The late arrival of Evgeni Malkin (PIT) on NHL ice enabled a few of the NHL’s top rookies to establish themselves. However, upon his return, Malkin’s performance immediately stole the spotlight. Prior to his arrival in North America, Malkin was said to be the best player in the world not playing in the NHL. Everything he has done to date in the NHL would support these claims.
With the 2006-07 season in full swing, Malkin continues to be the unanimous frontrunner among Hockey’s Future staff writers. Behind the amicable Russian forward, the race remains wide open. On our current list, seven rookies are playing in the Western Conference. Three teams, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Edmonton contributed two rookies each.
Below are the results of HF Staff Calder Poll for November.
1. Evgeni Malkin (PIT), C
6’4, 190 lbs. DOB: July 31, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 2nd Overall 2004
An amazing all-round talent, Malkin was the second overall pick in the 2004 draft after countryman Alex Ovechkin. Pittsburgh fans, indeed fans across the entire NHL, heaved a collective sigh of relief when Malkin returned from a shoulder injury incurred after a collision with teammate John Leclair in a preseason game.
Since his return to the ice, Malkin has scored eight goals and six assists in 11 games. The Pens have certainly not eased Malkin into the lineup, as he has averaged 19:42 of ice time per game.
He is skating with Sidney Crosby, providing a high-end offensive combination that has resulted in immediate success and excitement across the league. The Penguins ‘Wonder Kids’, including forward Jordan Staal, are off to a 7-6-2 start through 15 games.
2. Matt Carle (SJ), D
6’, 190 lbs. DOB: September 25, 1984
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 47th Overall, 2003
The Sharks signed Matt Carle to a three-year contract March 20 and he immediately stepped into the San Jose line-up where he scored three goals and three assists in 12 regular season games. He added three assists in San Jose’s 11 playoff games.
Through 18 games this season, Carle has collected three goals and 11 assists. He has a plus-7 ranking and is playing on average over 20 minutes per game. The Anchorage, Alaska native leads all rookie defensemen in scoring to date.
A teammate of NHL rookie Paul Stastny during his junior year with the national champion University of Denver Pioneers, Carle won the Hobey Baker Award the following year as a senior.
3. Anze Kopitar (LA), C
6’4, 220 lbs. DOB: August 24, 1987
Acquired: 1st Round, 11th Overall, 2005
Entering the 2006-07 season, there were questions as to where exactly Anze Kopitar might fit in with the Los Angeles Kings, after signing a three-year entry-level contract. In the Kings system while playing out his contractual obligations in the Swedish Elite League last season, Kopitar has so far managed a successful transition to the NHL. However, a very telling factor will be Kopitar’s ability to withstand the rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule.
Through 19 games, the native of Jesenice, Slovenia leads all rookie scorers with five goals and 11 assists. He has played an average of 20:03 per game and has managed to win 48 percent of faceoffs.
Last year, Kopitar played in the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old where he picked up 20 points in 47 games. The total was the second highest among players his age, just six points behind 2006 first round draft pick, Nicklas Backstrom (WAS). Back in 2005, Kopitar made an impression in hockey circles as he scored ten goals and three assists in five games for Team Slovenia at the World Junior Championship.
4. Wojtek Wolski (COL), C
6’3, 202lbs. DOB: February 24, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 21st Overall 2004
It would appear the extra year of seasoning in the OHL has been made Wojtek Wolski a more hungry NHLer. He played nine games for Colorado at the beginning of last season, scoring two goals and six points before being sent back to the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. There he collected 128 points, which was good enough for a third place finish in league scoring.
Through 16 games with Colorado this season, he has scored five goals and six assists, while averaging just over 13 minutes per game.
Wolski, a native of Poland, will likely cement a position in the Avs lineup by providing a consistent offensive contribution. He has seen some playing time on left wing beside veteran Joe Sakic, as well as fellow rookie, Paul Stastny.
5. Paul Stastny (COL), C
6’, 205 lbs. DOB: Dec. 27, 1985
Acquired: 2nd Round, 44th Overall 2005
Born in Quebec City during the glory days of the Quebec Nordiques, perhaps things have come full circle for Paul Stastny as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. His father, Peter, is a member of the NHL Hall of Fame and his #26 jersey has been retired by the Nordiques. It was the Nords that relocated to Denver, Colorado before the 1995-96 season.
Stastny burst out early this season, posting ten points in October. Through 16 games, Stastny has scored three goals and added ten assists. The playmaking center was one of four players chosen by Colorado in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, in what could perhaps be remembered as the organization’s most productive draft round ever. The list includes prospects, Chris Durand (WHL), Ryan Stoa (NCAA) and Tom Fritsche (NCAA).
Stastny is playing pro hockey close to the scene of an exciting NCAA triumph, as the pesky forward contributed as a freshman to the University of Denver Pioneers national championship run in 2004-05.
6. Dustin Penner (ANA), LW
6’4, 240 lbs. DOB: September 28, 1982
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, May 2004
The Ducks are a team on the rise in the NHL, having lost only once this season. With a veteran forward group and a deep blueline corps, Dustin Penner is a 24-year-old rookie who may have to bide his time in Anaheim.
Through 18 games, Penner has averaged well over 14 minutes of ice time and has collected six goals and four assists. Last season, Penner picked up some valuable NHL experience, playing in 19 regular season games where he scored seven points. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native was second amongst all first-year NHLers with three goals and nine points in the Ducks’ 13 playoff games.
Determination may be the sole reason for his signing as a free agent in 2004. Penner, from Winkler, Manitoba, gives the Ducks daunting size along the boards and a soft touch around the net. His maturity and experience should help provide a consistent effort in Anaheim, where he adds valuable depth up front.
7. Travis Zajac, (NJ), C
6’2. 200 lbs. DOB: May 13, 1985
Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall 2004
Travis Zajac is a Winnipeg, Manitoba native, who made a statement to the hockey world during the 2003-04 season when he collected 112 points with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL. The performance earned Zajac a scholarship at the University of North Dakota where he played for two seasons, accumulating 86 points in 91 games. In his freshman year, the Fighting Sioux reached the NCAA championship final game.
Through 14 games with the Devils this season, Zajac has scored four goals and three assists, while averaging just below 15 minutes of ice time per outing. He missed a pair of games in late October with a hip injury.
At 21 years of age, Zajac is already a responsible defensive forward, the type of player the Devils have made a habit of developing. He provides offensive depth as well, with a skill set that should result in some opportunities on specialty teams.
8. Jordan Staal (PIT), C
6’4, 220 lbs. DOB: Sept. 10, 1988
Acquired: 1st Round, 2nd Overall 2006
Among questions early this season was whether or not the Penguins would elect to keep Jordan Staal in Pittsburgh or send him back to the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
Through 16 games, Staal has chipped in with six goals and one assist. His first three NHL goals were scored shorthanded, with one coming on a penalty shot. He is averaging 13:41 of ice time per game.
Staal may benefit by beginning in Pittsburgh this year as Malkin and Crosby will absorb much of the media attention. As a result, the 18-year-old Staal may be subject to less scrutiny during his rookie campaign. On the other hand, his play to date suggests he is up to the challenge anyway.
9. Ladislav Smid (EDM), D
6’3, 205 lbs. DOB: February 1, 1986
Acquired: Trade with Anaheim Ducks
A big piece of the puzzle in the Chris Pronger trade, Ladislav Smid has shown the Oilers he belongs in the NHL.
In 17 games this season, Smid has chipped in with two assists. The native of Frydlant in the Czech Republic has filled a void on the Oilers backend created by the departure of Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek. Head coach Craig McTavish has shown confidence in Smid, resulting in an average of 17:44 of ice time per game. He already adds competent depth and stands to learn quickly with help from veterans like Jason Smith and Steve Staios.
With mobility being a strong suit, the 6’3, 204-pound Smid has responded well to the new enforcement standards in the NHL. In the AHL last year, Smid collected 28 points in 71 games, an offensive contribution the Oilers would surely be pleased with if he could duplicate the numbers this season.
10. Patrick Thoresen (EDM), D
5’11, 190 lbs. DOB: Nov. 7, 1983
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, May 2006
During his two seasons in the QMJHL, first with the Moncton Wildcats and then with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Patrick Thoresen scored a total of 181 points in 131 games. The native of Oslo, Norway spent the next three seasons playing in Sweden, at first in the second tier league where he scored 41 points in 38 games. Over two seasons with Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League, Thoresen collected 53 points in 83 games.
Thoresen has averaged slightly below 11 minutes of ice time per game with the Edmonton Oilers. Through 17 games, Thoresen has scored twice and added six assists.
Signed as a free agent during the Oilers deep playoff run last season, Thoresen has shown a willingness to come to the physical aid of his teammates. He finds space on the ice easily and uses his speed to create scoring chances effectively. Thoresen plays an aggressive two-way style.
Preseason Calder Poll
From our preseason poll, highly-touted rookies Patrick O’Sullivan (LA), Hannu Toivonen (BOS) and Alexander Radulov (NAS) have either been returned to their teams’ respective minor league affiliates or have ridden the yo-yo between the NHL and AHL. Jiri Hudler (DET) and Gilbert Brule (CBJ) have played regularly, but have yet to make a significant impact compared to other rookies. Rob Schremp (EDM) began the season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL.
Tanya Lyon, Guy Flaming, David Rainer, Kevin Forbes and Johan Nilsson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.