The Blackhawks, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, will take on a team from Minnesota in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Hawks lost to the North Stars in 1991, the last time they claimed the top record in the NHL.
A lot has happened since 1991, however.
The North Stars moved to Dallas. The Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup. And a couple of this year’s top Calder Trophy candidates, Brandon Saad and Jonas Brodin, were born.
Here’s a look ahead at two young players that will impact the series.
The top-line left wing many Hawks fans were so desperate for GM Stan Bowman to go get on the free agent market happened to be playing in Saginaw last year, and has made an enormous impact this season. Saad, skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, has emerged as a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate.
Saad finished the regular season tied for fifth among all rookies with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists), a rookie-best plus-17 rating, and two game-winning goals. After a slow start, he finished the season strong, posting 15 points in March and another eight in April.
But Saad isn’t the only player in this series that should receive consideration for the Calder.
The Wild’s Brodin has been one of the really exciting players for Minnesota all year. He was the tenth overall pick in the 2011 Draft, and won’t turn 20 until mid-July, but he still led all rookies in average ice time per game by almost two full minutes (23:12).
Brodin finished the season second on the Wild behind only Ryan Suter with 60 blocked shots, and four of his nine assists have come in April. Brodin and Suter were not only the top even-strength pair for Minnesota, but Brodin stayed with Suter on the top penalty killing unit for the Wild (as a team, Minnesota ranked 18th in the NHL on PK this season though).
As these two teams look forward to being division rivals starting this fall, Saad and Brodin are two young players developing into stars. They’ll see a lot of each other in the future, and this will be the first big stage for each. How will they respond to the bright lights of playoff hockey? We’ll see.