In Pittsburgh’s Game 2 win over Nashville last night, Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel scored his 19th point of the playoffs, and set an all-time record for rookie scoring in a single postseason. With two goals, his 11th and 12th this postseason, Guentzel tied Maurice Richard for second all-time in playoff rookie goal-scoring.
Guentzel’s performance also got me thinking: which Sharks rookies have stood out in the postseason? I set out to rank the top five.
But first, some ground rules: it has to have been the player’s first postseason, even if they were technically a rookie the second time around.
So, sorry, Logan Couture and your 14 points in 18 games in 2010-11, you’re disqualified based on my well-meaning, yet completely arbitrary criteria. Every other Sharks rookie’s postseason that fits the criteria is fair game.
5. Marcel Goc, 2003-04
Goc did not have much in the way of quantity this postseason, scoring just two points in his first five postseason games. But, he sneaks into the rankings thanks to when he picked up those points.
The German forward made his NHL debut that postseason and played just 8:38 in his first two postseason games, series-clinchers against the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Goc set up the game-winning goal against St. Louis with his first-ever playoff assist, and scored the game-winning goal to send the Sharks to their first-ever Western Conference Finals 19 days later against Colorado on his first-ever playoff shot. The ‘04 run was filled with firsts, and few were stranger than Goc’s.
4. Jason Demers, 2009-10
After playing in just 51 of the Sharks’ 82 regular season games in his rookie campaign, Demers suited up for San Jose in every single playoff game. He only averaged 11:10 in ice time as the team’s sixth or seventh defenseman, depending upon the night, as he was still earning then-head coach Todd McLellan’s trust.
The man who would become Daddy made the most of his limited ice time, though. His five points in 15 matched a Sharks record for points by a rookie defenseman in a single postseason, and remain the most by a rookie blueliner in their first postseason (Matt Carle scored five as a rookie, but in his second postseason run).
Demers also became the second rookie defenseman in Sharks history with a multi-point playoff game on April 29, 2010, when San Jose took a 1-0 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings en route to the franchise’s second Western Conference Finals appearance in their history.
3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 2006-07
Vlasic’s one point in 11 playoff games represents the lowest scoring output of any rookie on this list, but his scoring isn’t what got him here. No, he’s here because the then-20-year-old defenseman finished second on the Sharks in ice time.
He averaged 0:40 more than he did in the regular season, and gave Sharks fans a taste of the steady defense he would provide on the blueline for the next decade. Sure, it didn’t speak very highly of San Jose’s defensive depth that postseason (Craig Rivet led all Sharks defensemen in ice time in the playoffs), but it did speak highly of Vlasic to be trusted with so much responsibility before he could legally purchase alcohol in the United States.
2. Jeff Friesen, 1994-95
Friesen’s the youngest player on this list, and made his postseason debut as an 18-year-old less than a year after San Jose selected him 11th overall in the 1994 NHL Draft. But the big stage did not daunt the young forward, who scored six points in 11 playoff games.
He started off especially strong, and scored five points in his first four games. Friesen also made history in the process, and became the youngest Sharks rookie to score a playoff goal, and the first to record a multi-point game in the postseason.
The forward faltered as the postseason went on, and struggled against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, just as the rest of the team did. But averaging over a half-a-point per game in the playoffs is impressive, let alone as an 18-year-old, so Friesen deserves full marks.
1. Joonas Donskoi, 2015-16
Recency bias and age (24 when he made his playoff debut) be damned, Donskoi’s the clear front-runner here. His 12 points last year were the most by a Sharks rookie in their first postseason (Logan Couture, still technically a rookie, scored 14 in his second postseason in 2010-11).
Plus, Donskoi scored some of the biggest goals for the Sharks that postseason. He scored the series-winning goal against Los Angeles in the first round, a goal in the win that sent San Jose to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final, and, of course, the iconic overtime-winner in the Cup Final against Pittsburgh that produced the epic Punjabi and Finnish calls.
“Oye Hoye” Donskoi was a hero, indeed.
Did I miss anyone? Make your case for Niko Dimitrakos, Vlastimil Kroupa, or any other Sharks rookies you think deserved inclusion in the comments.