We’re a month and a half into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we’ve seen some pretty impressive individual performances along the way. Some of those performances have come from household names – the sort of players that we all expect to step up and deliver in a big way at this time of year.
Others, however, have come from relatively under-the-radar guys that are rising to the occasion and making a name for themselves on the game’s biggest stage.
The following is a quick rundown of some of the more notable efforts in that second group – the breakout performers of this postseason – as well as their outlook heading into the 2015-16 campaign. Emphasis on the word “breakout”. In other words, Jonathan Toews isn’t going to appear on the list. He’s done this all before. Neither is Vladimir Tarasenko who, despite notching six goals in six postseason games at the age of 23, already burst onto the scene in the regular season (if not last year).
With that in mind, here are seven players that will be looking to carry some momentum from this year’s playoffs into next season and beyond…
Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning
2015-16 Status: signed (Restricted Free Agent in 2016)
To be fair, Killorn gets a lot of his points while skating on a line with Steven Stamkos. Which raises one simple question: who cares?
Strange as it sounds, not everyone is instantly compatible with a superstar on the ice.
Some guys either can’t keep up, don’t know when to get out of the way or simply aren’t ready to take advantage of the opportunities that playing alongside an all-world talent like Stamkos presents. Killorn has proven more than capable of thriving in such a scenario. Which means a) he’s likely to keep producing in such a role and b) the Lightning will likely do everything they can to keep him in it.
Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks
2015-16 Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Of all the players we’re discussing here, Beleskey is the only one slated to become a UFA this summer. And he’s going to cash in.
Not only did he stockpile 22 goals en route to the best regular season of his career (by far), he’s carried that momentum into the playoffs. In a five-game series win over the Flames, he scored in every single contest. All of them. And he drove home the overtime goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals—his third game-winner of these playoffs—prompting this tweet from none other than Emilio Estevez:
— Emilio Estevez (@RealioEmilio) May 27, 2015
How can you argue with Coach Bombay? Beleskey should put that on his resume for when he’s negotiating his new deal this summer.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
2015-16 Status: RFA
For the longest time, we heard that Kuznetsov was the best player suiting up outside the NHL. Then he finally arrived in Washington, and it felt like he was already 30 years old because his North American debut had been anticipated for so long.
In reality, he was just 21 when he played his first NHL game. After being limited to 17 appearances in 2013-14, Kuznetsov put up 37 points in 80 games this season. He really showed signs of taking off in the playoffs though, lighting the lamp five times—including the winning tally in Game 7 against the Islanders—to go with two assists in 14 games for the Caps.
That’s the sort of performance that can give a young player a huge jolt of confidence to draw from going forward.
Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks
2015-16 Status: RFA
Remember when Anaheim got criticized for dealing Bobby Ryan to Ottawa for Silfverberg? Me either. And that’s not a knock on Ryan. It’s just that Silfverberg is now living up to the potential that made him a second round pick in the 2009 draft.
Not all of GM Bob Murray's moves work but he's getting away with grand theft for his heist of Simon Despres. And maybe Jakob Silfverberg.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) May 22, 2015
What’s made the Ducks so dangerous in these playoffs is the secondary scoring from guys like Silfverberg. He hasn’t gone more than two games without registering at least a point—in fact, he’s only suffered a “drought” that lasted more than a single game once. He’s been consistent, he’s been electric and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His 39 points in the regular season were nice, but he’s already posted nearly half as many in these playoffs – over just 16 games.
Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators
2015-16 Status: RFA
True, it feels like ages since the last time we saw the Predators playing hockey. After all, quite a bit has happened since Round 1. That doesn’t change the fact that Wilson strung together a pretty exemplary effort in the limited time he had to work with though.
Josi shows very large variation of offence. WIlson v. good.
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 30, 2015
He managed five goals over six games to lead a Nashville charge that actually had Chicago scrambling for awhile there, and four of those came with the man advantage. To put it in perspective, those four power play goals have him in the playoff lead – despite the fact that he’s played 14 games less than everyone else around him. Not bad for a guy whose 20 goals over 77 regular season games was already a career high.
Frederik Andersen, Ducks
2015-16 Status: signed (RFA in 2016)
Starting to pick up on a pattern here? There’s a lot of Ducks. Andersen is an example of the rare occasion where in injury may have actually helped a team. Not like Anaheim ever wanted prized prospect John Gibson to get hurt by any means, but at least they’ve made the most of a tough situation. The silver lining was that it took any decision out of their hands and simply forced Bruce Boudreau to ride Andersen in the playoffs. Sure, he had some shaky games against the Blackhawks but, overall, no other goalie raised their value more this postseason.
The Calgary Flames
That’s right – all of them. With all due respect to Ottawa, the Flames were the best team story of 2014-15. Not only did they exceed preseason expectations to avoid landing in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes, they made a legitimate playoff push. And then they just went ahead and made the playoffs, eliminating the defending Cup champs from Los Angeles along the way.
But they weren’t done there.
Rather than be content to simply get their first taste of the postseason since back in the days when Dion Phaneuf was on the roster, they went out and ousted the Canucks in a thrilling, six game series. And oh by the way, they did it all without captain Mark Giordano who was sidelined from Feb. 25 on with a torn biceps. The West is already tough, and might very well be even tougher next year. But Calgary took a huge step towards consistent relevance in 2015.