Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon had a huge second half of the season to pull away from the field in the Calder Trophy race. His performance in the 2014 NHL playoffs was simply the cherry on top of a great rookie season.
In our final tally of the 2013-14 season, MacKinnon was a unanimous selection as the top rookie in the Hockey's Future Calder Poll.
With the season complete, the exciting Tampa Bay's forward duo of Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson finished second and third in our poll. Pittsburgh's Olli Maatta, in the fourth spot, was the first of four defensemen on our list.
Anaheim goalie Frederick Andersen, the Ducks' starter in their first round playoff series with Dallas, is the only goalie in our final group as he sits tenth in the rankings.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, RW/C, Colorado Avalanche
Drafted in the First Round (1st overall) in 2013
MacKinnon steadily assumed more responsibility for the Avalanche and was skating on Colorado's top line with Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog during the Avalache's seven-game, opening round loss to the Minnesota Wild. With leading scorer Matt Duchene still out with a knee injury suffered at the end of March, the two younger players combined with the veteran Stastny to be dominant at times for Colorado.
Skating in all 82 games for the Avalanche, MacKinnon tied Tyler Johnson for the lead in goals (24) and led all first-year players with 39 assists. He finished the season +20 with 26 penalty minutes. He was especially dangerous on the Colorado power play, finishing with eight goals – most amongst rookies – and nine assists.
The first player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon was expected to make an impact. It is likely neither the Avalanche nor their fans could have expected the successful season both he and the team had this past year. The Avalanche finished first in the Central Division and won 52 games in regulation, the most since Colorado's Stanley Cup-winning season of 2000-01.
2. Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Signed as a free agent in March, 2011
Tampa Bay, like Colorado, had a surprising season before being swept by Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Johnson, who was a big scorer in the Western Hockey League but was never drafted, played a big role in that success and jumps two spots from four to two in the final poll.
Despite a lack of height, Johnson is extremely strong on his skates, with his speed and hockey knowledge posing problems for opponents. The third-leading scorer amongst rookies behind MacKinnon and Lightning teammate Ondrej Palat, Johnson scored 24 goals with 26 assists in 82 games and was +23 with 26 penalty minutes. Johnson led all rookie forwards in ice time, averaging 18:47 minutes per game (Florida's Vincent Trochek averaged 18:53 in 20 games after being called up from San Antonio, but he'll be eligible for the Calder next season).
While the playoff loss to Montreal was disappointing – Tampa Bay finished second in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of the Canadiens – the abundance of young players making their mark with the Lightning points to a bright future.
The 101-point season was just the third time in Tampa Bay's franchise history that the club topped the 100-point mark and represented a huge turnaround from the disastrous 2012-13 season that cost head coach Guy Boucher his job.
3. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted in the Seventh Round (208th overall) in 2011
If Johnson's success was a surprise, the breakout season by Palat would have seemed even more unlikely at the start of the year. While both appeared briefly with the Lightning at the end of last season after coach Jon Cooper took over, Johnson was seeing key minutes and had six points in 14 games while Palat scored 2 goals with 2 assists in 14 games.
No rookie had a better plus/minus (+32) this season than Palat, with the 23-year-old Czech left wing being second only to MacKinnon in assists (36) and points (59) among rookies. Palat was the Lightning's fourth-leading goal scorer with 23 goals in 81 games.
With former high profile picks Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov getting their first taste of NHL action this year, and dominant QMJHL scorer Jonathan Drouin, the third player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, seemingly on the way, the Lightning could very well be next season's version of the Avalanche.
4. Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Drafted in the First Round (22nd overall) in 2012
The Finnish-born Penguins defenseman slips one spot in our final ranking but is the top blueliner in our group. While the 19-year-old's success at the NHL level prevented him from skating for Finland's gold medal-winning junior team at the 2014 World Junior Championship, Maatta looks like he will be a fixture in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.
Maatta has displayed a poise and sense for the game seldom seen in a player his age. He played some of his best hockey in late December and January when — due to injuries to some of the veteran Penguins defensemen — he averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game. The former London Knight played in 78 of 82 games for the Penguins, averaging 18:29 minutes of ice time. He scored nine goals with 20 assists and was +8 with 14 penalty minutes.
With players like Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson among the young defense already in pro hockey with Penguins' affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and working their way up the ranks, it was a bit surprising when the teenager from Jyvaskyla made the early season lineup in Pittsburgh. Maatta proved he was up to the task.
Maatta spent much of the season skating with veteran Matt Niskanen and also saw time on the Penguins' second power play unit. Pittsburgh had the Eastern Conference's second best record and finished first in the Metropolitan Division.
A spark plug for Boston during the Bruins run to the Stanley Cup finals last season after being called up late in the season, the 23-year-old former Michigan State Spartan led all rookie defensemen in goals (14) and assists (26) in his first full NHL season.
One of a trio of young defensemen to flourish on the Eastern Conference's top team along with fellow rookie Kevan Miller and 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, Krug proved to be more than just an offensive defenseman and power play specialist.
The puck-moving defender was a force on the man-advantage, scoring six of his 14 goals and recording 13 assists on the Bruins' power play. For the season he was +18 with 28 penalty minutes and averaged 17:30 minutes of ice time per game.
Boston finished first in the Atlantic Division, capturing the President's Trophy for the league's top record, and is currently in the midst of another deep playoff run.
Trouba is one of two players on our list whose team did not make the playoffs (Calgary forward Sean Monahan is the other one) but it's hard to imagine where the Jets would have been without him.
Making the jump directly from college hockey to the NHL as a 19-year-old after one season at the University of Michigan, he led all rookie defensemen in ice time per game, averaging over 22 minutes. Trouba suffered an early season neck injury after crashing head first into the boards and missed 17 games, but returned at the end of November and was a fixture on the Jets' blueline the rest of the season.
In 65 games, Trouba scored 10 goals with 19 assists and was +4 with 43 penalty minutes.
Playing in arguably the NHL's toughest division (Central) after being an Eastern Conference team since entering the league as the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-00, the Jets had a nearly identical record to their final full season in the Southeast Division two years ago, finishing seven points behind the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot. Trouba and fellow rookie Mark Scheifele are a key part of Winnipeg's plans moving forward.
7. Sean Monahan, C, Calgary Flames
Drafted in the First Round (6th overall) in 2013
Playing in western Canada for a team that did not make the playoffs, as did Trouba, Monahan may not have gotten as much attention as his play merited. It can be argued that of the players taken in the 2013 NHL Draft not named MacKinnon, he had as big of an impact on his team as anyone.
Coming out of the OHL after skating for the last-place Ottawa 67's, Monahan began his NHL career with a flourish, scoring six goals in his first eight games. His offensive production slowed as the season went on but the 19-year-old skated in a full-time role for the Flames all season and is one of the key players as Calgary plans to build it's team for the future.
In 75 games, Monahan scored 22 goals with 12 assists and was -20 with eight penalty minutes, averaging just under 16 minutes of ice time per game.
The Flames finished sixth in the seven-team Pacific Division and were out of contention for a playoff spot most of the season. Calgary did, however, play some of its best hockey at the end of the year, going 7-3 in one ten-game stretch.
Perhaps overshadowed by the overall success of the Ducks as a team this season, no rookie has made as seamless an adjustment to the NHL as Lindholm.
Starting the season with Anaheim as a 19-year-old after playing 44 AHL games with Norfolk in 2012-13, the young defenseman from Sweden fit right in skating alongside veteran Francois Beauchemin for much of the season.
The second-leading scorer among Ducks defensemen behind 22-year-old Cam Fowler, Lindholm scored six goals with 24 assists in 78 games, averaging 19:25 minutes of ice time per game. His 30 points were second only to Boston's Torey Krug (40) and his +29 plus/minus was the top mark among rookie defensemen.
The Ducks picked up where they left off in last year's strike-shortened regular season. In the second full season under coach Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim had a franchise-record 116 points during the regular season and finished first in the Pacific Division.
Kreider proved to be the player many Rangers fans were expecting him to be when he went right from winning a national championship in his junior season at Boston College to skating for the Rangers in the 2012 NHL playoffs.
The 22-year-old flourished skating on a line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan and was also a key contributor on the Rangers' power play before suffering a hand injury in March that required surgery and had him out of the lineup through the first round of the NHL playoffs and most of the second round.
The big season for the Boxford, Massachusetts native was a bounce back after he appeared in just 23 games for the Rangers and spent most of the season in the AHL with Connecticut in 2012-13. In 66 games this season, Kreider scored six of his 17 goals on the Rangers power play and was +14 with 20 assists and 72 penalty minutes before suffering his injury.
Expected to play a more wide open style under first-year coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division due largely to outstanding team defense, allowing just 193 goals against.
10. Frederik Andersen, G, Anaheim Ducks
Drafted in the Third Round (87th overall) in 2012
Originally selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Draft but never signed to a contract, the 24-year-old from Denmark emerged as the Ducks' playoff starter after sharing time with veterans Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth during the season (Fasth missed much of the season due to injury and was dealt to Edmonton in March).
Taking advantage of his opportunity to play on a regular basis after being one of the top goalies in the AHL in 2012-13 with the Ducks' AHL affiliate in Norfolk, Andersen was 20-5 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 28 games for Anaheim. In the post-season, Andersen has started in seven games for the Ducks, and going 3-2 with a 3.10 goals against and .899 save percentage.
With high-profile goaltending prospect John Gibson waiting in the wings, the long-range prospects for Andersen in the Ducks' organization is a source of much speculation. But his outstanding play this season earned the attention of the Hockey's Future staff and earned him a place among the top rookies for the 2013-14 season.
Others receiving votes (in order of points): Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dallas Stars; Nick Bjugstad, C, Florida Panthers; Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets; Eddie Lack, G, Vancouver Canucks; Dan DeKeyser, D, Detroit Red Wings; Tomas Hertl, LW, San Jose Sharks; Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers; Martin Marincin, D, Edmonton Oilers.
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