The Dino Ciccarelli Award is presented to the best rookie during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is named in honour of Ciccarelli’s rookie record 14 goals during the 1981 postseason, scored in just 19 games. Candidates are not required to be a total jerk.
Two weeks ago, I introduced the early candidates for the Dino Ciccarelli Award after the first round of the playoffs. They were good candidates – strong candidates — but, regrettably, I managed to completely miss the rookie who is now the odds-on favourite to win the award after his performance in the second round.
To be fair, he had yet to play a single game in the playoffs when I wrote that post, but that’s not much of an excuse.
Torey Krug came out of seemingly nowhere and became one of the major stories of the second round of the playoffs, scoring four goals in five games for the Boston Bruins as they eliminated the New York Rangers.
The second round as a whole was tough for rookies. One of the biggest source of rookies in the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators, were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have iced just two rookies, Beau Bennett and Simon Despres, for a combined total of seven games.
With that, early frontrunners for the Dino Ciccarelli Award Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mika Zibanejad were gone, along with Jakob Silfverberg and Cory Conacher.
Meanwhile, the next biggest source of rookies in these playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings, have been pushed to seven games, meaning potential contenders Brendan Smith, Joakim Andersson, and Gustav Nyquist might not get the chance to make their mark. Of course, a game seven is also a great time to step up and vault a player into the running.
Fortunately, Krug emerged to make a significant statement, electrifying Bruins fans and forcing the rest of the hockey world to take notice. In just five games, Krug catapulted into second in rookie playoff scoring and tied for first in goals. It goes without saying that he leads all rookie defencemen in these categories, though Brendan Smith is tied in points, albeit with fewer goals and in eight more games.
The Bruins scored 16 goals in their five games with the Rangers, meaning Krug, who appeared in just three regular season games with the Bruins prior to these playoffs, scored 25% of their goals in the series. They have also been important goals: he’s not just scoring the final goal in a blowout or sending a puck into an empty net.
In the first playoff game of his career, Krug scored the game-tying goal that ensured Game 1 would go into overtime. He followed that up by opening the scoring in Game 2 and adding an assist. The Rangers managed to hold him off the scoresheet in Game 3, but he returned to his scoring ways in Game 4 with the 2-0 goal and capped it off with the tying goal in the deciding Game 5.
The only reason Krug is even in the lineup is due to the multitude of injuries the Bruins have faced on their blueline. Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and Wade Redden all hit the injured list, forcing Krug into action. When Seidenberg returned in Game 5, Claude Julien took out Dougie Hamilton instead of Krug. Really, he didn’t have much choice. How can you take Krug out of the lineup?
That isn’t to say that Krug didn’t deserve the chance in the first place. After three very strong years at Michigan State, Krug was dominant in his rookie season in the AHL, putting up 45 points in 63 games and finishing third among defencemen in points. Beyond his offence, he has a reputation for being strong in his own end. The only reason he wasn’t getting more hype was his size.
Krug is listed at 5’9″, which is often the death knell for a defenceman’s career. Only five players listed at 5’9″ or shorter played a game in the NHL this season, including Krug. Only Jared Spurgeon and Francis Bouillon have established themselves as legitimate NHL players among that group.
At his size, Krug will need offensive production to stay in the NHL and have an impact, but he doesn’t quite need this much production. At this rate, Krug could beat Ciccarelli’s rookie playoff record of 14 goals and do it in fewer games. I mean, it’s extremely unlikely and will never happen, but still.
Admittedly, Krug is being sheltered quite a bit. He is averaging the fewest even-strength minutes of any Bruins defenceman not named Wade Redden and Julien has been careful to get him out in the offensive zone against weaker competition. Most of his damage has come on the powerplay, where he has three of his four goals. With the man-advantage, Krug’s been able to find room to unleash his wicked one-timer.
None of that takes away from his accomplishment. At this point, Krug can coast his way to the Dino Ciccarelli Award with just a few more points in the next couple rounds, if the Bruins make it that far. Four goals in five games earns you a little leeway.