Our current Calder Poll includes an impressive mix of the NHL’s top rookies through Dec. 13. If the NHL Awards gala were scheduled today, the Chicago Blackhawks tandem of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews would be joined as nominees by Tobias Entsrom of the Atlanta Thrashers, according to a vote of HF staff.
Among our top 10, seven players are from the Western Conference. There are five Canadians, three United States-born players and two Swedes. Three Edmonton Oilers make our list along with the two Blackhawks. Seven players are forwards, two are blueliners and there is one goaltender.
Kane, who checks in at 5’10 and 163 pounds, suggested on draft day in June that his immediate goal was to earn a spot on the Hawks opening day roster. To date, he has delivered on that promise and has exceeded expectations while confirming the Hawks tremendous depth among young prospects.
Currently the only freshman in the league averaging one point per game, Kane has collected seven goals and 23 assists in 30 starts. The Buffalo, New York native plays over 18 minutes per game, has three power play goals and leads all rookies with 81 shots on goal. A Calder Trophy would sit nicely on Kane’s mantle, alongside the OHL Rookie of the Year award he won last season.
2. Jonathan Toews
(1st Round, 2006)
Toews missed the Hawks first two games with a broken finger, then proceeded to score a point in his first ten games in the NHL. In his debut against San Jose, he scored his first NHL goal on his first shot.
The 6’2, 203 pounder is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. With 12 goals and 12 assists in 28 games so far, Toews leads all rookies in goal scoring. He is one of four rookies with two game-winning goals. Toews plays just under 19 minutes per game and plays in all situations for Chicago.
Enstrom has suited up for all 30 games this season and leads rookie defensemen in scoring. The native of Nordingra, Sweden celebrated his 23rd birthday in November.
With three goals and 14 assists, Enstrom is also the highest scoring defenseman in the Thrashers lineup. The silky smooth skater leads the club and all NHL rookies with an average of 23:43 of ice time per game, which includes a 27:33 effort against Montreal in October. At 5’10, 175 pounds, the diminutive Enstrom is leading through example in Atlanta.
Cogliano’s inspired play has breathed some life into a somewhat anemic lineup, bringing excitement to an Oilers team desperate for a return to the playoffs. In need of consistent offensive production, the organization is finally giving its high-end prospects an opportunity to learn on the job.
The 5’10, 184-pound native of Toronto enjoyed two productive seasons in the NCAA at the University of Michigan before securing a roster spot this year in Edmonton. Through 33 games, Cogliano has scored six goals and added 10 assists. He leads all rookies with two shorthanded goals and plays an average of 13:39 per game.
5. Peter Mueller
(1st Round, 2007)
Mueller has distinguished himself as a capable triggerman in his first NHL season. Like many rookies, it remains to be seen if he can maintain consistent production, especially with a club starving for offensive prowess. Chances are that Mueller, from Bloomington, Minnesota, will celebrate his 20th birthday next April after the Coyotes have hung up the blades without playing a post-season game.
However, the 6’2, 205-pounder has a good opportunity to develop his all around game in Phoenix where the organization is allowing a solid rookie crop to develop quickly. Along with fellow freshmen Martin Hanzal and Dan Carcillo, the Coyotes long-term future looks brighter than it has in some time. Mueller has scored eight goals and eight assists in 28 games while playing just below 15 minutes per game.
Price has quickly become a reliable NHL goaltender. The 6’3, 226-pounder from Anahim Lake, British Columbia covers the net well while maintaining technically sound movement and balance.
In 15 games this season, he has posted a record of eight wins and five losses. His 2.81 goals against average is second in the NHL among rookie netminders (behind Mike Smith of Dallas) who have appeared in at least seven games. He also sports a .913 save percentage. Montreal is certainly getting full value to date from Price, who was the club’s first round pick (5th overall) at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Backstrom has enjoyed a solid start in the NHL, perhaps due in part to his previous professional experience in the Swedish Elite League. The 6′, 203-pound native of Gavle, Sweden celebrated his 20th birthday in late November.
Through 32 games, Backstrom has collected five goals and 16 assists, including a pair of game-winning goals. He plays 17 minutes per game and currently sits in third place in team scoring on a Washington Capitals club that must squeeze every possible point out of its prized rookie.
Another of the Oilers youth brigade, Gagne has impressed the powers that be with his on-ice vision and anticipation. The Oakville, Ontario native has added some jump to the Oilers roster and brings enthusiasm to the rink every night.
With three goals and 13 assists through 32 games, his numbers are valuable on a team that has struggled to put pucks in the net. Gagne has also become a valuable contributor in shootouts for the Oilers, who are 9-1 in the post-game one-on-ones this season. Along with Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert, Edmonton Oilers fans have reason to be excited about the club’s future.
9. Tom Gilbert
(4th Round, 2002 by COL)
Gilbert was obtained on March 8, 2004 by the Oilers in the trade that saw goaltender Tommy Salo moved to the Avalanche. At 23 years of age, he is mature in years among the group of Oilers rookies.
Pressed into action due to significant injuries to veterans on the Oilers blueline, Gilbert has become a consistent force on an inexperienced group of defensemen. His five goals and five assists in 33 games has been important offense for the team and his plus-5 ranking is testimony to his solid work while playing over 21 minutes per game.
Setoguchi got a late start this season but the native of Taber, Alberta was quick to make up for it with his penchant for scoring big goals. He tallied the tying and game-winning goals in his first game, a 4-3 victory over the Stars in Dallas.
Through 19 games, the 6′, 205-pound Setoguchi has scored seven goals and added two assists. He plays over 15 minutes each night out and has compiled a plus-9 ranking so far. He has been blessed to date by playing alongside Joe Thornton.