Let the speculation begin; which players can potentially carry their momentum of last season, into this season? The pressure is on for these players to continue their quality play into the new year, and keep the standards that they closed with last season, at a high rate. This article will refresh the minds of all hockey fans and remind us of which players caught some serious heat down the stretch. Many new faces caught our attention last season, and right on time, as you will see in this top 10 list.
10) Reilly Smith
Despite a quiet post season, Reilly Smith gained some interesting recgonition in the regular season, on a top line with NHL 15 cover boy, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The line was able to put up terrific numbers, particularly in the plus/minus section, in where the line combined with a plus 102 rating, one of the league’s best ratings for a single line. Reilly marked new career highs in his first season as a Bruin, and gave the team a much needed scoring depth on its top lines. It will be interesting to see if the young 23-year old can continue his great regular season play, heading into the 14-15 season.
9) Mikael Granlund
The ‘Granlund coming out party’ may officially be under way, as the young fin caught some serious heat in the post season, dazzling up and down the ice with his tremendous skill and puck vision. In only 63 games in the regular season, Granlund collected 33 assists, one of the team’s best in that category. Granlund was definitely a huge factor in the Wild’s upsetting first round series win against the favorite, Colorado Avalanche. If Granlund can continue his solid play, it will only be a matter of time before he joins Zach Parise on the Wild’s top unit.
8) Rene Bourque
Rene Bourque went from zero to hero (literally) in the post season, finally meeting the expectations that the team had for him; a power forward that can score goals, and this is what they finally got, at the perfect time. Rene couldn’t have picked a better time to catch heat, despite scoring only 9 times in 63 games, the Canadians forward made up for this by scoring 8 goals in the Habs playoff push. Bourque not only led the team with 8 playoff goals, but was also surprisingly the team’s most consistent player every night, bringing it almost every shift. Many Montreal fans are eager to see if Bourque can use this newly acquired confidence into next season and be a crucial part of the team’s regular season success.
7) Mats Zuccarello
No player in New York benefited more from the coaching change than Mats Zuccarello this season. The 5’7 winger thrived under Alain Vigneault’s new system, which preaches speed down the wings. The undrafted winger was New York’s most consistent player this season, leading the team with 59 points, along with 40 assists to lead the team in that category as well. Mats also had a tremendous post season run with the Rangers, helping them reach the Stanley cup finals. Zuccarello was undoubtedly one of the team’s best two-way players and was often relied on by Vigneault throughout the post season. “Zucc” looks to continue his fiery run into the 14-15 season.
6) Tyler Toffoli/ Tanner Pearson
Just beginning to scratch the surface in the NHL, the two 22 year old players have broken out of their shells this past season for the LA Kings, aiding the team immensely during their Stanley Cup run. The two young players had decent regular season success, but really began to turn it on when it mattered during the post season. Pearson and Toffoli added some crucial depth to the line up, playing on one of the Kings top lines for most of their playoff run with Jeff Carter. Toffoli also registered, what was perhaps the biggest assist of his entire career, taking the shot which bounced favorably to Martinez, for the double OT game clinching Stanley cup final goal. The future is brighter than ever for these two players, it will be interesting to see if they can continue their stellar play into the regular 2014-2015 season.
5) Henrik Lundqvist
What a playoff run Henrik Lundqvist put together this past season, pilling up pressure filled wins, night after night. His achievements were so special that the king broke a record in his playoff run, becoming the first goalie in NHL history to win 5 consecutive game 7’s, truly remarkable to think about. Lundqvist didn’t have the most memorable regular season, putting up decent numbers throughout the year but really catching heat when it mattered at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. The Rangers were arguably the under dogs in every single series, but what made the biggest difference throughout the Rangers’ run was the play of their goaltender. The question remains if the king can continue his hot streak, or if he will suffer from the playoff blues in the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
4) Gustav Nyquist
Despite a short playoff run for the Wings, we cannot forget what an inspirational run Gus had for the Red Wings down the stretch of the regular season, when it was crucial. Despite all the injuries to the Wings’ top players, Nyquist embraced the pressure and ensured the Wings a playoff spot for the 23rd straight season. Truly remarkable for a player who started his year in the AHL. Once the injuries began to pile up, Gus was called up and gained heat immediately, and it was a flame that he carried till the end of the season. In only 57 games, Nyquist scored 28 goals, blowing away all competition on his team (the closest to him was Tomas Tatar with 19 goals). Nyquist’s down the stretch run enjoyed a 5 game goal scoring streak. Ultimately, Gus was the biggest reason the Wing’s continued their playoff run. It will be exciting for Red Wings fans to see what he can do this season, with a healthy Henrik Zetterberg as one of his line-mates.
3) Nathan MacKinnon
This kid truly looks like he will be something special for the Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon completed his rookie season in fine form, picking up 63 points and an impressive plus 20 rating. Nathan’s fine regular season was rewarded with the honor of receiving the NHL’s Calder Trophy for the rookie of the year. Despite Colorado’s disappointing first round exit, MacKinnon was absolutely sensational in his first ever playoff series, using his blistering speed down the wing and driving Wild defenders nuts. Despite his terrific performance in the playoffs, Nathan spent his summer wanting to be even more “dominant”, with this in mind, MacKinnon spent a big chunk of his off season with Sidney Crosby. MacKinnon feels great and hopes to bring his game to another level next season, look out NHL.
2) Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn has been flying under the radar for quite some time now, but those days are over, when the best player in the game, Sid Crosby picks you as the NHL’s top franchise player. Benn’s coming out party took place during the Olympics’ in Sochi, it seemed like whichever line Benn was put on, he would spark that line. Benn had a tremendous season with the Stars this season, the captain lead the team with his dominance every night. Additionally, he and line-mate, Tyler Seguin caught some serious heat throughout the entire season, combining a total of 163 points on the year. Without the contributions of Benn this season, the playoffs would have probably been a long shot for the team. With the addition of scoring depth, the acquisition of Spezza and Hemsky, look for Benn to have more room and continue his dominance, perhaps solidifying himself as the league’s top player.
1) Justin Williams
What a post season run for Mr. Game 7, no player was more clutch in the playoffs than Justin Williams, leading his team to not only the Stanley cup, but as well as receiving his first ever Conn Smythe trophy, honoring his brilliant performance in the playoffs. Williams solidified himself as simply being a big game player, he clearly lives for pressure situations and thrived under them in the post season. It will be interesting to see if the league’s hottest player can continue his clutch play this season and aid the Kings to another cup run, or will he suffer from a playoff hangover? We will see soon enough.