There are once again a number of first-year players contributing regularly to their NHL squads. Some of the league’s top rookies, both high profile and those less heralded, are off to hot starts in the first month of the season. But early results don’t necessarily signal a long-term payoff and it remains to be seen which freshmen players can keep up the pace and who will fall behind in the quest for the Calder Trophy.
Here are the results of the Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll. As the season continues, Hockey’s Future will poll its staff once a month to track the top rookies in the NHL.
The Rangers started the 2009-10 season with a bang. After dropping their first match of the year, their October featured a seven-game win streak that catapulted them to the top of the league standings in the early going. This dominance was motivated in part by a white-hot power play, which was quarterbacked by rookie Del Zotto. A 19-year-old, Del Zotto continues to be among the top power-play minute crunchers both with the Rangers and rookies around the league. Although the Rangers have cooled off from their hot start, his four goals and 13 points in 18 games is tied for second in rookie scoring and fourth among all NHL defensemen.
Perhaps the most spotlighted prospect entering the game since Sidney Crosby, Tavares has not disappointed in his inaugural year with the New York Islanders. Although the Isles continue to rebuild, Tavares has been a breath of fresh air, finding chemistry with fellow former first round pick Kyle Okposo and potting five goals and 13 points in 17 games. Never afraid to let the puck fly, Tavares’ 51 shots lead all rookies. He is also being given every opportunity to succeed, leading all rookie forwards in ice time.
As is often the case, when a team suffers a long-term injury to one of their key players, they first look inside their organization for someone to step into the role and pick up the slack. Such was the situation in Philadelphia, where an early season injury has left star sniper Simon Gagne out of action for an extended period of time. This was just the opportunity that vanRiemsdyk needed. Shaking off an early season injury of his own (missed two games with a head injury), vanRiemsdyk has benefited from the increased ice time, to catapult to the top of the rookie scoring race. In just 12 games, vanRiemsdyk has scored three times and has a total of 14 points.
When the Colorado Avalanche selected Ryan O’Reilly from the Erie Otters with their second pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, it was expected that, some day, he would be able to provide a strong two-way presence down the middle for the club. Little did anyone think that "some day" would be just months away as O’Reilly cracked the club’s roster and stuck. Currently tied for the rookie scoring lead with four goals and 14 points in 17 games, O’Reilly also contributes in other aspects of the game. He’s averaging just under three minutes a game in shorthanded situations and is a huge reason why Colorado finds themselves among the NHL leaders at this point in the season.
Like fellow 2009 draft pick Tavares, Hedman was expected to step directly into the lineup for his NHL squad, but most are surprised at how seamlessly the big Swede has adapted to the league. Although his offensive impact may not be as prolific as some of the other members of this list, with four assists in 14 games for the Lightning, Hedman has been a horse on the Tampa Bay blue line. He’s averaging 24 minutes a game, which is three minutes more than any other rookie in the league and he’s also seeing time both on the powerplay and the penalty kill. Although he’s currently sidelined with injury, much is expected from this steady defenseman.
After dominating the WHL for the past two seasons, Benn stepped directly into the lineup for the Dallas Stars and has been a solid top six winger for the squad all season long. With a reputation of a sniper, Benn has potted three goals and added eight assists for 11 points in 17 games. At every level he has played at, Benn has proven that he has the ability to score and so far, he’s showing he can do it with the NHL as well. He’s also contributed in other facets, with his 33 hits placing him second among all rookies.
Myers’ impact with the Buffalo Sabres has been as big as his frame. Averaging just under 21 minutes of ice time a game, good enough for second among all rookies, Myers has seen equal opportunity in all situations. Potting three goals and totaling eight points in 14 games, Myers is a good reason why the Sabres are currently leading their division. Well on his way to being a complete player on the back line, his 16 blocked shots are tied for sixth among rookies.
On a list populated with plenty of first round talent, Jason Demers may be the most unexpected surprise so far this season. After being passed over twice in the draft, Demers was drafted as a 20-year-old and immediately signed to an entry-level contract in 2008. A year later, the puck moving blue liner is skating a regular shift with the San Jose Sharks. Averaging just over 12 minutes of even strength ice time, Demers sees just over three minutes per game with the man advantage and has tallied four of his 10 points (all assists) on the power play.
The future is now for the Colorado Avalanche, who have already seen dividends from their top two draft picks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. In addition to the contributions by O’Reilly, Duchene, their first round pick has also been able to step directly from the draft podium to the dressing room and immediately begin contributing. Second among all rookie forwards in ice time with an average of just over 17 minutes a game, Duchene has scored two goals and has seven points in 17 games.
Playing a regular shift on the third line for the Rangers, Artem Anisimov has had little difficulty transitioning from the AHL to the NHL. A two-way forward, Anisimov may not see the same opportunities that his fellow rookies are enjoying, with roughly ten and half minutes of ice time a game and seeing minimal opportunity on either the powerplay or the penalty kill. But with that said, the big Russian has scored three goals and has seven points in 18 NHL games, good enough to tie for ninth in rookie scoring.
Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Nicklas Bergfors (NJ), Davis Drewiske (LA), Benn Ferriero (SJ), T.J. Galiardi (COL), Matt Gilroy (NYR), Michael Grabner (VAN), Jonas Gustavsson (TOR), Evander Kane (ATL), Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), Tuukka Rask (BOS), Semyon Varlamov (WSH), Tom Wandell (DAL),