As is always the case, the 2009-10 NHL season was a year full of surprises and disappointments and the rookie class was no exception. With six players including the top four picks from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft stepping directly into the league, the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not these players, previously playing in junior or in Europe, would be able to adapt quickly to the speed and talent of the NHL. Their play spoke for itself, as first overall selection John Tavares was edged by a single point by third overall pick Matt Duchene for the league’s rookie scoring title.
Those graduates from the 2009 draft class were just a few of the first-year players who were able to step into full-time roles with NHL teams and contribute. Although many teams highlighted below did not make it to the playoffs, the strong play of their young players has to be an encouraging sign for the future. Meanwhile, for the teams that are currently play for the Stanley Cup, the fact that a rookie player was able to crack their line-up and fill a meaningful role is a strong sign that the organization will be able to continue to remain competitive in the coming years.
Here are the results of the final Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll for the 2009-10 season.
1. Tyler Myers, D – Buffalo Sabres
6’8, 222 lbs. DOB: February 1, 1990
Drafted 12th overall (1st round) in 2008
Quite simply, Tyler Myers did it all of the Buffalo Sabres in his rookie season. A key contributor in all situations, Myers’ impact was more akin to that of a veteran NHL player than what you would expect from a 20-year-old rookie. Leading both the Sabres and all rookies in ice time, Myers established himself as the go-to defender both on the power play and on the penalty kill. Touted as an offensively minded blueliner when he was drafted, Myers showed he was no slouch with the puck by finishing third in rookie scoring. With 11 goals and 48 points in 82 games, Myers was the top-scoring defenseman on the Sabres and fifth among all his teammates. All of this was accomplished as a valued member of a Buffalo Sabres team that won the Northeast Division to finish third in the Eastern Conference. As the Sabres look to continue their regular season success in the playoffs, Tyler Myers is Hockey’s Future’s choice to win the Calder Trophy in 2010.
2. Matt Duchene, C – Colorado Avalanche
5’11, 200 lbs. DOB: January 16, 1991
Drafted 3rd overall (1st round) in 2009
The rookie scoring leader, Duchene overcame early-season struggles and injuries down the stretch to finish with 24 goals and 55 points in 81 games, ending the season one point ahead of Tavares. Hobbled by a torso injury in the final few games of the regular season, the 19-year-old finished third on the Avalanche in scoring and was a regular contributor on special teams with a team leading 10 goals coming on the man advantage. More important than individual statistics, Duchene was a key part of a new youth movement in Colorado that saw the Avalanche surprise many early in the season as one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Nabbing the eighth and final playoff spot, the Avs are currently competing in the first round of the Stanley Cup postseason, but with young players like Duchene already contributing, the future is bright in the Mile High City.
The last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs, Jimmy Howard was six years old. Now 20 years later, Howard was an integral part in keeping that active playoff appearance streak alive. After veteran goaltender Chris Osgood faltered between the pipes early on in the season, Detroit turned to Howard out of necessity. After playing in just nine games over the previous three NHL seasons, Howard immediately jumped into the fray and turned the fortunes of the Winged Wheel around. Finishing the season with 63 appearances and a record of 37-15-10, Howard was one of the top goaltenders in the league. Both his 2.26 goals-against-average and his .924 save percentage placed him fifth among netminders. Starting in 24 consecutive games stretching from the end of January until the beginning of April, Howard’s play was key to the Red Wings finishing fifth in the Western Conference. Entering into the playoffs, Howard finished the season on a streak of 15 games without a regulation loss.
Just how good was Tuukka Rask‘s 2009-10 season? To give it proper context, it might be easiest to look at Tim Thomas, who he beat out for the starting position with the Bruins. Thomas posted a 2.56 GAA and a .915 save percentage over the course of 2009-10, solid numbers but a dip from the previous year where his 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage was enough to win him the Vezina trophy as the league’s top goaltender. But despite past accolades, the situation between the pipes became a case of ‘what have you done for me lately’ and by season’s end, it was Rask, not Thomas, getting the starts. As the league’s lowest-scoring team, tallying just 196 goals all season long, the Bruins needed near infallible goaltending for them to have any chance at making it to the playoffs. With a league-leading 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage, the 23-year-old Rask provided exactly that as the Bruins finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. In fact, the only thing that may have prevented Rask from being a more serious contender for not just the Calder Trophy but also the Vezina is that the Finnish-born goalie only appeared in 45 games this year.
It might be tempting to compare Tavares’ first NHL season to the rookie campaign of Steve Stamkos last year. After all, both were highly-touted first overall selections who jumped immediately into the NHL after the draft onto weak teams and were considered favorites for the Calder prior to the start of the season. Furthermore, both players finished the season strongly after seeing their production dip for stretches over the course of the year. If the comparison fits, Tavares will likely not be one to argue. After all, Stamkos has followed up with a dominating sophomore campaign and finished as a co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. In any case, while Tavares may not have lived up to the astronomically high expectations placed upon him as a first overall selection, his 24 goals and 54 points in 82 games left him just a single assist behind Duchene for the rookie scoring lead. Despite a strong finish that saw him post a point per game over the final 20 games, it was the streak of games between Christmas and the Olympic break that really spelled trouble for the 19-year-old and the Islanders. Tavares posted just two goals and seven points over a 30-game stretch in the middle of the season as New York fell in the tight Eastern Conference standings. Finishing 13th in the East, the Isles have placed their future in the hands of a core of young players headlined by Tavares and the sooner they can live up to their potential, the sooner fortunes will change on Long Island.
6. Niclas Bergfors, RW – Atlanta Thrashers
5’11, 195 lbs. DOB: March 7, 1987
Drafted 23rd overall (1st round) in 2005
Although Bergfors and the Atlanta Thrashers fell short of making the playoffs and the 23-year-old suffered the extra indignity of having to watch his former team lock up second in the Conference, the future is bright for this Swedish winger. One of the key assets heading to the Thrashers in the February trade that saw Ilya Kovalchuk land in New Jersey, Bergfors flourished with additional ice time and responsibility in Atlanta. Bouncing throughout the line-up and filling in wherever needed with the Devils, Bergfors settled into a scoring line role with his new team. In 27 games with Atlanta, he tallied eight goals and 17 points, while seeing an average of almost a minute and a half of additional ice time, most of it coming with the man advantage. In total, Bergfors finished the season with 21 goals and 44 points in 81 games, placing him fourth among all rookies and fifth on the Thrashers. His six game-winning goals tied him for the lead among all first-year players.
7. Michael Del Zotto, D – New York Rangers
6’1, 195 lbs. DOB: June 24, 1990
Drafted 20th overall (1st Round) in 2008
A bit of a surprise to crack the final roster in the Big Apple, Del Zotto quickly proved that he belonged at the NHL level. With a hot start that saw him put up four goals and 12 points in his first 14 games, Del Zotto launched himself to the top of the rookie scoring charts and the Rangers to the top of the NHL standings. Opposing teams were quick to adjust to the Blueshirts new power play weapon and soon both the 19-year-old and the Rangers returned to Earth. Struggling a bit through the middle of the season, the Ontario native came back strong after the Olympic break to tally three goals and 11 points in his final 19 games, but the Rangers fell just short of the postseason to finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. In total, Del Zotto’s nine goals and 37 points in 80 games placed him seventh among all rookies and second among rookie defensemen. Meanwhile, his 22 power-play points placed him second among his Ranger teammates.
Another talented rookie with the Colorado Avalanche, T.J. Galiardi‘s contributions were just as important as Duchene in helping the Avs surprise many teams in the league and orchestrate a return to the playoffs for Colorado. Although not as offensively prolific as Duchene, Galiardi still posted a respectable 15 goals and 39 points in 70 games, good enough to place him sixth among both rookies and on the Avalanche. However, Galiardi’s impact is just as important preventing goals as it is scoring them. Averaging three minutes of penalty-killing time per game, those numbers placed him atop both rookie forwards as well as forwards for Colorado. A 21-year-old who spent most of the previous season in the AHL, Galiardi is already playing like a grizzled veteran for the Avalanche.
9. James vanRiemsdyk, LW – Philadelphia Flyers
6’3, 200 lbs. DOB: May 4, 1989
Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2007
The trials and tribulations of the Philadelphia Flyers over the course of the 2009-10 season were many. As a 20-year-old rookie with the club, James vanRiemsdyk was not immune to the rollercoaster ride that was the Broad Street Bullies. After a strong start that placed him among the rookie scoring leaders in the early goings of the season, the grind of the longer pro season and decreased responsibility due to injured players returning to the line-up as well as a coaching change led to long periods of ineffective play. Most notable were the months of December and March. In both cases, vanRiemsdyk was only able to put up a single point over the entire month of competition. In total, vanRiemsdyk’s 15 goals and 35 points placed him eighth among rookies this season, while his six game-winning goals tied all first-year players. Among Flyers, vanRiemdsyk’s totals placed him ninth on the team in scoring, while averaging just shy of 13 minutes of ice time a game. With the Flyers just squeaking into the playoffs after some must-win situations at the tail end of the season, vanRiemsdyk’s first year continues into the postseason. A talented scoring forward who showed flashes of the brilliance that led to the Flyers selecting him second overall, much more will be expected from the New Jersey native as he continues to mature.
Like his fellow top rookie defensemen Myers and Del Zotto, Hedman started the season as a teenager on the blue line. However, it wasn’t long before this 18-year-old Swede was making a very mature impression on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though not as offensively prolific as the aforementioned first-year blue liners, Hedman was able to step in and play important minutes for the Lightning from day one. In fact, in his first NHL regular-season game, he saw almost 26 and a half minutes of ice time. This minute crunching continued all season long as Hedman finished fourth among rookies in average ice time at just under 21 minutes. Seeing regular shifts on special teams, Hedman finished the year with four goals and 20 points in 74 games, while his 97 blocked shots placed him second among all first-year players. With the Lightning finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference, well out of a playoff spot, Hedman will have to look to next year for his first shot at the NHL postseason.
Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Artem Anisimov (NYR), Jamie Benn (DAL), Tyler Bozak (TOR), Cody Franson (NSH), Evander Kane (ATL), Erik Karlsson (OTT), Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), Andrew MacDonald (NYI), Ryan O’Reilly (COL), Scott Parse (LAK), Peter Regin (OTT), Rob Schremp (NYI), Viktor Stalberg (TOR), Semyon Varlamov (WSH), Colin Wilson (NSH), Ryan Wilson (COL).