The wait is over. After a season of watching and nearly a month of ruminating the votes are in. Who was this years best rookie portsider? Who joined him on the blueline? Find out what 10 of Hockey’s Future’s finest thought in our first annual All-Rookie Teams.
LW: Ilya Kovalchuk
65 GP, 29 G, 22 A, 184 Shots
Last year at this time there were still questions swirling around the young Russian as to whether he was too full of himself to be coachable in the NHL. There definitely weren’t any about his talent, all scouting reports had him simply off the charts in pretty much every category. Not only hasn’t Kovalchuk not disappointed, but he was arguably a separated shoulder away from a 40 goal season as a rookie which in this era isn’t something that happens too often. As it was, he still lead the freshmen class in goalscoring with 29 despite playing only 65 games.
C: Pavel Datsyuk
70 GP, 11G, 24 A, 45 GV, 63 TK
With as many future Hall of Famers as the Detroit Red Wings have and a Coach in Scotty Bowman that usually opts for the tried and tested over the new and improved, Datsyuk had his work cut out for him when it came to carving out a niche for himself in Motown this year. However, although he started on the fourth line, his play improved to the extent that when Steve Yzerman went down the club felt no need to rush him back into the line-up. Anytime you can stand in for Stevie Y and do a credible imitation, you’re doing something right.
RW: Dany Heatley
82 GP 26 G, 41 A, 202 Shots
The first part of the Brandon Reid, Jamie Lundmark, Dany Heatley trio of World Junior Championship fame to make a mark in the NHL, the German born forward made a big one playing for the second year Thrashers in 2001/2002. Arguably overshadowed by Ilya Kovalchuk most of the year, he nonetheless put up comparable numbers and played a more rounded game. A testament to this can be found in the 16 games Heatley played at the end of the year without Kovalchuk due to the latter’s injury. The rooks line during this time? 5 goals, 9 assists, +5.
D: Rostislav Klesla
75GP, 8G, 8A, 175 Blocked Shots
More than one pundit wondered whether Klesla was, at 19 years old, ready for the grind of the NHL at the beginning of the campaign and the early results seemed to bear out their concerns. While others like Jeff Jillson were having more success offensively the Czech defender was to put it charitably unremarkable for the Columbus Blue Jackets. But as the year progressed under the tutelage of Dave King, Klesla found himself positionally and ended up leading all rookies by a large margin in blocked shots. Many now feel that he can also build on his offensive numbers.
D: Nick Boynton
80 GP, 4 G, 14 A, +18
The former Ottawa 67 beat out Richard Jackman and Jonathon Girard among others to lay claim to the sixth spot on the Bruins blueline out of training camp and only improved from there. The rookie rearguard was a throwback to when blueliners played defense first, hammered those that cut across the middle or tried to go in front of the net, and were content to be unselfish on offense. Nothing, especially when dealing with first year players, is set in stone, but if brought along right, a few years down the road Boynton could be drawing comparisons to Chris Chelios.
G: Dan Blackburn
31 GP, 30 Shots Against/Game, .898 Save%
Let’s see, he played for some of the most unforgiving fans in sports, in a city where dragging people’s innermost secrets through the media is a spectator sport, behind a defense which had some members that were only slightly more mobile than the Statue of Liberty and a group of forwards that on most nights had to squint to see him. Yet he still stop nearly 9 of 10 shots headed his way. The Blueshirts think so highly of the kid that they probably won’t bring back veteran Mike Richter next season and he was the starting goalie for the U.S. Olympic team.
LW: Erik Cole
81 GP, 16 G, 24 A, 257 Hits
He didn’t garner much attention down there in Raleigh, North Carolina for most of the season but by the time he hit the three-quarter pole the young power forward had found a place on the now well known BBC line. Many watch the way he crashes the net and see a young heavier version of former Edmonton star Glen Anderson. What’s more, he has some of Anderson’s wheels to boot. At this point the only thing standing between Cole and future All-Stardom is probably the injury bug that could follow him around as he lays waste to the leagues defensemen.
C: Andy McDonald
53 GP, 7 G, 21 A, 52 Hits
24-year old Andy MacDonald did what not many players have ever been able to do on the Mighty Ducks. Not only did he mesh with Paul Kariya (just ask Jeff Friesen how hard that is), he also played a responsible defensive game while doing so. He averaged nearly a hit a game, his turnover ratio was above even, and he ended up at +2 on a team that was almost completely in the minus. What’s even more surprising is that MacDonald wasn’t one of the high flying draft picks from the Pierre Gauthier era but free agent signing from Colgate in 2000.
RW: Kristian Huselius
79 GP, 23 G, 22 A
Despite leading the SEL in pretty well every offensive category last year there were a few doubters as to whether Huselius could make the transition to the North American game from the Swedish one. His fast start vanished once teams started checking him closer in November and he landed himself in new Coach Mike Keenan’s doghouse for a lack of attention to defensive detail. He has emerged a better player for all that though. Huselius is no longer a defensive liability on the ice and playing with various linemates he started finding his rhythm again in April.
D: Jeff Jillson
48 GP, 5 G, 13 A, 65 Hits
Jillson is the latest in a long line of defensemen to roll off that assembly line they have running in the Sharks farm system and there could be an argument made that he could be better than his two predecessors Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart. With Mike Rathje holding out and the club plagued by early injuries Jillson was pressed into service a bit earlier than most would have liked but when everyone returned to the fold he was sent down to Cleveland in the AHL to log major minutes. His March 5th recall was but a precursor to mentor Gary Suter’s coming retirement.
D: Mike Van Ryn
48 GP, 2G, 8A, +10
In the never-ending battle of one-upmanship between St.Louis and New Jersey (remember Scott Stevens and Brenden Shanahan) chalk this latest round up to the Blues. After failing to come to term
s with the Devils, Van Ryn signed a lucrative free agent offer with the Central Division squad and if this seasons returns are any indication, he’ll be worth every penny by the time his contract is up. With Big Al MacInnis starting to slow down on the right point his arrival in the big show could have been timed better from St. Louis’ point of view. A definite keeper.
G: Mika Noronen
10 GPI, W4-3 L-1T, .894 Save %
Ever since being drafted 21st overall in 1997 Mika Noronen has been seen as the heir apparent to Dominik Hasek. He may not have talked the talk ala Rick Dipietro but he has definitely walked the walk on both sides of the ocean. This year he saw his first NHL action behind a sometimes struggling Martin Biron and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, possibly due to the Finnish netminder looking over his shoulder the incumbent picked up his game. Still, if this team remains afloat, don’t be surprised if Noronen is the man between the pipes for the Sabres within two years.