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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Rookie's deliver

Hey everyone it is Christmas, a happy time of year so I've decided to make my last blog before Christmas a positive one. In this season of giving I am giving credit to the rookies around the NHL that have stepped up, and are continually helping their teams. To make my list of top 10 rookies so far, the rookies don't necessarily have to be scoring; many rookies have stepped up and answered the bell for ice-time, toughness and leadership. So brace yourself for a blog that will contain; no coaches, no concussions and no Sidney Crosby! Here we go!

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; 13 goals, 21 assists; 34 points
Let's start with a obvious rookie, who currently sits atop the list of candidates for the Calder Trophy; The Nuge, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This kid has been unbelievably good for the Oilers so far. Nugent-Hopkins is absolutely dominating and showing everyone that he not only deserved to be drafted 1st overall, but that he was ready to play in the show, right away! Let's look at what he has accomplished through 35 some odd games; He scored in his very first NHL game, recorded a hat trick in his 3rd game and on November 19, he became the first ever 18 year old to record 5 assists in a game. Not to mention he leads all rookies in goals, assists and points, is in the top 20 in points in the NHL and leads the Oilers in scoring! If Nugent-Hopkins can keep up this pace or even a pace similar to this, there is almost no question that he will be holding the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. But perhaps more remarkable, is the fact that Nugent-Hopkins can take a slumping Oilers team and put them back into position to be in the post-season for the first time in 5 years. Not to mention 2 of those 5 years were spent finishing at the bottom of the league. If the Oilers make the playoffs after finishing 30th in the last 2 seasons, it will be quite remarkable and may even be one for the record books. As of right now, I think i'ts safe to say, the Calder Trophy is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to lose.

2. Adam Henrique; 8 goals, 17 assists; 25 points
Well to be fair and impartial in my list of top 10 rookies, I did some research on the rookies that are playing well right now, and I'm glad I did. I'd never even heard of this guy! Considering he is second to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for rookie point totals and has so far been left off all "experts" charts for Calder Trophy considerations, I decided to do some research and see where Henrique came from. Henrique was drafted by the Devils 82nd overall in the 2008 draft but hadn't dressed for a game until early April last season. Despite the fact most have never heard of him, he has actually had quite a successful OHL career; He won two Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010, won the Wayne Gretzky award for OHL playoff MVP and was part of the 2010 Canadian World Junior Team that won silver. You'd think a kid who won 2 Memorial Cups and was a member of the world junior squad, would be someone I'd have known was coming. Henrique came within 1 game of snapping the Devils record for longest rookie point streak, having his streak ended at 7 games. Henrique really started to turn heads at the start of November when he began a point-per-game streak. Not only can he score, he can also handle some pretty extensive ice time, averaging over 20 minutes a night, he was runner up to Nugent-Hopkins for November's rookie of the month he had 5 goals 9 assists, while Nugent-Hopkins had 6 goals 10 assists. Flip I'm still trying to figure out how I missed this kid? In all likely-hood Henrique will finish runner-up at best to Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder Trophy.

3. Craig Smith; 8 goals, 16 assists; 24 points
Smith is currently sitting 3rd in the rookie points race, 1 point behind the mysterious Henrique. The 22 year old Smith was taken in the 4th round in the 2009 draft. Now most of us probably know Craig Smith for his inability to shoot a puck into a wide open net, yes on November 17 against the Leafs, Smith was the guy who sent the puck flying over top of the wide open net. Luckily for Smith his rookie season is going better than his open net aim! He currently leads the Predators in points, and is having quite a nice rookie season. He might not have all the flash and flair of a Nugent-Hopkins, but he is certainly in the mix for top rookie.

4. Luke Adam; 10 goals, 10 assists; 20 points
Did you really think I wasn't going to have a Sabres rookie on this list? What can I say about Luke Adam, I absolutely love this kid, and he's producing and giving it his all night in and night out. He is tied for top 4 in the rookie point totals, but he does it on less ice time than the rest of the high scoring rookies. Adam is averaging right around 13 minutes of ice time a night, some games he didn't even reach 13 minutes, but yet is still producing at a top level rate for a rookie. Plus Adam started the season on the top line playing between Vanek and Pominville, not to mention he fit in quite well and did not look out of place. I'm really starting to like Luke Adam, he is going to turn out to be a very good player for the Sabres in the future, the 22 year old from Newfoundland was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2008 draft. Through all the injuries the Sabres have and are enduring, Adam has not only stayed healthy, but is having an impact on the score sheet, forcing the Sabres to keep him in the show. Needless to say I think Adam has turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Sabres, the kid battled hard through training camp and pre-season to prove he belongs, and hasn't let up. It's only a matter of time before he start gaining more trust from his coaches and his ice time rises. In Fact, my editor donmanski, said prior to the season, that Adam would be the number 1 new addition on the Sabres roster. So far he's right!

5. Jake Gardiner; 0 goals, 8 assists; 8 points
This is the type of guy I was referring to when talking about, not necessarily scoring, but still contributing in other ways.When Leafs training camp opened up, I knew the Leafs had something special in this kid and there was no way he was going back to the Marlies. Despite not putting the puck in a ton of points, he is 2nd in points amongst rookie defenseman. The Leafs are extremely lucky to have Gardiner, he was the Ducks 1st round pick in 2008, and came to Leafs in a trade that only Brian Burke could have made. Leafs acquired Gardiner for Francois Beauchemin. He has been a big part of the Leafs success this season, he is poised for a rookie defenseman, and is paired with veteran defensman Luke Schenn. This paring see's Gardiner getting roughly 21 minutes of ice time a night. In a sense Gardiner has "skated" his way into head coach Ron Wilson's good books, he is highly praised for his fluent skating style and his knack for skating himself out of trouble. Wilson, says it's almost like he never gets tired. Gardiner has made quite an impact with this young Leafs squad, considering he was supposed to start and perhaps finish the season in the Marlies. But so far this season Gardiner has looked anything but a rookie, and has earned high praise from coaches and teammates. Like all young defenseman he still has some rough patches ahead of him this season, but in the end could be a dark horse to win the Calder Trophy.

6. Cody Hodgson; 6 goals, 10 assists; 16 points

Heck I knew Hodgson was having a pretty decent season over in Vancouver, but when I re-looked at his stats, I realized he is have a very amazing season. I expected big things from Hodgson coming into this season, seeing him play junior hockey and play for team Canada, we all knew what he was capable of, and that he hadn't been given an opportunity to showcase his talent. When injuries puzzled the Canucks to begin the year, Hodgson was given every opportunity to excel, and excel he has. The 21 year old finally cracked the Canucks roster out of training camp after being drafted 3.5 years ago. Despite some obvious tension between Hodgson and head coach Vigneault, Hodgson has been producing and showing toughness throughout his minimal 4th line role. Like Adam, Hodgson receives minimal playing time, as he is averaging 12 minutes a game. But it is what Hodgson is doing with his time on the ice; he is producing and making a difference, which is why he finds himself on my list for top rookies. He is having in his own way a break out year, despite not putting up the points of a Nugent-Hopkins, Hodgson finds himself on pace for a 40 point season, not bad for a 3rd or 4th liner who averages minimal ice time. Do I think Hodgson can win the Calder? No, but he is still amongst the top rookies so far this season.

7. Matt Read; 11 goals, 9 assists; 20 Points
The only reason I put Matt Read so low, is because of his age, he is 25 not the normal age for a rookie, he has already had time to mature and go through a lot of trials, so he has more of a reason to be playing well, in a sense. Read was signed by the Flyers as an undrafted free agent out of college. Unlike most, Read decided to finish school, before joining the NHL, so he would have something to fall back on in case this hockey thing didn't work out. Well right now it is working out, he is tied for 4th in the rookie point race, and is quarterbacking the Flyers number 1 power play. He is helping fill a big role now that the Flyers are without Chris Pronger on the power play and penalty kill. He's played well and is among the top scorers for the Flyers despite his age and my baises he maybe deserves to be a hair higher on the list.

9. Gabriel Landeskog; 6 goals, 9 assists; 15points
Despite being the 2nd overall pick behind Nugent-Hopkins, and cracking the roster right away, I haven't been all that impressed with Landeskog. It's going to be a hard few years for him, being constantly compared to the kid who got drafted before him, but it's something he is going to have to get past. 6 points from the 2nd overall pick in 34 games, leaves me wanting more, good news is he is only going to get better, he plays all situations and sticks up for his teammates, he needs more practice at scoring goals, but other than that, he's having a decent rookie season. He's averaging roughly 8 more minutes a game than Luke Adam, shouldn't he have more goals and points? He's going to turn out to be an amazing hockey player, but needs time to develop, he is one rookie, I wouldn't have minded seeing sent down.

10. Jhonas Enroth; 2.54 GAA, .918 Save percentage and 8 wins.
The only goalie on this list, and of course a Buffalo Sabre. He leads all rookie goaltending categories with the stats listed above and played well in absence of Miller. Shoot he was even playing better than Miller when Miller got injured. He started a tiny goalie controversy early in the season, but has since fallen into place since Miller has started playing well again. Bottom line he is the top rookie goalie in the league right now. It's rare that a goalie is up for a Calder Trophy and he will not win, but his numbers earn him a spot on this list right now.

Honourable mention; Players that just didn't crack my top 10;
Adam Larsson; 2 goals, 11 assists; 13 points
Marc-Andre Gragnani; 1 goal, 8 assists; 9 points
Colin Greening: 8 goals, 8 assists; 16 points
Jared Cowen: 4 goals, 6 assists; 10 points
Zach Kassian; 3 goals 3 assists; 6 points

There you have it folks my top 10 choices for the rookie of the year award (Calder Trophy). I think the trophy is Nugent-Hopkins' to lose, as the first overall pick is cleaning house and putting up record breaking points. I think if Nugent-Hopkins wasn't around Luke Adam would have a very good chance to hold that trophy. Congrats to all the rookies who have managed to stay with their teams through 34 games this season.

Remember to vote in my poll on the right, today is the last day to do so. Merry Christmas to all have a fun and safe holidays with family and friends! See you sometime after Christmas!

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