With the NHL breaking for the Olympics, some of the league’s top first-year players have to be looking forward to the two-week break in the schedule. It has already been a long season for the rookies and many have struggled with consistency and the daily grind that comes with professional hockey. Taking some time to catch their breath and refocus for the stretch run will, without a doubt, help both the player and their respective teams.
But not all first-year NHL players will get the chance to enjoy the Olympic break. Semyon Varlamov of the Washington Capitals is one of the few rookie NHLers who have been chosen to play for their country at the Olympics. Just recently returning from injury, Varlamov is being tapped to fill the role of third goaltender for Team Russia behind Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson finds himself in a similar situation as member of Team Sweden. His NHL season so far has been plagued with injury and in Vancouver he’ll watch most of Sweden‘s games from the sidelines as Henrik Lundqvist is expected to get the bulk of the work. Montreal defenseman Yanick Weber has also been chosen to represent his home country of Switzerland in Vancouver, but the blue liner has spent the majority of the year with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL and has appeared in just five NHL games this season.
In addition to the Olympics, a handful of first-year players have been assigned to the AHL over the course of the Olympic break. The AHL does not have a break in its schedule and so playing a few games in the minors could be excellent way for a player to regain some confidence and come back to the NHL better than ever. Players like Shawn Matthias and Victor Oreskovich, both of whom have spent the bulk of the season with the Florida Panthers, have recently been assigned to the AHL in such a measure.
Below are the results of the Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll for the month of February.
The unanimous selection for the top spot this month, Tyler Myers has been a force for the Buffalo Sabres. Although the team has had its fair share of stumbles and has recently relinquished its division lead to the Ottawa Senators, Myers continues to shine after recently turning 20 years old. He leads all rookies as well as all Sabres in average ice time, while also seeing considerable time both on the power play and the penalty kill. Myers is tied for third in rookie scoring with 32 points, including eight goals (three of them coming with the man advantage). Meanwhile, his play in his own zone is just as stellar with 103 blocked shots leading all rookies and his 65 hits placing him second on his team among defensemen.
The 2010 calendar year has not been friendly to the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. After carrying the New York Islanders‘ offense for most of the season, John Tavares has fallen behind over the past two months. No longer leading all rookies or his own team in scoring, Tavares has struggled through a pair of seven-game streaks without a point so far in the New Year. As Tavares goes, so does the Islanders themselves, with the team finding they are slipping farther and farther back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Tavares continues to lead all rookie forwards in average ice time as well as all rookies in average power-play ice time, so there remains plenty of opportunity to turn his recent trend around and finish the year strong. His 17 goals and 34 points in 62 games still place him second among rookies and third on his team. Tavares could benefit from a break in the schedule to rest and refocus.
Capturing the rookie scoring lead shortly after the calendar switched to 2010, Matt Duchene‘s second half has continued to impress. After stumbling a bit to start his rookie season, he has averaged just short of a point-per-game pace since turning 19 in mid-January, with 13 points in 14 games. He currently holds an eight-point lead over Tavares among rookies with 20 goals and 42 points in 61 games for the Colorado Avalanche. The team has continued to be a surprise this season and their turnaround is mostly due to the strong contributions of young talent like Duchene.
It’s been an up and down season for both the Philadelphia Flyers and their star rookie James vanRiemsdyk. After a coaching change in December, the team has turned the year around and currently is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff battle. But the change behind the bench hasn’t been as rosy for the 20-year-old vanRiemsdyk. In the 35 games since Peter Laviolette took the reins, vanRiemsdyk has just seven goals and 13 points, well behind his pace from earlier in the year. All told, his 13 goals and 32 points in 57 games have placed him in a tie for third among NHL rookies and seventh on the Flyers. Despite his recent drought in offense, vanRiemsdyk can still be counted on for a timely goal: his six game winners tie him for third in the league.
Jimmy Howard continues to rise up the charts just as steadily as the Detroit Red Wings are moving up in the NHL standings and those two facts are far from mutual exclusive. After veteran incumbent Chris Osgood struggled at the start of the season, Howard began seeing the majority of the starts for the Red Wings in mid-November and he has consistently racked up the wins ever since. His 21 wins lead all rookie net minders and his 41 starts eclipse all of his fellow freshmen goaltenders. Meanwhile his 2.28 goals against average and his .927 save percentage place him among the NHL leaders. The Olympic break has arrived with Detroit still on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, but if Howard’s heroics in net continue, that could soon change.
A key piece going to the Atlanta Thrashers in the blockbuster trade that saw Ilya Kovalchuk become a New Jersey Devil, Bergfors has blossomed so far with his new team. While a member of the Devils, Bergfors was asked to be a jack-of-all-trades, filling in the empty holes in the lineup as injuries occurred. With Atlanta, he’s been given a new role and has found early success, with four points in five games for the Thrashers. His goal in his second game with Atlanta also breaks an ugly 14-game pointless streak that stretched back until early January. All told, the 22-year-old has 16 goals and 31 points in 59 games.
A rough and tumble forward for the Dallas Stars, Jamie Benn has stood up to fill an important role all season long. Tied for rookie lead in hits, Benn’s impact extends beyond the score sheet. Listed as a winger, the 20-year-old has seen some time in the pivot position as injuries hit. The move to the middle seemed to help jumpstart both the Stars and Benn, with Dallas going 9-5-1 since starting the experiment in mid-January and Benn scoring eight points over the 15-game stretch. In addition to his high-energy game, Benn has packed a scoring punch for Dallas with 15 goals placing him fourth on the Stars and his 29 points putting him sixth among NHL rookies.
Early power-play success brought Michael Del Zotto‘s rookie year some attention as the New York Rangers started the season on a hot streak. Although both Del Zotto and the Rangers have cooled off considerably since then, the 19-year-old continues to play important minutes for the Blueshirts. Second among rookies in hits, Del Zotto is still relied upon to help run the Rangers power play, averaging more minutes with the man advantage than any other New York regular. Del Zotto has just a single goal in the past 29 games and only six points over that stretch, but his 26 points in 61 games place him second among rookie defensemen and eighth among all rookies in scoring. Unfortunately his -18 ties Tavares for the league worst among the first-year players.
Hedman hasn’t been playing the major minutes he saw earlier in his rookie season as often lately, but that isn’t to say that the big Swede can’t fill the workhorse role if required. In Tampa’s last game before the Olympic break, Hedman logged almost 25 minutes, leading all skaters on both teams in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers. The Lightning has come to rely on the 19-year-old rather quickly and he has yet to let them down. He is second among rookies in average ice time, which also places him third on his team. He sees a healthy dose of time in special-team situations, both shorthanded and on the power play. In 58 games for the Lightning, Hedman has scored four goals and has 18 points. Having been called upon to play major minutes at such a young age, Hedman could benefit from the break that the Olympics offer.
Playing primarily alongside fellow rookie Ryan O’Reilly, Galiardi is another piece of the Avalanche’s bright future. His path to the NHL is far from typical, playing in both the NCAA and the WHL and spending the bulk of last season in the AHL, but he’s benefited greatly from the experience and brings a mature game to the rink beyond his 21 years. Perhaps Galiardi’s biggest impact can be seen when the Avalanche are a player short on the ice. He leads all Avalanche forwards and all NHL rookies in average shorthanded minutes per game and has been a key factor as Colorado’s penalty-killing efficiency has risen from the bottom of the league last season to well within the top half of the league this year. In addition to his play on the penalty kill, Galiardi has nine goals and 26 points in 51 games, tying him for seventh among rookies.
Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Artem Anisimov (NYR), Jason Demers (SJ), Jeff Deslauriers (EDM), Cody Franson (NSH), Carl Gunnarsson (TOR), Evander Kane (ATL), Erik Karlsson (OTT), Ryan O’Reilly (COL), Scott Parse (LAK), Tuukka Rask (BOS), Peter Regin (OTT), Rob Schremp (NYI), Dan Sexton (ANA), Semyon Varlamov (WSH)