Playoffs in sports are predictable for their unpredictable nature. Key cogs flounder, washed-up vets wash back in, and prospects emerge as leaders. Let's take a look at the prospects making a name for themselves in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Alexander Radulov: First there was A-Rod, and now there's A-Rad. The franchise leader in playoff goals after only two games, the 15th overall selection in 2004 has continued to dominate as the level of play gets higher. Leading all rookies in postseason scoring with 3-1-4, the lanky sniper has shown the rare ability to get into place for the score. With his motivation sometimes lacking in the regular season, Radulov will crack the top fifty in scoring if he can keep this pace going into next season. So far as the spring session is concerned, the Nizhi Tagil native likely won't slow down any time soon. Radulov popped home 55 points in only 23 games in the 2005-06 playoffs.
Andy Greene: In case you fell asleep expecting a trapfest, you actually missed a pretty intense first game in the New Jersey-Tampa quarterfinal. And while he didn't crack the scoreboard, collegiate free agent signee Andy Greene was one of the best blueliners on the ice- for either side. Paired with Brad Lukowich, Greene's smart, accurate puck movement and fantastic reads not only neautralized Brad Richards, but lead to the former Conn Smythe winner being caught on the ice for a goal. With ever-increasing ice time and responsibilities in light of his tremendous performance, it will only be a matter of time before the rearguard pots his first playoff point.
Valtteri Filppula: An only so-so bottom six player during the regular season, 24-year-old Detroit Red Wings rook Valtteri Filppula (say that five times fast) was a major factor in the squad's surprisingly physical performance. Despite playing only 8:20 and 12 shifts, Filpulla needed only one- his first of the game- to make in impact, scoring less than five minutes in. The young Finn also registered a hit, a takeaway and a critical faceoff win in his first NHL playoff game. In fact, it was Filppula's first playoff game in any league since 2004-05. A thoroughly productive postseason producer in Europe, the centre-sometimes-left-wing-and-also-right-wing registered 13-25-38 in 32 Finnish postseason contests.
Loui Eriksson/Joel Lundqvist: The Dallas Stars are proving the UN model of team building is working. Americans, Canadians, Fins, Russians and Czechs. But two of the players making the biggest impact in the Big D are Swedes. Despite having only a combined 95 games of NHL experience, the two came together to pot two points and eight shots in their first two games against Vancouver. It was Eriksson who notched a point first, setting up the tying marker in the opening period of Game 1. While the Stars would eventually succumb to the Nucks in 4OT, Erikkson's non-stop motor lead to several near goals. In Game 2, it was Lundqvist who emerged as the hero, scoring a critical momentum-stealing goal 45 seconds into the second period to seal a 2-0 victory. Expect even more contributions from Eriksson, Lundqvist and the European contingent throughout the series.
Jordan Staal: Seemingly the only player on the ball for the young Edmonton Oi... Pittsburgh Penguins, 2006 draftee Jordan Staal dominated on special teams in Game 1 of the Ottawa/Pittsburgh tilt. The team's leader in SH TOI with 3:48, Staal also put home his first-ever playoff goal. And in Game 2, just in the books, it was Staal again making a difference, getting into the right place at exactly the right time in the third period. Parking his massive frame in the Ottawa crease, the 18 year-old centreman converted a picture-perfect pass from a behind-the-net Gary Roberts. That marker tied the game at three, setting the stage for Sidney Crosby's heroics.
And not so good in their playoff debuts...
Marc-Edouard Vlasic: The rock-solid Sharks rearguard was a rookie revelation in the regular season, finishing with a plus-13 rating and 26 points as a 20-year-old. But the playoffs have been a rude awakening, with the former second-round selection being exposed by far more seasoned competition. However, with that seasoned competition being Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya and major junior teammate Alex Radulov, Vlasic deserves a pass for ill-time pinches, stick-checks and reads. But being a rookie doesn't make the Montreal native any less of a major piece of the San Jose defense. Vlasic must take it up a notch if the Sharks have a hope of beating the highly touted Predators.
Johan Holmqvist: All the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to take a lead in their series was merely good goaltending. But they didn't get it. While it's tough to be thrown into the fire as a playoff rookie- especially as a goalie- allowing five goals on 24 shots isn't going to win you a lot of games. With so little room for error, Holmqvist's playoff debut may last less than two games if an early goal gets by the regularly solid keeper. In that case, even greener Karri Ramo will be forced into action, with the series becoming even more uncertain.