Nicklas Backstrom has turned up his play as of late, launching himself into contention for the Calder Trophy.
Here's a team-by-team look at NHL rookies who are making some noise this season:
There isn’t a Calder candidate in Anaheim; left winger Drew Miller was leading the Ducks rookies with two goals and five points in 26 NHL games played through Jan. 28. Bobby Ryan, the second overall pick behind Sidney Crosby in 2005, made his big-league debut this season and had three goals and five points in 13 games.
The Thrashers feature one of the most surprising rookies of 2007-08 in Swedish defenseman Tobias Enstrom. He’s among the freshmen leaders in assists and ice time, and may make it onto the Calder ballot.
Left winger Milan Lucic, a hulking 19-year-old, provides much-needed energy and spark; he’s been compared to a young Terry O’Reilly in Beantown.
Like last season, injuries in Buffalo have afforded left winger Clarke MacArthur the chance to show off his skills. A bit undersized, but MacArthur had five goals and nine points in 21 games.
Not a lot of rookies are making a splash on coach Mike Keenan’s team, and that’s no surprise. Center Dustin Boyd is the type of flashy, offensive – and, at 21, young – player who, in the old days, would periodically end up in Keenan’s doghouse for pooh-poohing the defensive side of the game. He had four goals and seven points in limited ice time in 26 games.
Three Hurricanes rookies have combined to play 15 NHL games this season, contributing one goal and four assists.
The Hawks lead the way in terms of quantity and quality when it comes to NHL freshmen. Chicago has had 13 rookies play at least one game this season, led by dazzling forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With Toews out until early March with a knee injury, Kane takes over as the favorite to take home the Calder.
Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey has seen the most action among Avs rookies, usually playing on the third pairing, in 31 games.
Defenseman Kris Russell has the pedigree and upside, and Curtis Glencross plays a tenacious style and can chip in on offense. But game in and game out the most effective rookie in Columbus has been rugged right winger Jared Boll. He’s only getting 7-8 minutes of ice time per game, but with five goals and 157 penalty minutes, he’s making the most of his opportunity.
Mobile defenseman Matt Niskanen, the Stars’ first pick (28th overall) in 2005, has appeared in every game this season and has five goals and 19 points while playing nearly 20 minutes a night.
Defenseman Derek Meech is Detroit’s lone rookie, sneaking into 10 games on the Wings’ blueline.
The Oilers are struggling to score again this season, but forwards Andrew Cogliano, 20, and Sam Gagner, 18, are learning on the fly, and both have top-line potential. Defenseman Tom Gilbert also has made a big impact, with eight goals and 18 points while eating up more than 22 minutes of ice time per game.
Center Kamil Kreps is the most accomplished rookie with Florida this season, but that’s not saying too much. The most exciting Panthers prospect is Canadian world junior hero Shawn Matthias – obtained from Detroit in the Todd Bertuzzi trade last spring – who scored two goals in his January NHL debut.
The rookie watch in Los Angeles this season is all about defenseman Jack Johnson, who’s learning at the feet of Rob Blake. He’s not going to win the Calder, but the Kings will be happy if he keeps making progress.
Center James Sheppard surprised by making Minnesota’s lineup out of training camp as a 19-year-old; he was even getting some time on the top line between Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. He’s not ready for that role yet, but the Wild like his energy and maturity. Also, goalie Josh Harding is still rookie-eligible, and has pushed incumbent Niklas Backstrom for starting time.
A trio of forwards – Kyle Chipchura, Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski – and defenseman Ryan O’Byrne all impressed in stints of varying lengths. But all eyes were on goalie Carey Price, who made the team out of camp and was impressive in several starts before some inconsistencies surfaced. He was sent to the AHL to get more playing time; the future in goal in Montreal seems secure.
Defenseman Ville Koistinen, 25, is plus-11 in 35 games with the Preds.
GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Brent Sutter better be taking good care of the Devils’ scouts. With salary cap issues – that prevented a foray into the UFA pool – and gaping holes in the roster, what does New Jersey do? Turn to the NCAA for help. Rookie forwards David Clarkson and Rod Pelley, and D-man Andy Greene are depth players to be sure, but each has played nearly 50 games and made an impact in a Devils-esque way – killing penalties, shutting down opponents, a timely goal, dropping the gloves, etc.
Right winger Blake Comeau, the 47th pick in 2004, had three goals in 19 games.
There hasn’t been much said about defenseman Marc Staal this season, but the Rangers are happy with his two-way play. Staal has focused on his defensive responsibilities; look for a little more offense – and maybe a few more big hits – in a season or two. Center Brandon Dubinsky was promoted to a line with Jaromir Jagr for nearly a month and acquitted himself well.
The Sens, like the Red Wings, are a veteran team that’s tough to crack. Winger Nick Foligno bulled his way into 31 games, though, and chipped in five goals.
The rookie to watch in Philadelphia is a guy who’s used to being under the microscope; if sometimes for the wrong reasons. Right winger Steve Downie wasted little time getting into a Broad Street Bullies frame of mind, earning a 20-game suspension for a pre-season hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond and inciting several skirmishes upon his arrival to the NHL in December. He’s also found the time to contribute three goals, eight points and 40 penalty minutes in 13 games (at under 10 minutes of ice time per game).
The Coyotes are banking on Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal, and the big first-year forwards are showing promise. They won’t be nominated for the Calder, but they might be driving Phoenix’s offense sooner rather than later. Grinding winger Daniel Winnik and scrappy Daniel Carcillo also make nightly contributions (Carcillo is hurt right now) and defenseman Keith Yandle has three goals and six points in 16 games.
Defenseman Kris Letang is a future power play quarterback and winger Tyler Kennedy plays a gritty, all-around game.
Erik Johnson is the prized defenseman and the future on the blueline, but injuries have limited him to 35 games. Another D-man, Steve Wagner, impressed with his mobility and has played 23 games, while David Perron has nine goals and 18 points in 35 games.
Winger Torrey Mitchell made the team in training camp and is a regular on the fourth line. He earned some notoriety with some timely scoring in the first quarter of the season, but has cooled off. Devin Setoguchi has been up and down, but the 2005 first-rounder (eighth overall) looks like a keeper.
Mike Lundin is one of the more anonymous players in the league, but he’s gotten into 50 games on Tampa’s blueline. That might be more of a comment on the state of the Bolts’ defense corps, but Lundin is plus-3 – and has only five assists – so he’s not on the ice for too many goals against.
Winger Jiri Tlusty gets less than six or seven minutes on many nights; Anton Stralman has looked promising in 22 games on the blueline.
Alex Edler appears ready for full-time duty: Good news for the Canucks’ defense. If Mason Raymond can stick around and score a bit, the news would be even better.
He started slowly, but Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has moved into second place in rookie scoring and will challenge Patrick Kane for the Calder. In mid-January, he became the first-ever rookie to post back-to-back four-assist games.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his column, From The Point, every second Friday.
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