be moving on to the second round. Without any further chances to build upon their first round success, they won’t be winning the Ciccarelli. I got enough flak last year for giving the award to Braden Holtby, who lasted just two rounds, so one-rounders are out of the question.
Emerson Etem was excellent for the Anaheim Ducks, putting up 5 points in 7 games, with 3 of those points coming in games 6 and 7 with the pressure on. Casey Cizikas was a surprise star for the New York Islanders, scoring 4 points in 6 games.
Jonas Brodin averaged over 26 minutes of ice time per game for the Minnesota Wild, leading all rookies by nearly 6 minutes. Brendan Gallagher led the Montreal Canadiens in shots, but could only score 2 goals and finished with a minus-7 rating. A few more bounces going his way and the series might have ended differently.