The 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs have blessed us with some excellent — if anticipated — manufacturing from the sport’s greatest stars. For Connor McDavid, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Mika Zibanejad, Leon Draisaitl, Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon (and lots of extra), we’re grateful.
Nonetheless, it is time we increase consciousness in regards to the gamers who got here into the postseason with a lot much less acclaim.
Unheralded performers have punctuated each sequence from the primary spherical to the convention finals. They’ve picked up the slack, managed huge workloads, pulled off gutsy strikes and supplied game-changing contributions you will not discover on the scoresheet.
Briefly, these gamers have been — or proceed to be — under-the-radar stars. And the checklist is lengthy.
We’re highlighting six of those gamers to whom consideration have to be paid, for all of the underappreciated excellence they’ve added on this postseason:
Swapping prospect Justin Barron and a second-round draft decide with Montreal for Lehkonen was as good as Lehkonen performs on the ice. He has taken Colorado’s offensive depth to a different degree, and his chemistry alongside Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri — previous to the latter’s damage in Sport Three — this postseason is off the charts.
Their line had a breakout efficiency of kinds in Sport 2 of the Western Convention finals in opposition to Edmonton, when that trio created all three targets (together with one from Lehkonen) Colorado scored within the span of two minutes, four seconds.
Lehkonen is his unit’s silent scoring machine. He is much less flashy offensively however wields a hockey IQ that is exhausting to match. Lehkonen can assess how a play is growing and make the important thing learn to arrange a teammate’s scoring likelihood or get a puck cleanly out of the zone. As a result of he’s so good defensively, his position as a facilitator up entrance does not get sufficient consideration. It has been a strong power of his all through these playoffs.
Over Colorado’s first 14 video games, Lehkonen has six targets and 5 assists — together with the sequence winner in opposition to the Oilers — whereas averaging 16:46 of ice time per sport. The way in which Colorado’s second line has come on takes the stress off its high unit to at all times be producing, and Lehkonen’s contributions have been paramount to lifting Rantanen out of a scoring stoop.
Now that Kadri might miss some extra time with an damage, there’s extra emphasis than ever on Colorado’s depth. Do not sleep on Lehkonen the remainder of the best way right here. He is an integral piece of the Avalanche puzzle.
The Rangers acquired Vatrano from Florida for a fourth-round pick forward of the commerce deadline so as to add extra 5-on-5 scoring to their arsenal. Vatrano delivered within the common season with a dozen even-strength factors in 22 video games, whereas he and first linemates Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad outscored opponents by an 11-5 margin at 5-on-5.
Vatrano has continued that success within the postseason, the place he has made key contributions for New York. Not simply on the rating sheet, both.
Take into account this sequence from Sport 1 of Japanese Convention finals: Tampa managed play within the first interval till Vatrano backchecked within the defensive zone to knock a puck away from the ready-to-fire Ondrej Palat. It was a small — however key — resolution that might go unnoticed however constructed to larger issues. As a result of moments later, it was Vatrano firing a wrister previous Vasilevskiy to provide New York a 2-1 lead in its eventual 6-2 victory.
It is these little issues that elevate Vatrano’s usually unheralded ability set. He has by no means been heralded as essentially the most defensively sound participant, however because the Rangers have rolled by this postseason, he has proven actual enchancment in that 200-foot sport. Vatrano does what has been requested of him, whether or not that is getting in shot lanes (he averages over 5 blocked pictures per sport), being aggressive on the forecheck or simply figuring out key defensive moments to step up.
The winger won’t see his identify up in lights, however make no mistake, Vatrano’s a helpful participant on the Rangers’ stage.
Pay attention, the Lightning have lots of star energy. It is their factor. They’ve additionally benefited from some criminally underrated playoff contributors. Ross Colton is certainly one of them.
Via 14 playoff video games, Colton was tied for the second on the group in targets (5), and paced Tampa in game-winning targets (two; which can be second most within the postseason discipline).
In Sport 2 of the Lightning’s second-round sequence in opposition to Florida, that was Colton scoring with Three.eight seconds left in regulation to push the Panthers one step nearer to an eventual sweep. The scoring depth participant like Colton offers is how Tampa Bay is again within the convention finals.
Colton clearly realized quite a bit from his playoff expertise final season. He appeared in simply 30 regular-season video games, then averaged over 10 minutes per contest in every of Tampa’s 23 outings en path to a Cup win. However there is not any extra “pleased to be right here” mentality on this 23-year-old. He has arrived to vary the sport.
This postseason, Colton has been bumped as much as almost 14 minutes of ice time per sport, and he has carved out a job on the facility play (1:40 per sport) whereas seeing motion in additional crucial conditions throughout video games. He was a bodily drive in Sport 2 of the convention finals in opposition to New York, and created a few of the Lightning’s finest possibilities on Igor Shesterkin — together with an excellent third-period setup from the slot — in an eventual loss. He is additionally had crucial moments within the group’s wins in Sport Three and four, although they have not dented the rating sheet.
But for all Colton has to supply, he is as unsung as they arrive.
There was a quintessential Faulk efficiency when St. Louis confronted elimination in Sport 5 of its second-round sequence in opposition to Colorado.
The Blues needed to claw their approach out of a Three-Zero second-period deficit, and it was Faulk who facilitated Jordan Kyrou‘s tying aim within the third. Then it was Faulk hustling end-to-end thwarting Gabriel Landeskog‘s empty-net try to get the Blues to additional time. And as soon as there, it was Faulk holding the zone to tee up Tyler Bozak‘s sport winner and delay St. Louis’ season for yet another sport.
Faulk logged virtually 30 minutes of ice time that evening, and completed with one help and one shot on aim. In your complete postseason, Faulk logged the sixth-heaviest workload amongst defenseman (25:58 TOI per sport), scoring one aim and eight factors in 12 video games.
Nonetheless, his most crucial contributions could not be seen within the field rating.
St. Louis’ protection corps was maligned early within the common season for being inconsistent, and Faulk was the steadying drive required to ultimately tighten that group into form. Aside from maybe Ryan O’Reilly, Faulk emerged because the Blues’ most essential participant this season, but he has flown principally below the radar.
Faulk is the clever veteran who’s one step forward. He is anticipating, able to pounce and make a play that creates one thing constructive. Have a look at the aim he scored on Darcy Kuemper in Sport 1 in opposition to Colorado, discovering comfortable protection in a harmful space and catching the netminder off-guard. It is a testomony to Faulk’s hockey IQ, and he poured all these belongings into St. Louis’ run.
Dallas entered the postseason as a wild-card group, and took the Pacific Division champion Calgary Flames all the best way to additional time in Sport 7 of their first-round sequence.
The Stars fell in that further body. However the major purpose they had been there in any respect was their goaltender.
He was sensible within the postseason, permitting simply 13 targets in seven video games, producing a .954 save share and 1.81 goals-against common — the save share ranks as the perfect of any goalie this postseason. Whereas high skills like Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy have demanded headlines, Oettinger’s efficiency has grow to be an afterthought.
After the primary two rounds of the playoffs, Oettinger nonetheless owned the perfect targets saved above anticipated (+14.6) of any postseason goalie. The subsequent finest? Shesterkin, at +11.9.
Oettinger did not get the aim assist his star flip deserved in opposition to Calgary. Dallas gave up the second-most pictures per sport within the postseason (41.Zero) whereas averaging the fewest pictures on aim (27.9) and managing a couple of aim in solely 4 of the seven outings.
That simply highlights even additional how underappreciated Oettinger has been within the larger postseason dialog. He got here near single-handedly stealing a sequence, and no different goalie can say that.
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy made one of many extra underrated selections of those playoffs when he handed the Bruins’ web to Swayman.
Linus Ullmark had a strong common season (.917 save share, 2.45 goals-against common) however faltered at the beginning of Boston’s first-round sequence in opposition to Carolina. Cassidy tapped him for Video games 1 and a pair of, and Ullmark went Zero-2 with an .860 SV% and four.16 GAA. Not perfect.
The rookie had been a part of Boston’s one-two punch in web with Ullmark all through the season. However now Swayman was entering into unfavorable situations, down 2-Zero to the Metropolitan Division powerhouse. Swayman was unfazed. He backstopped the Bruins to victory of their subsequent two video games, giving up simply 4 targets whole, and placing Boston again on equal footing.
It is a testomony to Swayman’s psychological toughness that even after the Bruins laid an egg in Sport 5, he bounced again once more with a terrific displaying in Sport 6 to even the sequence as soon as extra. There was a relaxed and precision to Swayman’s strategy, with no trace of panic. The Bruins performed with elevated confidence in entrance of Swayman because the sequence rolled on, a excessive praise for any netminder.
Boston finally fell to Carolina in Sport 7. The Bruins doubtless would not have reached that time had been it not for that swap within the crease. Swayman’s .911 SV% within the postseason tied Sergei Bobrovsky‘s and bested the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick.
Most significantly, Swayman got here near carrying a banged-up however battling Boston group all the best way to a sequence win. That is value recognizing.