The emergence of New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson as an offensive presence after making the jump directly from junior hockey to the NHL has been a bit of a surprise. Tanner Pearson was expected to make an impact for the Los Angeles Kings after seeing regular ice time during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but few expected the eye-popping offensive numbers he has put up so far.
The two young players are off to fast starts and are the early front-runners in the Hockey’s Future Calder Trophy poll for the 2014-15 season, with the 20-year-old Devils’ defenseman narrowly edging the Kings’ left wing for the top spot.
Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky and the Nashville Predators‘ Filip Forsberg have also given their teams a jolt offensively. The two rookies were jostling for the third spot in this month’s poll.
In addition to Severson, the staff also liked a trio of rookie defensemen including the Florida Panthers‘ Aaron Ekblad, the first overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft; Stuart Percy of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the San Jose Sharks‘ Mirco Mueller. Ekblad, Percy, and Mueller hold the next three spots in the October poll.
A pair of left wings — the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s Jonathan Drouin and Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames — round out the top 10. Drouin was the third player taken at the 2013 NHL Draft while Gaudreau is making the jump from college hockey to the NHL after a three-year run at Boston College.
Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for October, 2014
1. Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils
Drafted in the second round (60th overall) in 2012
Skating on a New Jersey team that struggled to score goals last season, the young right-shooting defenseman has provided scoring from the blue line and has seen regular shifts on the Devils’ power play in the early part of the season.
The leading scorer among rookie defensemen, the former Kelowna Rockets defender scored four goals with three assists and was +7 with six penalty minutes; averaging 22 minutes of ice time in his first 10 NHL games.
While it might be a bit optimistic to expect him to keep up such numbers — and the Devils were once again struggling to score goals at the start of November — Severson has provided some optimism for a team in transition. With other young defensemen such as Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas all in their early 20’s it is hoped that the group will eventually form the core of a strong defensive unit.
2. Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Drafted in the first round (30th overall) in 2012
Pearson skated in 25 regular season games for Los Angeles a year ago, just under the cutoff to be considered a rookie this season, before playing in 24 games during the Kings successful run to a Stanley Cup championship. A 22-year-old who spent the majority of the first two seasons of his pro career with the AHL‘s Manchester Monarchs, Pearson proved he was capable of competing at the NHL level during the 2014 NHL playoffs.
But few would have forecast his goal-scoring spree to start the 2014-15 season. After a scoreless opening night against the Sharks, he scored goals in five of the next seven games including two-goal games against the Oilers and the Blue Jackets. Pearson did not have a point in the Kings’ next five games, however, but his quick start impressed the HF staff nonetheless.
In 11 games in October, Pearson scored seven goals with two assists and was +9 with four penalty minutes, averaging 13:27 minutes of ice time.
3. Andre Burakovsky, C, Washington Capitals
Drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in 2013
Many in Washington were eagerly anticipating forward Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s first full season with the Capitals, but in the first month of the season it was 19-year-old Andre Burakovsky that has impressed in making the jump from the OHL‘s Erie Otters to the NHL.
After scoring a goal on opening night against Montreal, the native of Sweden had points in seven of his first nine games for the Capitals. Like Pearson, Burakovsky has cooled off a bit after his fast start, going scoreless in the past three games. But his quick start and the fact that he was playing nearly 15 minutes per game in his first six games put him among the rookie leaders in the season’s first month.
Burakovsky scored two goals with six assists and was +4 with six penalty minutes, averaging 13:59 minutes of ice time in his first nine NHL games.
4. Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Acquired in a trade from Washington in 2013
Perhaps no rookie has had as big an impact on his team as has the 20-year-old Forsberg with the Predators.
Forsberg appeared in 13 games with Nashville at the beginning of last season but was not quite ready for the NHL game. This season under first-year Predators’ head coach Peter Laviolette, he has been one of the team leaders as Nashville challenges St. Louis for the top spot in the Central Division.
Now playing on the Predators’ top line with veterans Mike Ribiero and James Neal, Forsberg leads all rookies in ice time (16:46 per game in his first 12 games) and night in and night out has played a key role, scoring at a point-per-game pace.
Forsberg scored one goal with seven assists and was +11 with four penalty minutes in 10 games in October; averaging 16:28 minutes of ice time. He’s off to a fast start in November, scoring three goals with one assist in two games.
5. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Drafted in the first round (1st overall) in 2014
Ekblad has stepped right into Florida’s lineup as an 18-year-old and is averaging almost 22 minutes of ice time a night, second only to Severson among NHL rookies. While the Panthers have struggled to score goals at times in the early going, they have been competitive on a nightly basis and the former Barrie Colts rearguard has been a big part of that.
Ekblad, along with 22-year-old Erik Gudbranson and a group of high profile young forward prospects, figures to be a big part of Florida’s plans as they try to compete for a playoff spot this season and in the future.
In eight games in October, Ekblad was -1 with two goals and two assists and had four penalty minutes while averaging 21:56 minutes of ice time per game.
6. Stuart Percy, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Drafted in the first round (25th overall) in 2011
Percy made his much-anticipated debut with the Maple Leafs this season after skating for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in his first pro season in 2014-14.
Still the odd man out at times, and already loaned to the Marlies twice early in the season, Percy had assists in his first three games this season and played a season-high 23:34 minutes in the Leafs’ 3-2 overtime win over Colorado on October 15th.
In seven NHL games, Percy has three assists and had an even plus/minus with two penalty minutes while averaging 18:14 minutes of ice time.
7. Mirco Mueller, D, San Jose Sharks
Drafted in the first round (18th overall) in 2013
Mueller, like Severson, is making the jump directly from the WHL to the NHL. While the former Everett Silvertips’ defenseman has not had the offensive impact of his Devils counterpart he is playing a significant role on one of the Western Conference’s top teams.
Since Mueller has come to North America from his native Switzerland his skill level has impressed, but some were concerned about his ability to withstand the physical nature of pro hockey. Paired with veteran Brent Burns much of the time early in the season, the 19-year-old has appeared to quell those concerns.
In nine games in October, Mueller scored one goal with two assists and was +1 with four penalty minutes, averaging 18 minutes of ice time.
8. Chris Terry, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
Drafted in the fifth round (132nd overall) in 2007
Unlike the teenagers such as Mueller and Ekblad and the rest of the first-year pros in this month’s poll, Terry has paid his dues to make it to the NHL. First signed to an NHL contract by Carolina in May of 2009, he has spent nearly five full seasons in the AHL, making his NHL debut with the Hurricanes in a three-game stint in 2012-13 and skating in 10 games for that club last season.
While Terry has skated mostly in a lower-line role for the Hurricanes so far, he is tied with three other players — Forsberg, Severson, and Vancouver’s Linden Vey — with four goals, second only to Pearson among rookies.
Like Pearson, Terry is seen as more of a two-way player. It doesn’t seem likely that he will keep up his scoring pace, but the fact that he is among the rookie leaders is a testament to his fortitude and determination.
In eight October games, Terry scored three goals with two assists and was +1 with four penalty minutes while averaging 12:52 minutes of ice time.
9. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted in the first round (3rd overall) in 2013
Drouin joins a talented group of young forwards in Tampa Bay and should fit in well. While his play has been closely scrutinized after back-to-back 100-point seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he seems to be handling the pressure well.
With four players already posting 10 or more points, the Lightning have been one of the league’s highest scoring teams so Drouin has flown under the radar a bit. After sitting out the first five games with a finger injury, he made his NHL debut on October 20th against Edmonton. He averaged almost 19 minutes of ice time in his first four games, scoring one goal with two assists, but was seeing more limited ice time in recent games.
In six October games Drouin scored one goal with three assists and was -2 while averaging 16:00 minutes of ice time per game.
10. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) in 2011
Gaudreau has been one of the most exciting rookies to watch this season with several highlight reel plays, and is proving that his diminutive stature (5’9″, 150) has not been an obstacle to succeeding at the NHL level.
The 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner in his junior season at Boston College before signing with the Flames last spring, Gaudreau has already scored two game-winning goals for Calgary and is looking like he will be a fixture in the lineup for years to come. The New Jersey native already has three multi-point games in his first 13 games.
In 11 games in October, Gaudreau scored two goals with four assists and was +6 with no penalties while averaging 14:29 minutes of ice time.
Others receiving votes (in order): Linden Vey, RW, Vancouver; Anthony Duclair, LW, New York Rangers; John Gibson, G, Anaheim; Niklas Svedberg, G, Boston; Seth Griffith, C, Boston; Andrej Nestrasil, C, Detroit; Christian Folin, D, Minnesota; William Karlsson, C, Anaheim; Adam Lowry, LW, Winnipeg; Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington.
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