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Auston Matthews got a taste of playoff hockey last season. Patrik Laine has
been waiting two years for this.

The third pick in the 2016 draft? Well Authentic
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, Pierre-Luc Dubois is taking a surprising
star turn in the spotlight of the NHL playoffs, too.

Matthews, Laine, Dubois and 2017 top picks Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick
look unfazed as they handle significant responsibilities in the postseason. For
the first time since 1991, four teenagers have scored a goal in the first round
of the playoffs, and all five budding superstars are in top-six forward roles,
combining for five goals and six assists.

”These guys are young guys,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said after Matthews’
Game 3 winner against Boston was the 20-year-old center’s first point of the
series.

”They’re playing against real players and they’re young guys. You’ve got to
go through some of these slappings in your life to kind of respond and learn how
to respond and do things right.”

They’ve been doing a lot of things right all season. Matthews’ 34 goals led
the Maple Leafs; Laine’s 43 for Winnipeg were second in the NHL; Hischier’s 48
points were second on the Devils; and Patrick’s 30 and gradual improvement
earned him a promotion to the Flyers‘ second-line center spot.

Dubois was a bit of a surprise pick by Columbus behind Matthews and Laine at
the 2016 draft Cheap
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, and he didn’t break into the NHL right
away. Dubois wasn’t expected to mature this quickly and doesn’t get the kind of
attention as last season’s top finishers for rookie of the year, but he’s used
to that by now.

”I’ve always been the guy kind of under the radar,” said Dubois, whose 48
points were third on the Blue Jackets. ”All my life it’s been pretty much like
that. I don’t really look to impress other people. I just want to play well.
I’ve never been the guy that everybody talked about, so it never really fazed
me.”

Dubois most impressively has earned the trust of old-school coach John
Tortorella enough to be the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 center at age 19. Tortorella
uses Dubois as an example to show older players how to handle situations, an
ultimate sign of respect from a Stanley Cup-winning coach who doesn’t hesitate
to put him on the ice against opposing stars.

”He accepted it, he excelled,” Tortorella said. ”He has a mental toughness
for a 19-year-old kid Andrew
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, to accept that type of responsibility and want
more. It’s a different guy. You’ve got to be careful with young kids, but he has
showed me tremendous progress and instant mental toughness as I’ve gotten to
know him as the season’s gone on.”

Laine isn’t tracking the stats of the other players in his draft class, but
he knows how they are doing. Similarly, Dubois enjoys watching Matthews and
Laine while trying not to compare himself to them.

”They’re obviously really great players,” said Dubois, who picked up two
assists in his first playoff game and scored a goal in his third. ”I know my
game and people that know my game know that we’re all different players. There’s
the offensive side of it, there’s the defensive side, there’s everything.
Everything’s different about our games.”

Production ties them together with Hischier and Patrick Keon
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, who also don’t look out of place at all in their
first playoffs at 19.

New Jersey coach John Hynes said Hischier has been one of the Devils’ best
players, which is the continuation of a season of learning for the first Swiss
No. 1 pick.

”I’ve seen every city, every rink and just for me it was a lot of experience
this year, and guys helped me a lot,” said Hischier, who scored in Game 2
against Tampa Bay and played more than 17 minutes in the Devils’ Game 3 win.
”Just all around I think I grew as a person and as a hockey player.”

Patrick wasn’t putting up a lot of points in the first half of the season but
still felt he was playing well. Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol felt good enough
about Patrick’s game that he promoted him and has reaped the benefits for the
past couple of months and in the first round against Pittsburgh.

”It’s nice for your confidence,” Patrick said. ”I think I kind of progressed
through the year and kept getting better with every role they put me in.”

Big roles aren’t a problem for Matthews and Laine, who are key drivers of
play for the Leafs and Jets. Toronto finally got going against the Bruins in
large part because of Matthews Authentic
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, who said he felt an earthquake in his feet
when he scored in Game 3 and let out a scream to match.

After Laine scored the tying goal in Game 1 against Minnesota in what became
the Jets franchise’s first playoff victory, he motioned to fans for cheers
before jumping into the glass. The Finnish winger is used to scoring goals – and
a lot of them – but in the playoffs it’s even more special.

”It was maybe a little bit nicer,” Laine said. ”I was saving my goals and
celebrations for the playoffs. Now I can celly (celebrate) a little bit
harder.”

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed.

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