While perusing the playoff scoring leaders recently I began to wonder: Is a playoff breakout typically a harbinger of sustained success in the future? To conduct this entirely unscientific experiment, I hearkened back to the most notable examples of postseason breakouts I could recall and tried to deterime whether they were indicative of new production levels.
John Druce (1990)
– One of the more memorable examples I can remember of an unexpected playoff performance, the Capitals right winger famously scored 14 goals in 15 postseason contests during the spring of 1990 after he had scored only eight markers during the entire 1989-90 season. He followed up his postseason hot streak by collecting a career-best 22 markers during the subsequent season, but the gains were short-lived. Druce failed to ever reach the 20-goal or 40-point plateau again in his NHL career.
John Leclair (1993)
– He may have recorded only 10 points in 20 games during the 1993 playoffs, but LeClair will forever be a hero in Montreal for scoring a pair of overtime goals in the Canadiens’ four-game sweep of the Wayne Gretzky
-lead Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Prior to that playoff run, Leclair’s career high in goals was 19, but his playoff heroics were a sign of things to come, the power forward developed into one of the most fearsome snipers of the 1990s, pairing with Eric Lindros
and Mikael Renberg
to form the Legion of Doom line for the Flyers. LeClair scored 40 or more goals in five consecutive seasons between 1995 and 2000 and topped the 90-point plateau three times during that span.
Cam Ward (2006)
– Before they hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug in the summer of 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes were carried by the 22-year-old rookie who earned himself a Conn Smythe Trophy for his stellar play in his first taste of postseason action at the NHL level. Since his initial coming-out party against the Flames, Ward has become one of the most reliable netminders in hockey, posting 30 wins in every season in which his health has permitted him to play at least 50 games. While the Hurricanes have suffered through a couple of difficult campaigns recently, Ward remains an exceptional goaltender who could find himself among the top choices to start for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
Ville Leino (2010)
– Two seasons ago, as the Flyers marched towards a Stanley Cup Finals matchup against the Blackhawks, one of their greatest contributors was an undrafted Finn, unknown by most casual hockey fans. The unheralded Ville Leino
had scored a total of 11 points in 55 contests split between Philadelphia and Detroit during the regular season, but the playmaking forward came out of nowhere to amass 21 points in 19 playoff contests. You probably know the rest of the story. Leino returned the following season and notched a career-high 53 points in Philadelphia, which he parlayed into a lucrative long-term deal with Buffalo last summer, only to record a disappointing 25 points in his first season with the Sabres. While he certainly appears capable of more than he showed last season, the 28-year-old forward isn’t thought of as a primary offensive contributor for the club and is unlikely to be given the ice time commensurate with one, making his playoff breakout seem like an outlier.
Brad Marchand (2011)
– It’s easy to forget now that Marchand has notched a 28-goal, 55 point season as a 23-year-old, but at this time last year he was in the midst of a postseason run that would see him record 11 goals and 19 points over the 25 game stretch that would culminate with a Stanley Cup victory over Vancouver. The book on Marchand is far from closed at this point, however it seems a safe bet to assert he’s no flash in the pan. In fact, he should be an integral piece of a Bruins team that appears poised to be among the league’s top clubs for the foreseeable future.
After reviewing the five cases above, I submit that the data is inconclusive re: whether an unforeseen playoff performance is predictive of future success, but looking at the issue practically, I think it would be prudent to expect some amount of improvement the following season.