It would appear the only thing standing in the way of the Calder Trophy finding its way onto a mantle at the home of Evgeni Malkin (PIT) is voter sentiment. The point being, he may be the only rookie among the current NHL crop who may have to walk on water to earn the award after being anointed as an “automatic” for the award prior to the current season.
With the 2006-07 season in full swing, Malkin continues to be the frontrunner among many Hockey’s Future staff writers. Behind the Russian-born forward, Anze Kopitar (LA) has put some space between himself and the rest of the pack with his strong play and offensive prowess. On our current list, seven of the 10 rookies are playing in the Western Conference. Three teams, Colorado, Pittsburgh and San Jose contributed two rookies each.
Following are the results of our January Calder staff poll.
1. Evgeni Malkin (PIT), C
6’4, 190 lbs. DOB: July 31, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 2nd Overall 2004
Malkin is the only rookie who has been able to maintain an offensive contribution of at least one point per game. He has scored 21goals and 20 assists in 38 games. Nine of his goals have come on the power play. He has played an average of 23 shifts per game, which translates into and average of 20:11 of ice time per game.
Malkin has established an ability to provide consistent offense. He often skates alongside Sidney Crosby or veteran Mark Recchi, providing a high-end offensive combination that has resulted in success and excitement across the league. The Penguins ‘Wonder Kids’, including forward Jordan Staal, contributed immediately out of the gate this season, resulting in some early-season promise. However, if the playoffs began today, the Pens would be on the outside looking in.
2. Anze Kopitar (LA), C
6’4, 220 lbs. DOB: August 24, 1987
Acquired: 1st Round, 11th Overall, 2005
The common sentiment among media wags is that Anze Kopitar is doing his thing with the Kings without any help. That being said, he is also toiling on a club that will struggle to play in the post-season. Without question, Kopitar brings a “feel-good story” to the NHL, emerging from the tiny nation of Slovenia.
Entering the 2006-07 season, there were questions as to where exactly he might fit in with the Kings after signing a three-year entry-level contract. His consistent play has cemented him a position on the club’s top line and he will very likely become an important part of the Kings organization both on and off the ice for years to come. Through 45 games, Kopitar has scored 12 goals and added 27 assists. A durable centerman, he has appeared in every game this season, averaging 20:31 of ice time.
3. Wojtek Wolski (COL), LW
6’3, 202lbs. DOB: February 24, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 21st Overall 2004
Based on his outstanding offensive season in the OHL last year, Wojtek Wolski brought high expectations to the Avs this season. With an organization that no longer possesses a deep roster of offensive catalysts, Wolski has certainly picked up some of the scoring slack in Colorado.
Through 42 games, he has scored 15 goals and added 16 assists while averaging 14:48 minutes of ice time. Six goals have come on the power play. Along with fellow rookie Paul Stastny, the Avs have a potentially effective, long-term, offensive combination.
4. Paul Stastny (COL), C
6’, 205 lbs. DOB: Dec. 27, 1985
Acquired: 2nd Round, 44th Overall 2005
Paul Stastny opened the season with a flurry in Colorado and has maintained a consistent contribution through 43 games to date. He has scored 11 goals and 22 assists while averaging 17:18 of ice time.
Since then, his production has remained consistent and his play in all situations is evident by comparing his average ice time in Colorado to that of Wolski. A determined, physical rookie, Stastny is a local favorite as well, having helped to deliver a NCAA championship to the University of Denver during his college days.
5. Dustin Penner (ANA), RW
6’4, 240 lbs. DOB: September 28, 1982
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, May 2004
Through 46 games, Dustin Penner has made the most of his limited ice time on one of the NHL’s top teams. The Ducks are a team on the rise this season, boasting some high-end veteran talent that sees the majority of ice time.
Penner, who has tallied 16 goals and 10 assists this season, has found his way onto the second-unit power play where he has chipped in with six goals. Size and maturity are strong suits for the 24-year-old Penner, who has made the most of his 14:24 average ice time.
6. Alexander Radulov (NAS), W
6’1, 190 lbs. DOB: July 5, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 15th Overall, 2004
Perhaps the most highly-touted rookie this season behind Malkin, Radulov has brought explosive offensive skills to the Nashville Predators organization. His numbers in the QMJHL last season were astronomical, including a 51-game scoring streak and a Memorial Cup Championship with the Quebec Remparts.
Through 31 games, Radulov has scored 11 goals and nine assists while playing an average of 10:26 per game. He’s achieving a plus-9 ranking and has scored three game-winning goals. A left-handed shooter who plays right wing, Radulov spent a portion of the season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, scoring six goals and 12 assists in 10 games. With 11 goals in 45 shots, he leads all rookies in shooting percentage at 24.44 percent.
7. Jordan Staal (PIT), C
6’4, 220 lbs. DOB: Sept. 10, 1988
Acquired: 1st Round, 2nd Overall 2006
Of the 155 NHL rookies who have made an appearance this season, only three have scored short-handed goals. Staal is the runaway leader among the group with five, four ahead of both Malkin and Karl Stewart (CHI).
According to Chuck Fletcher, the Penguins assistant general manager, “what he’s been able to do as an 18 year old player in the NHL is phenomenal. He’s a different type of player than Crosby and Malkin. He doesn’t have all that flash and dash that they do but he’s a big, strong player that’s very smart, very good defensively particularly for an 18-year-old player. He’s already been our top penalty killer.”
Through 42 games, Stall has scored 13 goals and four assists. He plays an average of 13:51 per game and is among the rookie leaders with a plus-8 ranking.
8. Matt Carle (SJ), D
6’, 190 lbs. DOB: September 25, 1984
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 47th Overall, 2003
A steady contributor on the backend in San Jose this season, Matt Carle was the most hyped defenseman entering the NHL rookie class at the outset of the current campaign. Mature and dependable, Carle has delivered a consistent first half for the Sharks.
Through 40 games this season, Carle has collected four goals and 18 assists. He has a plus-1 ranking. His average ice time has decreased over the past 25 games, from over 20 minutes to 18:55. The Anchorage, Alaska leads a strong rookie contingent in San Jose along with Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Ryane Clowe.
9. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, (SJ), D
6’1. 186 lbs. DOB: March 30, 1987
Acquired: 2nd Round, 35th Overall 2005
A teammate of Radulov in Quebec last year during the Memorial Cup championship season, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has proven to be a durable rearguard so far as he has played in all but one of the Sharks 45 games to date.
He leads all rookies with an average of 21:34 of ice time per game. He has become a tremendous shot-blocking defenseman and a reliable penalty killer. Through 44 games, Vlasic has scored two goals and 11 assists and a plus-7 ranking.
10. Travis Zajac, (NJ), C
6’2. 200 lbs. DOB: May 13, 1985
Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall 2004
Through 43 games with the Devils this season, Zajac has scored eight goals and 15 assists, while averaging just 15:30 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 who continues to develop in the mold of prototypical Devils’ forwards. Zajac is making tremendous progress below the radar in New Jersey, where his skill set and secondary scoring are reminiscent of a young John Madden. He provides offensive depth and is earning more and more opportunities to play on the second unit of the power play.
Tanya Lyon contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.