Hockey’s Future’s staff was polled over the month of February to see who they thought the top NHL rookie was. There were several surprises, most notably the rise of Gabriel Landeskog to the top spot and Jake Gardiner as the top defenseman. Some of the bigger names, like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Craig Smith, who for much of the year were among the top Calder candidates in the NHL, have dropped considerably in our rankings.
1. Gabriel Landeskog, LW/RW – Colorado Avalanche
Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2011
Landeskog had an outstanding month of February where the physical winger scored seven goals (two on the power play) along with six assists and a plus-nine rating in 12 games. The rookie helped bring his Avalanche team into the playoff race while going on a five game point streak to end the month of February. His ice time increased to over 19 minutes per game while playing on Colorado’s first line and both of their special teams units. The big winger’s physicality when driving the puck to the opposition’s net has started to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates.
Landeskog has played well all season and went mostly unnoticed due to his team’s placement in the standings but he’s now risen to the top of the Calder Trophy race. He’s tied for the rookie lead in goals scored with 18, leads all rookies in plus/minus (plus-22), points (43), and is second in hits with 182. If the rest of the season continues like the month of February then Landeskog could be the Rookie of the year in the NHL.
Henrique has slowly returned to his earlier form since being shutdown in January with a groin injury. The rookie is back playing in the Devils’ top-six forwards with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk while continuing to take important face-offs for his team. The two-way centerman has played over 18 minutes per game and has returned back to playing more minutes on both of the specialty team units.
Henrique has collected seven points in 11 games for February but most of them have come later in the month when the rookie started to receive more ice-time. He is tied for the rookie lead in points, having scored 15 goals (four shorthanded) along with 28 assists in 58 games. It could be a tight race for the Calder trophy if Henrique can play the rest of the NHL season at the same level that he performed at for the months of November and December.
Despite the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ disastrous record of four wins and ten loses for the month, Gardiner has played well at both ends of the ice. He has received over 22 minutes per game while being given the green light to create more offensive zone scoring chances and shooting the puck more often on the teams’ power play.
The smooth skating rookie has started to show more poise and patience when moving the puck up the ice to his forwards. He scored three goals along with an assist and a solid minus-two rating in 14 NHL games for the month of February. Gardiner leads all rookie defenseman with 19 points and is barely third to Justin Faulk (CAR) and Adam Larsson (NJD) in time on the ice per game.
Read saw his even-strength ice-time reduced as the Flyers’ injured players, Daniel Briere and James van Riemsdyk returned to the teams’ starting line-up during the month of February. However, the rookie forward has not seen a reduction in his ice-time per game on both of the specialty teams units. The two-way forwards’ offensive numbers declined to just four points and a minus-two rating in 13 NHL games this month. Read will be again given more offensive responsibility as vanRiemsdyk suffered a broken foot while blocking a shot on March 2nd and is most likely out for the rest of the NHL regular season.
Hodgson saw a reduction in his offensive production for the month of February when he only scored two goals along with an assist in 14 NHL games with Vancouver. In a shocking trade, the offensively talented two-way centerman was sent to the Buffalo Sabres for Zack Kassian on the trade deadline day. He has already received far more ice-time per game (over 17 minutes) as the Sabres’ number two centerman behind Derek Roy compared to just over 13 minutes per game with the Vancouver Canucks.
Hodgson will play with better wingers and should see an increase in his overall offensive production as he adjusts to his new teammates. He is amongst the rookie leaders in goals, points and plus/minus ratings. The talented centerman could have a chance at the rookie of the year trophy now that he’s out from the shadows of Vancouver’s all-star centermen Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
Nugent-Hopkins was able to put up only three points in five games for February when he re-injured his left shoulder early in the month. The offensively talented rookie was moved down to the Oilers’ second line when he returned from injury. He will need to stay healthy the rest of the season while returning to early season form in order to have a chance to capture the Calder trophy.
Hagelin followed up a solid January with even better play in the month of February where he scored three goals along with six assists and a plus four rating in 13 NHL games. The speedster has played at times with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik on the Rangers’ first line, shows that Coach Tortorella has more confidence in the rookie forward’s playing abilities than earlier in the season.
Hagelin has seen a rise in his even strength minutes to over 15 minutes per game and could see even more ice time if the talented forward can maintain his offensive production of the last two months for the rest of the NHL regular season. He’s second to Gabriel Landeskog (COL) in plus/minus rating amongst the NHL rookies with a plus-19 rating.
Couturier’s offensive production fell off this past month with the return of Daniel Briere and James vanRiemsdyk to the Flyers line-up but his ice time per game actually went up to over 14 minutes. He has played mostly on the fourth line at even strength but his increase of ice time has come from playing more time on the penalty killing unit as the Flyers are the most penalized team in the NHL. The solid two-way centerman is still amongst the leaders in plus/minus rating despite the lack of offensive production and not playing with the most talented wingers.
Faulk has started to put up some offensive numbers while playing over 23 minutes per game for the last two months. The hard shooting defenseman scored three power play goals with two assists in 11 games for the month of February. He now leads all rookie defensemen with seven goals and has 17 points, second to Jake Gardiner (TOR) while being the leader amongst all rookies in ice time per game with 22:44 minutes. The Hurricanes could have the makings of a number one defenseman in the talented rookie who can play big minutes in all situations.
Despite the Blackhawks’ struggles to win in the month of February, Kruger still managed to score five goals along with two assists and a solid plus-four rating in 14 games for Chicago. He also saw an increase in playing time to over 16 minutes per game as Coach Quenneville showed more confidence in the centerman to help replace captain, Jonathan Toews in the face-off circle for important draws, even late in the game. The solid two-way rookie has continued to improve his overall play as the NHL regular season has progressed and will certainly help the Blackhawks into the playoffs.