Matt Murray is two wins away from winning his second Stanley Cup, yet is still eligible for the Calder. So let’s look back at five others who played well in the post-season as a rookie, then did it again.
Jake Guentzel is having the sort of rookie playoff year that every NHL player dreams of. To play well under the pressure of the post-season as an NHL rookie is rare, and for most players it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Or, in the case of Matt Murray, twice in a lifetime.
Yes, Murray is technically still a rookie, even though he’s on the verge of winning his second Stanley Cup as a starting goaltender. That’s because he only played a handful of games during the 2015-16 regular season, meaning he didn’t lose his rookie eligibility. He’ll probably be named the goalie on this year’s all-rookie team, and he might collect the award with two Cup rings in his pocket.
Murray is an extreme case, but it’s actually not all that rare for NHL players to get multiple playoff runs when they’re still considered rookies. It happened to current players like Torey Krug, Chris Kreider, Logan Couture and Tyler Toffoli. One of the Predators trying to prevent Murray from repeating as champion, P.K. Subban, pulled it off a few years ago.
And so did some of the best players in NHL history. So today, let’s look back at five Hall of Famers who played well in the post-season as a rookie, and enjoyed it so much they did it again.
Before Murray came along, Dryden was the go-to case for establishing playoff dominance right out of the gate. He’d only played in six regular season games when he took over as Montreal’s starter for the 1971 playoffs, but he was fantastic, posting a very good (for the time) 3.00 goals-against average while leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. For his performance, Dryden earned the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
He continued his dominance into the following season, finishing second to Bobby Orr in the Hart Trophy race and earning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. But his second playoff run wasn’t quite as successful as his first. While he posted an even better GAA of 2.83, Dryden and the Canadiens had their reign ended by the Rangers in six games.
That loss ended up being a minor detour for Dryden on the way to six Stanley Cup rings, making him one of only two goaltenders to ever hit that mark.
Fair warning – there’s going to be a few Habs on this list. The whole “rookie playoff double-down” routine is kind of their thing.
In 1984, it was a 22-year-old defenseman from the U.S. Olympic team who earned regular duty in the playoffs despite having just 12 regular season games to his name. Chelios had put up just two points during the season, but he exploded for ten during Montreal’s run to the conference final.
The following season, Chelios established himself as a full-time NHL regular, finishing second in the Calder race to Mario Lemieux. He followed that up with another 10-point performance in the playoffs, although this time the Canadiens were out in the second round.
As a reminder of how cruel this game can be, Chelios wasn’t even the most important rookie double-dipper from those two Canadiens’ playoff runs. That would have been goalie Steve Penney, who won 15 games over the course of two rookie post-seasons. But while Chelios went on to play an NHL record 242 more playoff games over the course of a 26-year career, Penney battled injuries and lost his starting job to some rookie named Patrick Roy. He never appeared in an NHL post-season again.
Plante won seven Vezina Trophies, an MVP, and is the only goaltender other than Dryden to win six Stanley Cups. That puts him solidly in the conversation for the greatest goaltender of all-time. He also managed a playoff feat that even Murray won’t be able to match: His rookie resumé includes not two but three separate post-seasons.
The first came in 1953, after Plante had appeared in just three games for the Canadiens. Once the playoffs arrived, Plante split time with Gerry McNeil, winning three games as the Habs captured the Stanley Cup. The following season, Plante started the season in the minors before working his way back to Montreal, where he saw action 17 times. He followed that by starting eight of the team’s 11 playoff games, going 5-3 with a 1.88 GAA.
The 1954-55 season marked Plante’s third in the NHL, but he was still technically a rookie. This time he finally established himself as the full-time starter, playing 52 games, finishing third in the Calder voting. He started all 12 playoff games for Montreal, but the team fell short of the Stanley Cup for the second straight year.
That was the last time Plante and the Canadiens fell short of anything for a long while. In each of the next five seasons, he took home both the Vezina and a Stanley Cup ring.
Like Plante, Hull pulled off the rare rookie playoff triple-header. And for an added degree of difficulty, he did it with multiple teams. Even more amazingly, neither was Montreal.
In 1986, Hull was a 21-year-old prospect with Calgary. Even “prospect” might be pushing it, he was considered lazy and out of shape, and was best known for being The Golden Jet’s son. He’d been playing college hockey and for the US national team, and had never suited up for a regular season game. But he made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup final, going pointless in two games against (who else) the Canadiens.
The next year, the Flames sent Hull to the AHL to work on his game, and he saw action in just five NHL contests. But he was back for the playoffs, playing four games as the Flames were upset in the opening round by the Jets. This time, he had two goals, good for second on the team.
That apparently wasn’t enough for the Flames, who shipped him off to St. Louis in 1988 as part of an infamous trade deadline deal for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. That move is often mentioned as one of the more lopsided in NHL history, although the Flames probably didn’t mind much when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989. But for Hull, the trade spelled a fresh start, and he responded with seven goals in his third (and final) rookie playoff year, this time with the Blues.
Those nine goals over three years weren’t bad for a rookie, but there was more to come. Hull finished his career with 103 playoff goals, good for fourth all-time. Oh, and he also earned two Cup rings. Not bad for lazy and out of shape.
Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion
We’ll close with yet another Montreal legend. Geoffrion was one of the first to pull off back-to-back rookie playoffs, so maybe we should give him some credit for starting the whole trend.
The first came in 1951, after the man who’d be credited with inventing the slapshot had made his debut by appearing in 18 games. Geoffrion suited up for all 11 of Montreal’s playoff games, as the team reached the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Maple Leafs. The following season, Geoffrion hit the 30-goal mark while winning the Calder Trophy, then followed that up with his second rookie playoff run. This one went a lot like his first; 11 games played, a trip to the Cup final, and a loss (this time to the Red Wings).
Ironically, Boom Boom didn’t make much noise in either playoff appearance, scoring just four goals over the course of his two rookie post-seasons. Those would be among the last times he was quiet over the course a career in which he became the second player to ever hit the 50-goal mark, won a Hart Trophy, and led the playoffs in goal-scoring twice.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
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