The Olympic break was nice for most of the NHL’s rookies, but now it’s crunch time and the kids have to beware of the dreaded Wall. That’s when the grind of their first-ever 82 game season becomes a factor and while the Calder race appears to be all but sewn up right now, everyone is going to want to finish strong nonetheless.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
He just broke Wayne Gretzky’s record for consecutive games with a point by an 18-year-old (13), so yeah, things are going pretty good for Nate Dogg. Not only that, but his last one wasn’t a cheapy: he set up the game-winner in overtime versus Detroit. MacKinnon has a stranglehold on the rookie scoring title with 51 points in 63 games, putting him top-30 among all NHLers, too.
2. Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
One of the rare rookies who did not get the Olympic break off, Maatta was too busy helping Finland to a bronze medal. The big, two-way defenseman hasn’t missed a beat since coming back to Pittsburgh either, with four points in four games since his return from Sochi.
3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks
It will be interesting to see how Lindholm is affected by the deadline acquisition of Stephane Robidas, but for now he’s still playing on a top-four pairing with Francois Beauchemin and more than pulling his weight for those high-flying Ducks. His plus-24 still rules all rookies.
4. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
Johnson and rookie Ondrej Palat had been playing with Marty St-Louis during Steven Stamkos’ absence, but now everything is different in Tampa. The underdog center is still second in freshmen scoring with 39 points in 63 games and his three shorthanded tallies ranks second among all NHLers.
5. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
Already proving himself to be a rock-solid defenseman in many facets of the game, Trouba still plays more per night than any other rookie in the league, averaging 22:06 minutes an outing. He hits, blocks shots and puts up points.
6. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
It will be difficult for Johnson and Palat not to be hurt by vote-splitting when the actual voting comes down, but the Czech newbie is just as worthy as his linemate. Palat’s all-around game has produced 37 points and 108 points in 63 games, putting him among the rookie leaders in both categories.
7. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
“BoringSeanMonahan” may be a popular Twitter meme (and it is funny), but the talent and drive put forth by the teen himself is no joke. Monahan has two multi-point efforts in his past three games and is giving Calgary fans something to latch on to during a difficult campaign.
8. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
The B’s have struggled defensively since Dennis Seidenberg went down, but with reinforcements coming in before the deadline, there is hope to right the ship. Krug’s best play comes in the offensive zone and the smaller blueliner still leads all freshmen defensemen with 34 points through 62 games.
9. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
With two points in his past three games, Kreider is finding his groove again and that’s good news for the Rangers. The speedster is still the Blueshirts’ best regular when it comes to CORSI and he has shown himself to be a playoff producer in the past.
10. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks
Always fun to get a goalie on the list. Sure, Andersen is an extreme longshot since he’s still the backup to Jonas Hiller, but at least he doesn’t have to battle for that time with Viktor Fasth anymore. Andersen’s 15 wins lead all rookie netminders, while his 2.12 goals-against average and .929 save percentage are both superb.