Part of the fun in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is seeing players come out of nowhere. Whether it’s a hot goaltender, a fourth liner who finds a scoring touch, a struggling defenceman shutting down snipers, it’s a thrill. This year’s playoffs have been no exception. While players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick and Patrice Bergeron are contributing as you would expect, many players have stepped up their game. People who didn’t know them before the playoffs now know who they are. Last year, we saw Bryan Bickell emerge for Chicago, scoring nine goals in the playoffs, which matched his total for the entire regular season. This is how teams go on long cup runs. Every team that wins a cup or makes a deep run gets production from an unexpected source, or several. That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No matter what happened in the regular season or anything in a player’s past, anyone can emerge as a hero once the playoffs start.
10) Nino Niederreiter — Minnesota Wild
Two goals in a Game 7, and particularly a winning goal in overtime of a Game 7 gets you noticed. Nino Niederreiter had a decent season for the Minnesota Wild, scoring 14 goals and 22 assists in 81 games. The fact remains, when you were picking out who the impactful players would be for Minnesota, come playoff time, you probably didn’t mention Niederreiter.
Just 18 months ago, Niederreiter was buried by the New York Islanders, not invited to their 2013 training camp following the end of the lockout. He was traded last June for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick and it’s paid off for the Wild. Niederreiter will only get better, but his two goals in Game 7 was his coming out party. He has five points so far in the playoffs.
9) Reilly Smith — Boston Bruins
Trying to pick a winner in the blockbuster trade last summer between the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins is tough. It’s been a great trade for both teams, with Tyler Seguin flourishing in Dallas and Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith enjoying success in Boston.
Smith fit in well with Boston this year, enjoying a 20-goal and 50-point season, so his production in these playoffs shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise, but it’s the fact that at times he’s looked more dangerous than the Bruins’ big guns.
Smith also was the hero in Boston’s comeback win against Montreal in Game 2 of their second-round series.
Smith exceeded expectations during the regular season and he’s continuing to do that when it matters most.
8) Lars Eller — Montreal Canadiens
Talk about another player who has elevated his game. Lars Eller had a great start to the season, following his scary injury in last year’s opening round. He was flourishing on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. When the line was split up, Eller seemed lost, and wound up finishing the season with just 26 points and a minus-15.
From October through December, he racked up 19 points, but only had seven from January to the end of the regular season. He’s already surpassed that terrible stretch with eight points so far in this postseason.
He’s been the Canadiens’ best centre and his line with Bourque and Brian Gionta has been the Habs’ best line. He’s constantly won puck battles, set up teammates and is leaned on to defend leads.
It’s downright shocking how well he’s played in these playoffs. Every successful team needs production at centre and Eller has given the Canadiens a surprising amount of depth, which is why they’ve been so successful in the playoffs so far.
7) Alec Martinez — Los Angeles Kings
Alec Martinez has been counted on to play a bigger role due to injuries to veteran defencemen Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Martinez has been up to the task, as the Kings are in the driver’s seat in their series with the Anaheim Ducks.
Martinez has five points in the playoffs, tied for sixth on the Kings. His shining moment so far came in Game 1 against the Ducks where he scored and stopped a sure goal from Corey Perry in overtime, doing his best Jonathan Quick impression.
Depending on how long the Kings are left without their trusted veterans, Martinez may be leaned on even more.
6) Mikael Granlund — Minnesota Wild
Mikael Granlund has stepped up his game to a new level in these playoffs. He had 41 points in 63 regular season games, but his timely scoring has made a huge difference in Minnesota’s playoff run so far.
His highlight reel goal in Game 3 of overtime against Colorado helped the Wild turn their first-round series around and his stellar play has continued since then, with seven points after 10 playoff games.
Minnesota’s key players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu have led the way, but the added depth that Granlund has provided them is a huge boost, allowing Minnesota to overachieve.
5) Jussi Jokinen — Pittsburgh Penguins
When Sidney Crosby was held goalless for eight games in the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin was off to a slow start, someone had to fill the void. Jussi Jokinen picked up the slack, with eight points through nine games, second only behind Malkin.
Picked up in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes last season, Jokinen had little impact for Pittsburgh in last year’s playoffs. However, this year he has come through. After the offseason, he adjusted well to his new home in Pittsburgh.
Given his great regular season, it’s not a huge surprise he’s producing, but the amount he’s producing certainly is, with more points than Sid.
4) Tyler Toffoli — Los Angeles Kings
Tyler Toffoli has slowly been emerging and so far in these playoffs, he has begun exceeding a few expectations.
He managed 12 goals in 62 regular season games and has three so far in the playoffs, to go with three assists.
Toffoli scored a key goal in Game 7 against San Jose, giving the Kings a 3-1 lead in that game and essentially putting the Sharks away. Toffoli has added some speed and young enthusiasm to a veteran-laden Kings group. He’s brought a new dimension to a team that many thought didn’t have enough speed.
3) Matt Beleskey — Anaheim Ducks
Matt Beleskey has not been able to permanently crack a spot in the Ducks’ lineup but he’s brought a physical presence to a team that sorely needed it. They needed it when their first-round series with the Dallas Stars got heated and they’ll certainly need his physicality if they are to come back against LA.
It’s Beleskey’s offensive contribution in the playoffs that have been a huge bonus for Anaheim. He has two goals and two assists in four games.
It makes you wonder why he wasn’t in there sooner, but now that the Ducks have him in there, there’s no reason to take him back out.
2) Benoit Pouliot — New York Rangers
Benoit Pouliot has only shown flashes of greatness in his career. He’s often left teams frustrated as to why he can’t display consistency in production and in physicality. That’s why he’s been bounced around from Minnesota to Montreal to Boston to Tampa Bay to New York, all in the last five years.
Luckily for the New York Rangers, Pouliot is in the middle of one of his periods of physical, productive play.
He has six points in the Rangers’ first 10 playoff games, scoring three goals. He appeared to have an overtime winner against Pittsburgh, but it was credited to Brassard. Nevertheless, Pouliot has been a revelation for New York and they need it badly right now.
Just like the regular season, the Rangers are having trouble scoring goals and while they need their top stars to get them out of their rut, it’s nice to have some surprising production from Pouliot.
1) Rene Bourque — Montreal Canadiens
What in the world has happened to Rene Bourque? He has been perhaps the most shocking of all players on this list, as he was regularly a healthy scratch during the season, only scoring nine goals in 63 games. From the moment he arrived in Montreal, he has been a huge disappointment after being brought over from Calgary in a controversial trade.
Fans were still outraged that former GM Pierre Gauthier shipped out playoff hero Mike Cammalleri for Bourque, but Bourque’s sudden emergence in these playoffs has Habs fans scratching their heads and jumping for joy at the same time. No one can pinpoint what turned Bourque around, but no one’s complaining now. It’s been a crazy metamorphosis.
He has four goals in the playoffs and seems like a threat every time he’s on the ice. He actually has the live crowd at the Bell Centre buzzing when he has the puck. He looks like a dangerous player scoring wise and he uses his big body for physicality when necessary. He’s shown tremendous hustle in every one of his shifts.
Nobody expected Bourque to be outproducing Max Pacioretty, but as long as the Canadiens are winning, it’s a quirky surprise. From a player who had reportedly requested a trade out of Montreal, he has turned on another gear and whatever the Canadiens did to get through to Bourque has proven to be a stroke of genius.