With the Olympic break in February, most NHL teams played only a half dozen games or so during the month of February. But that was enough time for Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon to widen his lead in the Calder Trophy poll, being a unanimous selection as the leader in the monthly poll by the Hockey's Future staff.
While MacKinnon becomes the first rookie to repeat as leader in back-to-back months, February also saw the players in our second and third spots — Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and forward Tyler Johnson of Tampa Bay — begin to separate from the rest of the pack, creating a three-player race.
December's leader, New York Rangers' left wing Chris Kreider, was third on our list in January but slipped completely out of our top ten after a four-game scoreless drought, as did New Jersey defenseman Eric Gelinas.
Maatta (Finland), Girgensons (Latvia) and Dallas Stars' rookie Valeri Nichushkin (6th this month, Russia) competed for their respective national teams at the Olympics in Sochi. And, while their performances in those games were not a factor in our voting, all seemed to get a post-Olympic boost.
This month's top 10 actually includes 11 players due to a tie for the tenth spot between Girgensons and the Jets' Mark Scheifele. Also, for the second straight month, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg lead all teams with two representatives each.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, RW/C, Colorado Avalanche
Drafted 1st overall (1st Round) in 2013
While the grind of an NHL season sometimes begins to take a toll on a rookie in the second half, the 19-year-old had points in all seven games he played in February and came out of the Olympic Break with five points (all assists) in the Avalanche's first three games.
The first rookie to reach the 50-point mark, MacKinnon has scored 22 goals with 29 assists in his first 63 games and is +16. He has been especially effective on the Colorado power-play, scoring eight goals with seven assists on the man-advantage.
The Colorado continues to battle with Chicago and St. Louis for the top spot in the Central Division, and it is now apparent that the Avalanche's fast start was not an aberration.
MacKinnon scored three goals with seven assists in February, and was +6 while averaging 17:14 minutes of ice time.
2. Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Drafted 22nd overall (1st round) in 2012
Paired with veteran Kimmo Timonen on the top defensive pairing for bronze medal-winning Finland in Sochi, Maatta saw a lot of ice time and played a key role in his country's successful tournament.
Both in the Olympics and with the Penguins, the 19-year-old continues to display a high skill level with an understanding of positional play and a poise that belies his age and inexperience.
Once again averaging over 20 minutes of ice time for Pittsburgh, he has continued to chip in offensively for the Penguins, who continue to lead the Eastern Conference.
In five February games, Maatta scored two goals with three assists and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes while averaging 20:11 minutes of ice time.
3. Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Signed as a free agent in March, 2011
Johnson, the second-leading scorer among rookies, slips one spot due to the play of Maatta. The 23-year-old from Spokane, WA continues to lead all rookie forwards with more than 19 minutes of ice time a game and has been a key part in the resurgence of the Lightning.
While Tampa Bay has slumped lately, going 3-7 in its last ten games, the Lightning are still in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. With as many as six rookies in the lineup each night, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper has been comfortable using several of the players from the Norfolk squad that won the AHL's Calder Cup two years ago. No player has rewarded that confidence more than Johnson.
While Steven Stamkos has returned to action, the recent trade of leading scorer Martin St. Louis means that Johnson will continue to be relied upon to provide offense.
In five games in February, Johnson had two assists and was +1 while averaging over 21 minutes of ice time.
4. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted 208th overall (7th round) in 2011
Palat is another of those players who won a Calder Cup playing for the Norfolk Admirals in 2011-12. While Johnson is the leader in ice time for Tampa Bay, Palat continues to score key goals and provide offense from the wing.
He is second only to MacKinnon among rookies with 23 assists and leads all rookie forwards with a +21 rating.
Considered a long shot who was a scorer in junior hockey that would struggle among professionals when he was drafted late in the 2011 NHL Draft, Palat continues to be solid in all three zones while being opportunistic around the net.
Palat scored three goals with one assist and was +1 while averaging 20:11 minutes of ice time in five February games.
The leading scorer among rookie defensemen, Krug moves up four spots after seeing his role increased with the Bruins as of late.
While 18 of his 34 points have come on the Boston power-play (6 goals, 12 assists), the undersized but high energy former Michigan State Spartan has been seeing regular shifts at even strength and has proven capable of handling the increased load. In addition to his 12 goals and 22 assists in 62 games, Krug sports a +8 rating with 22 penalty minutes.
Paired with fellow rookie Kevan Miller who, like Krug, played college hockey and skated for the AHL's Providence Bruins last season, the 22-year-old Krug continues to exceed expectations and will have a key role if Boston is to match last year's playoff success.
In five January games, Krug scored one goal with four assists and was +1, averaging 17:24 minutes of ice time.
6. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dallas Stars
Drafted 10th overal (1st round) in 2013
The 19-year-old from Chelyabinsk was the youngest player for Russia's team in Sochi, scoring one goal in five games, and returns to the top 10 after slipping from the list last month.
A big player with skill who thrives playing on the off wing, he is the Stars' third-leading scorer behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. In 60 games, Nichushkin has scored 13 goals with 16 assists and is +17 with six penalty minutes.
Part of a youth movement for the Stars along with forwards like Seguin, fellow rookie Alex Chiasson and Cody Eakin, Nichushkin figures to be a key to both Dallas's playoff push this year and the future development of the franchise.
In five games in February, Nichushkin scored two goals with one assist and was +1, averaging 15:13 minutes of ice time.
Unlike Krug, who has put up numbers in a lower pairing role, Lindholm continues to play top minutes for the Ducks on their number one pairing.
While he isn't known for his individual skills nor offensive instincts (as is the case with, other rookie defensemen like Krug or Lindholm's Anaheim teammate, Sami Vatanen), Lindholm's strong all-around game has fit in well with the shutdown style his team plays.
Like Maatta, the 20-year-old from Sweden displays a maturity befitting a veteran defender on a team that is challenging for the President's Trophy representing the NHL's top regular season record. Lindholm leads all rookies with a +24 rating and has scored five goals with 17 assists in 60 games.
In five games in February, Lindholm had three assists and was +1, averaging 19:15 minutes of ice time.
Unlike the Ducks, Winnipeg is in a battle for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference with Trouba, like Lindholm, playing a key role for his team in his first season.
Skating for the University of Michigan as a freshman at this time a year ago, the 20-year-old continues to lead all rookie defensemen in ice time and is second to veteran Dustin Byfuglien in scoring among Jets defensemen. In 47 games, Trouba has seven goals with 16 assists and is +8 with 27 penalty minutes.
Possessing a rare mix of size, speed and skill, Trouba is equally adept at playing with a physical presence while at the same time contributing to the attack in the transition from defense to offense.
In five games in February, he had one assist and an even plus/minus, averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time.
8. (tie) Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota Wild
Drafted 161st overall (6th round) in 2009
Kuemper's hot start is even more impressive considering how far the 23-year-old has come in a year's time.
Sharing the goaltending duties with Matt Hackett for the AHL's Houston Aeros a year ago, Kuemper played briefly in the ECHL last season before making his NHL debut last February and then appearing in two NHL playoff games for the Wild due to injuries to Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Playing in Iowa to start the 2013-14 season, he was recalled in October, allowing three goals on seven shots and being pulled in the second period before being sent back to the minors. He had another rough appearance in November but since being recalled in January on an emergency basis due to medical issues with Harding and Backstrom, Kuemper has been on a roll.
Since a 2-1 overtime win against Los Angeles and then a shutout victory over Nashville five days later on January 12th, Kuemper has allowed three or more goals just four times in 15 appearances. For the season he is 11-3-2 with two shutouts and has a 2.19 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
In five games in February Kuemper was 4-0-1 with a a 1.55 goals-against and .942 save percentage.
10. (tie) Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2011
Highly-regarded while playing in the 2012 and 2013 World Junior Championships, Scheifele, like Trouba, possesses the rare combination of size, skill and speed with the desire and demeanor to compete all over the ice.
The 20-year-old from Kitchener is the fourth-leading scorer amongst rookie forwards with 13 goals and 21 assists in 63 games and is +9 with 14 penalty minutes.
Playing in Winnipeg he is not in the media spotlight of some of the other top Calder candidates but scouts and coaches are well aware of Scheifele's accomplishments this season.
Fifth amongst rookies in ice time behind Johnson, Palat, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, and MacKinnon, Scheifele's offensive accomplishments are even more impressive since he doesn't see as much power play time as some of the other top rookies.
Scheifele scored two goals and was an even plus/minus in five February games while averaging 18:42 minutes of ice time.
The 20-year-old from Latvia has taken a unique path to the NHL — jumping directly from the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints to the AHL last season and then making the Sabres out of camp this fall.
While the season has not gone as hoped in Buffalo, Girgensons has steadily made the adjustment to the NHL and has been rewarded with an expanded role by Sabres head coach Ted Nolan. Despite going from December 29th to January 28th (a span of 14 games) without registering a point, Girgensons continued to see regular ice time.
Like the other young players who competed in the Olympics, the experience skating for Latvia against some of the world's top players seemed to benefit Girgensons. In his second game back from Sochi he scored a goal with an assist in a 5-4 overtime win against the Bruins.
In seven games in February, Girgensons scored one goal with three assists and was +2, averaging 15:16 minutes of ice time.
Others receiving votes (in order of points): Tyler Toffoli, C, Los Angeles; Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto; Boone Jenner, C, Columbus; Ryan Murray, D, Columbus; Dan DeKeyser, D, Detroit; Nick Bjugstad, C, Florida; Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers; Michael Raffl, LW, Philadelphia.
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