PITTSBURGH -- This can be an intimidating time of year for a young NHL star playing in his first postseason. The impressive class of American rookie standouts making their playoff debuts -- the Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews, the Columbus Blue Jackets' Zach Werenski, the Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk and the Boston Bruins' Charlie McAvoy -- have found a way to make it a little more fun: constant contact with each other.
Werenski and Matthews spent hours playing video games online together a few days before the playoffs began, and the two potential Calder finalists chatted about what was ahead.
"I play Xbox with Matthews a lot," Werenski said. "We were playing a couple hours together, talking about the series and stuff like that."
And no, Matthews hasn't gotten any better at "Call of Duty," even after being teased by Toronto teammates earlier this season about his lack of skills in that game.
"It's brutal," Werenski said. "He's bad."
One of the topics of discussion was Bruins rookie defenseman McAvoy, who played a full season of college hockey and is now an important part of the Bruins' defense in their series against the Ottawa Senators. "He played 24 minutes, which is insane," Werenski said.
After finishing his college career and before McAvoy made his AHL debut, Werenski texted advice as to what the 19-year-old should expect at that level. But then, when they were texting before the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Werenski had no more advice to give.
"He was like, 'I'm a little nervous.' I was like, 'Man, so am I. I've never done this before either,'" Werenski said.
On Thursday night, Werenski watched Matthews and the Maple Leafs take on the favored Washington Capitals and loved how Toronto's young forwards played. He also watched his good friend Tkachuk later that night make his postseason debut with the Flames.
Tkachuk and Werenski talk often, and Werenski has been amused as Tkachuk has quickly built a reputation as a player who isn't afraid to cross the line with his physicality.
"He's a pain, but he's a good guy," Werenski said. "You hear what other people say about him -- if you know the kid, he's a great kid, the nicest kid. He's out there doing his job."
These guys are all part of an impressive group of American players born in 1997 who got to know each other well on a U.S. national development team roster that also included the Senators' Colin White, Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway and the Carolina Hurricanes' Noah Hanifin.
On the ice, these guys play as if they've been in the NHL for years. Off it, there are constant reminders that they're still unable to buy a beer in the U.S. They bring an energy to their playoff series that only 19- and 20-year-olds old can bring.
They've also jumped right in and played with confidence.
"I don't know if [the] playoffs for us young guys are too stressful," Werenski said. "It's more fun. I had a blast in Game 1. Obviously, the intensity picks up, but I don't feel any stress behind it. It's just hockey. I've always dreamed of this moment."