Saturday, May 5, 2012

Greatest Rookie Playoff Scoring, The 1981 North Stars

Every time I watch a Philadelphia Flyers game in this years' playoffs it seems they are getting some sort of scoring from their fantastic group of rookie players. The combination of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Erik Gustafsson have collected 10 goals and 19 total points so far over 9 games, far and away the most any playoff team has received from rookies this playoff.
How does the Flyers rookie contingent rank in terms of playoff rookie scoring contribution of the past? Pretty darn good, but far from the best. Recently, Flyer Ville Leino notched 19 points in the 2010 playoffs and before him, Jeremy Roenick had 18 for Chicago in 1990. Joe Mullen for St. Louis and Barry Pederson of Boston each had 18 points in 1982, and Don Maloney notched 19 points for the Rangers in 1979. All of these guys were pretty much the only rookie on their respective squads that contributed much at all. A great example of a team that had multiple rookies chipping in was the 1986 Canadiens.
Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Kjell Dahlin, Brian Skrudland David Maley and Mike Lalor were all rookies, and all important parts of a Cup winner. Collectively they had an amazing 20 goals and 39 points. A few years before, the New York Islanders were aided by the dynamic rookie duo of Patrick Flatley and Pat LaFontaine. These two put up 12 goals and 24 points.
By far the playoff team with the largest scoring contribution from rookies in at least the last 40 years is the 1981 Minnesota North Stars. Led by playoff rookie points record-setter (14 goals, 21 points) Dino Ciccarelli, their rookie contingent had a ridiculous 34 goals and 65 points. On the way to a surprising appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals the North Stars boasted, in addition to Ciccarelli and Kevin Maxwell an entire rookie line of Neal Broten centering Steve Christoff and Brad Palmer. For good measure, Minny had rookie goaltender Don  Beaupre play in 6 games. Understandably, the press ate it up with headlines like "Rookies Shine for North Stars" and "Rookies not out of place".On May 5 just prior to going up 3 games to 1 on Calgary in the Semi-Finals the Canadian Press quoted Brad Palmer about the reason for the rookie success;
"Rookies don't really realize what the Stanley Cup is all about. More are just trying to impress the coach and get a position for next year. I know I'm scared that, if I don't produce now, it will hurt my chances of making the team next year. The older guys are just great in building confidence, I live at Al McAdam's home and he makes you feel like you've been in the league for 10 years."
Perhaps Palmer was right, rookies just can't appreciate the pressure they're under in a Cup run. They've never been there, and they expect it to happen every year. Unfortunately for four of these rookies, the '81 run was their best and last shot at a Cup. Only Neal Broten would go on to win one with New Jersey, and it took him until age 35. Brad Palmer, would finish his career playing mainly in Europe over the next decade. He was however part of a trade with Boston on draft day in 1982 assuring the Bruins would NOT draft Brian Bellows, letting him slip to Minnesota.

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