With two months of hockey in the books, rookies across the league are settling into their roles and adapting to new responsibilities. For most of them, it is all about comfort and learning. As the first-year players are getting used to life in the NHL, their coaches are discovering how much they can trust their freshmen players. Injuries are a fact of life for all NHL clubs, and young rookie players are making most of the opportunities presented when veteran players begin missing games.
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.
1. Sergei Bobrovsky, G – Philadelphia Flyers
DOB: September 20, 1988
Signed as a free agent
As last year’s playoff sensation Michael Leighton inches closer to returning to the Flyers roster, Philadelphia has not missed a beat with first-year net minder Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. The Russian is not just the best rookie goalie in the league, but also one of the top overall goaltenders thus far this year. Seeing the lion’s share of work for Philadelphia, Bobrovsky is a huge reason why the Flyers find themselves among the top teams in the NHL. His record of 14-4-3 along with his 2.29 goals against average and his .922 save percentage showcase how strong he has played this season. Meanwhile, Leighton is currently on his way back to the NHL after back surgery. It will be a situation worth watching to see who ultimately wins starting duties for the Flyers.
2. Jeff Skinner, C – Carolina Hurricanes
DOB: May 16, 1992
Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2010
It’s hard to fault the Carolina Hurricanes for keeping their first selection in last summer’s draft around for the year. Jeff Skinner has fit in well in Carolina and is currently third in scoring on the Hurricanes and is second in the NHL rookie scoring race. In 28 games this season, Skinner has eight goals and 20 points. Seeing top-six duty with the club, along with his fair share of power play opportunity, Skinner is listed as a center but has mainly played on the wing for the Hurricanes so far. Outscoring and outperforming those selected ahead of him in this year’s draft, Skinner is already here to stay with the Hurricanes.
3. Michael Neuvirth, G – Washington Capitals
DOB: March 23, 1988
Drafted 34th overall (2nd round) in 2006
The recent struggles with the Washington Capitals have hit Michael Neuvirth hard. Although his numbers remain respectable with a .910 save percentages and a 2.68 goals-against-average, the Czech rookie has is winless in his past four starts. Two of his five losses this season along with both of his overtime defeats have come over that period, dropping his record to 12-5-2. Now that Semyon Varlamov has returned from injury, Neuvirth’s workload has lessened with the Russian getting most of the starts. Over the last ten games that Washington has played, Varlamov has started in seven of them, while Neuvirth got the nod in the remaining three. The 22-year-old Neuvirth will need to beat out the 22-year-old Varlamov for starting duties in order to keep his Calder hopes alive, but for right now, the Capitals are just looking for answers.
4. John Carlson, D – Washington Capitals
DOB: January 10, 1990
Drafted 27th overall (1st round) in 2008
Like his teammate Neuvirth, John Carlson hasn’t been immune to the recent troubles with the Capitals. Although they still sit atop the Southeast Division, Washington has been decidedly average as of late and the Atlanta Thrashers are quickly catching up. One of only two defensemen to play in all 32 games for the Capitals, Carlson has three goals and 13 points over that period of time and has seen his ice time rollercoaster from a low of fewer than 15 minutes in a game right up to over 27 minutes. He’s currently averaging just over 22 minutes per game, which places him second among NHL rookies. Seeing time in all situations, injuries and inconsistency among his teammates has forced Carlson to go through a trial by fire on the Washington blue line.
The current rookie scoring leader, Logan Couture has clearly benefited from spending last season bouncing between the NHL and the AHL. Although he logged many frequent flyer miles in his trips between San Jose and Worcester, the 21-year-old is now in the big leagues to stay. In 25 games last season with the Sharks, Couture had five goals and nine points, but he’s already blown well past those totals early on in this 2010-11 season. So far, in 30 games with the Sharks, Couture has scored 14 goals and has 21 points, tying him for fifth with San Jose. Seeing a healthy dose of time on the man advantage, Couture has three power play markers to go with his four game-winners. The Guelph native is on the way to becoming a solid second line scoring threat for the Sharks.
A hero with Team Canada at the World Juniors, Jordan Eberle‘s presence hasn’t been able to immediately turn around the fortunes in Edmonton. Although the Oilers forward has played well in his rookie year with seven goals and 20 points in 30 games, Edmonton is last in the Western Conference with just 27 points. With the Oilers trying a youth movement this season, Eberle and his fellow rookies will be leaned on even more over the next few weeks. Forward Ales Hemsky and team captain Shawn Horcoff, one of Eberle’s line mates are both on the injured reserve, making Edmonton’s attack even weaker. If Eberle can summon some of that magic he displayed at the World Juniors, now would be the time.
When injuries hit the Colorado blue line, Kevin Shattenkirk was ready and waiting for his chance to shine. With defensemen like Kyle Cumiskey and Kyle Quincey missing time, Shattenkirk got the call and hasn’t looked back. Although he had zero points in ten games with Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, the 21-year-old has five goals and 16 points in 19 games with the Avalanche. Averaging just over 20 minutes a game, the defenseman has provided an offensive spark to the Avs power play, with six of his points coming on the man advantage. Provided his strong play continues, it will be unlikely that Shattenkirk will be heading back to Lake Erie anytime soon.
8. Cam Fowler, D – Anaheim Ducks
DOB: December 5, 1991
Drafted 12th overall (1st round) in 2010
When Scott Niedermayer announced his retirement after the 2009-10 season, it immediately opened a gaping hole in the Anaheim Ducks blue line. Although it is unfair to expect rookie Cam Fowler to fill that void straight out of junior, the newly drafted blue liner has drawn some comparisons to the former captain with his smooth skating and two-way play. Often seeing more than 25 minutes per game, Fowler, who recently turned 19, leads all rookies in average ice time. Playing in all situations, the rookie has three goals and 15 points in 27 games. Currently living with Niedermayer and his family in Anaheim, the Ducks may have nabbed a steal of the draft if their star rookie ends up having half the illustrious career of their former captain.
Tied for fourth on the Rangers in scoring, Derek Stepan has been a strong, if somewhat streaky contributor for New York in his first season in the league. After scoring a hat trick in his NHL debut, it would take 19 games before the 20-year-old would tally another one. So far, the former University of Wisconsin star has seven goals and 17 points in 32 games with the Rangers and has shown chemistry playing alongside star winger Marian Gaborik. Though the Rangers find themselves behind juggernauts Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, their record this season places them right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. Seeing his fair share of power play time and with an all-star winger riding shotgun, Stepan could have a very productive first year for the Blue shirts.
The Montreal Canadiens might be reading up on their Greek mythology when it comes to how they are dealing with P.K. Subban. Like Icarus and his wax wings, the Canadiens are trying to ensure that Subban doesn’t rise too high, too quickly and then suffer a tragic fall back to Earth. A well publicized healthy scratch for three games in December, Subban has already faced quite a bit of scrutiny from media, fans and on-ice opponents. With Andrei Markov lost for the season, Montreal would like nothing better than for the 21-year-old to help fill the void, but they’re also careful to not rush the former Belleville Bull too quickly. In 27 games so far, Subban has a single goal, coming on the power play and nine points.
Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Alexander Burmistrov (ATL), Jake Dowell (CHI), Tyler Ennis (BUF), Taylor Hall (EDM), Jamie McBain (CAR), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Matt Taormina (NJ), Mattias Tedenby (NJ), Kyle Wilson (CBJ)