Rising NHL Stars Proving Themselves in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2014

Rising NHL Stars Proving Themselves in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The NHL playoffs this spring have given fans a chance to see the league's best emerging talent up close and personal. The league's youth have delivered and then some, offering proof their time will come.

    Some of the league's best youngsters impressed early before bowing out, and others remain center stage and are helping their teams go deep into the postseason.

    Here are 10 rising stars who are shining bright in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

10. Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota Wild

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    His Role in the Regular Season: Darcy Kuemper started the season in the AHL but was called up in October because of an injury to Niklas Backstrom. Chad Graff's story at Pioneer Press details the injury to Backstrom and Kuemper's call-up to the Minnesota Wild. He would go on to fill in for injuries and serve as backup during the regular season.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Kuemper has played a lot in the postseason and has been effective. The Wild have won three of their six playoff victories with Kuemper in goal.

    His Future Role: Backstrom and Josh Harding are signed for next season, but health issues are a major concern. Kuemper has established himself as a legitimate goaltending option in Minnesota.

9. Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Ryan Murray established himself as a quality two-way defenseman in his rookie season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played a lot and in all situations, giving the Blue Jackets a cornerstone defender for years to come.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Murray increased his playing time in the postseason and passed his first playoff test with ease.

    His Future Role: The Blue Jackets have a real gem in Murray. He played 22 minutes and 43 seconds in his first trip to the playoffs and showed veteran savvy. He's a big part of the future.

8. Valeri Nichushkin, LW, Dallas Stars

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Valeri Nichushkin spent the regular season establishing himself as a power winger. His combination of size and skill makes him an exciting young player.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Nichushkin arrived at the postseason as a regular and sustained it through the playoffs. His brand of fast, physical hockey is effective.

    His Future Role: The Dallas Stars have an outstanding young power forward in Nichushkin. He began his rookie season slowly but has been building since. This was an impressive debut.

7. Tomas Hertl, LW, San Jose Sharks

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Thomas Hertl took the NHL by storm, scoring 15 goals in his first 35 games. He was hurt in a December game against the Los Angeles Kings, as detailed by Eric Gilmore of NHL.com.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? After returning for two games at the end of the regular season, Hertl had a major impact in the postseason. He delivered five points in seven games for the San Jose Sharks.

    His Future Role: Hertl is a dynamic offensive player. Sharks' fans are anticipating having him for a full season, and he could produce outstanding offensive numbers in 2014-15.

6. Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Tanner Pearson spent most of the season in the American Hockey League. In his 25 NHL games, he showed great determination but little offensive potential.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Pearson was given an opportunity by the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, and he's almost equaled his regular-season totals in just eight games.

    His Future Role: The Kings are producing quality prospects at a rapid clip, but Pearson has some advantages over the competition. He's a former first-round pick, and he's delivering under playoff pressure. If he continues to impact the game offensively, he should be a starting forward in 2014-15.

5. Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: It is extremely rare for a strong contender to employ a teenager on defense. Olli Maatta arrived at training camp and impressed early and hasn't stopped doing it since September.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Maatta is seeing regular duty in the postseason and supplying the Pittsburgh Penguins with steady, reliable play.

    His Future Role: He'll turn 20 in August, and by then Maatta will have played as a NHL regular in a long playoff run. The experience will be invaluable, and the fact he's done it at 19 years old reflects his maturity and skill.

4. Boone Jenner, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Boone Jenner established himself as a solid young forward for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored well at even strength and on the power play. Jenner is a determined player.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Jenner's playing time increased by three minutes a night in the playoffs, and his offensive totals spiked because of it. He was very successful on the power play in the postseason.

    His Future Role: The Blue Jackets have a stud forward in Jenner. He is an absolute load for opposition defensemen and drives to the net with authority. He has an outstanding future.

3. Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Despite playing 62 games and limited minutes, Tyler Toffoli finished in the top six in scoring for the Los Angeles Kings. He was very effective at even strength.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? The Kings are not a high-scoring team, and Toffoli's postseason totals have him in the top four Los Angeles scorers in the playoffs. He also has two game-winning goals.

    His Future Role: The Kings have lacked quality offensive players for years. Toffoli is going to have a job as long as he keeps scoring.

2. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    His Role in the Regular Season: Torey Krug stepped up as a legitimate defensive option for the Boston Bruins. The exit of Andrew Ference, added to Dennis Seidenberg's injury, opened the door for a rookie, and Krug walked right through.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? Krug is not only leading Bruins defenders in scoring, he's among the NHL's best in points by defensemen.

    His Future Role: The Boston Bruins are in transition on defense, and Krug is at the front of the line for young defenders winning roster spots. He should be a productive Bruin for many years.

1. Nathan Mackinnon, RW, Colorado Avalanche

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    His Role in the Regular Season: Nathan MacKinnon has enjoyed an amazing NHL debut for the Colorado Avalanche. His regular-season totals rank first among rookies, and he's a lock for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

    What has He Done in the Playoffs? MacKinnon rolled through the first round of the playoffs in the same way as he did in the regular season.

    His Future Role: The Colorado Avalanche have an impact player. MacKinnon is the best rookie to come down the line in several years—a wonderful future is on the horizon.