The second month of the 2011-12 NHL season saw the top two Calder candidates from October, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Luke Adam, continue to establish themselves as legitimate NHL top-line forwards while two other young players, Nashville’s Craig Smith and the Devils’ Adam Henrique, went on scoring tears to move up the rankings among the league’s top first-year forwards.
New Jersey’s Adam Larssonn the lone defenseman in this month’s poll, continues to average over 22 minutes of ice time per game and has started to show flashes of an offensive game.
In terms of goaltending. injuries indirectly changed the make-up of our poll this month. Jhonas Enroth started just two games for the Sabres in October, winning both games, behind starter Ryan Miller. After winning his first three starts in November, Enroth started seven straight games for the Sabres after Miller suffered a concussion in a November 12 game at Boston. Conversely, Florida’s Jacob Markstrom, started just two games in November after Panthers’ backup Scott Clemmensen returned to the lineup and drops out of our list.
Each month, Hockey’s Future will poll the staff on the top rookies in the NHL. Below are the results from November:
While the Oilers have struggled a bit after getting off to a fast start, winning just three of their last ten games, Nugent-Hopkins continues to be an offensive leader for the club and averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game in November. In 14 games he scored six goals with 10 assists. After playing with 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for much of the season, the Oilers split up that line after a three-game losing streak and exploded for nine goals against Chicago, with Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists while Hall a hat trick. In six games following that win, Nugent-Hopkins scored four goals with four assists. At his current scoring pace, he remains on track to becoming the first number one pick since Sidney Crosby to score 30 goals or more in his rookie season.
Smith, the second-leading scorer among rookies, moves up four spots in our poll as he continues to be a consistent threat for the Predators, averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game in 13 November contests. Smith scored three goals with five assists and was minus-two during that time; being used in all situations by Predators coach Barry Trotz. After playing on Nashville’s top line with Colin Wilson and Patrick Hornqvist for a handful of games, Smith has worked well with Jordan Tootoo and Nick Spaling and has been creating offensive chances regardless of who his linemates are.
Buffalo has been forced to juggle its lineup due to a rash of injuries but has managed to keep close to Toronto and red-hot Boston in the Northeast Division thanks in large part to the play of the first year forward. In 14 November contests Adam scored five goals with two assists with an even plus/minus despite playing with several different line mates. Though his ice time has been cut back a bit after he averaged nearly 15 minutes per game in October, the large forward, though not especially combative, has been a strong two-way presence in the Buffalo lineup.
One of four players who enter the poll for the first time this month, Henrique was arguably the Devils second-best forward in November behind veteran Patrik Elias. Henrique opened the season with the Devils but saw limited ice-time and was sent to AHL Albany for three games before being re-called when center Jacob Josefson was injured.
With Josefson and Travis Zajac injured, the Devils experimented with Zach Parise at center for two games, playing Henrique on the wing along with Ilya Kovalchuk, before returning Henrique to his natural position. After scoring one goal and assisting on another in a shootout win over Philadelphia on November 3rd, Henrique scored two goals the next game against Winnipeg playing on a line with Parise and David Clarkson and had points in seven of his next 11 games. In 14 games in November, Henrique scored five goals with nine assists on an offensively-challenged Devils’ squad and was a minus-one averaging 19 minutes of ice time.
Enroth enters this month’s poll after going 6-3-1 in ten starts during November, including a 34-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes. Long regarded as one of the better young goaltending prospects but seemingly buried behind veteran Ryan Miller, Enroth’s play had been getting raves in Buffalo even prior to Miller’s injury against Boston. Enroth started the season 5-0 and had stopped all fifteen shots after relieving Miller in a game with Philadelphia, leading to some speculation that he deserved more time. While Miller’s body of work suggests he will regain his starting spot when he returns, Enroth has certainly made a case for more action. In 15 games this season, he is 8-4-1 and has a 2.27 goals against average and .926 save percentage.
Larsson drops one spot in this month’s poll due primarily to the offensive exploits of his New Jersey teammate Henrique. After playing a handful of games partnered with fellow Swede Henrik Tallinder and veteran Bryce Salvador, Larsson has primarily been paired with the strong skating Andy Greene and has begun to display the offensive elements that made him a high first round pick. In 14 November games he scored two goals with six assists after not registering a point in his first nine NHL games. While his ice time decreased slightly in November as some veteran defensemen like Salvador and Anton Volchenkov returned to the New Jersey lineup, he still averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in November, second only to Carolina’s Justin Faulk among rookies.
While much of the off-season attention in Philadelphia in terms of rookie prospects was focused on junior hockey phenoms Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, the 25-year-old Read has not only been the top rookie forward for the Flyers but is among the top Flyers forwards leaders in plus/minus (plus-nine) and ice time (17:03). After missing three games early in the month with an upper body injury, he returned to the Flyers lineup and had a five-game, goal-scoring streak that included a last-minute game-winner in Philadelphia’s 2-1 win over Phoenix. In nine November games he scored six goals with one assist and was plus-six.
Couturier slides a bit in this month’s poll after being ranked third in the initial rankings. While his offensive numbers (five goals and three assists in 23 games) don’t compare to the other top rookie scorers, the fact that he is playing in all situations for the Flyers as an 18-year-old is impressive. In 12 games in November he scored three goals with one assist and was plus-three while averaging just under 13 minutes of ice time per game. With high-fliers Claude Giroux and Danny Briere in the top two spots and veteran Max Talbot the third center for the Flyers, Couturier of late has centered the Flyers’ fourth line, where he has seen a variety of linemates including Harry Zolnierczyk, Zac Rinaldo, and Jody Shelly.
Still technically a rookie despite appearing in 24 games with Ottawa in 2009-10, Colin Greening enters the poll in the ninth spot due primarily to his two-way play and the fact that he is skating on the top line for the Senators. After opening the season with eight points in twelve games, his offensive numbers decreased in November – he scored two goals in 12 games. However, during that stretch the Senators gained points in seven of 12 games, with Greening averaging over 16 minutes of ice time per game. Like Couturier, Greening’s value is in his two-way play, particularly along the walls and in tight spaces. While his offensive game is limited, he should have more scoring opportunities as he continues to play alongside Ottawa’s leading scorer Jason Spezza.
After shuffling in and out of the lineup and playing with various linemates in what was a disappointing first month of the season for Columbus, Johansen has settled into a winger spot playing alongside R.J. Umberger and former Penguin Mark Letestu. In what is both a quirky stat and also a dubious one, Johansen scored the game-winning goal in each of the Blue Jackets first three wins (Columbus did not register their third win until November 12th).
Numbers aside, the 19-year-old’s two-way play has been one of the few bright spots for the Blue Jackets and convinced the Columbus organization to keep him with the club for the entire season rather than return him to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. In 21 games with the Blue Jackets he’s scored five goals with five assists and is a plus-two.