As the NHL begins the second half of the 2010-11 season, the status of the league’s rookies is becoming clearly as each game is played. Some rookies are now almost indistinguishable from their more veteran teammates when it comes to responsibility and contributions, while the grind of the big league game is showing its impact on others who are withering under the continued pressure.
This year, the league has modified its All Star Game format and freshman year players have been invited to participate in the skills competition. 12 rookies were selected to participate in All Star weekend, while Hurricanes rookie forward Jeff Skinner was invited to play in the All Star Game in front of the crowd in Carolina as an injury replacement.
Here are the results of the Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll. As the season continues, Hockey’s Future will poll its staff once a month to track the top rookies in the NHL.
1. Logan Couture, C – San Jose Sharks
DOB: March 28, 1989
Drafted 9th overall (1st round) in 2007
Just a game short of not being considered a rookie this year, San Jose’s patience in developing Logan Couture continues to pay off. Although he’s just in his second year of pro hockey, Couture’s experiences last season sharing time between the NHL and the AHL allow him to step directly into the Sharks lineup with virtually no growing pains. The rookie goal scoring leader with 22 markers, Couture also leads the Sharks in goals. This is an admirable feat considering noted snipers like Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau are some of his teammates. All told, Couture’s 33 points in 49 games places him fifth on the Sharks in scoring and second among the league’s rookies. The 21-year-old Couture sees time in all situation for the Sharks and has been a valuable part of their attack as San Jose finds themselves right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt.
2. Jeff Skinner, C – Carolina Hurricanes
DOB: May 16, 1992
Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2010
The youngest player in the NHL is now the youngest All-Star in NHL history. Although Jeff Skinner’s participation in the All-Star weekend’s festivities as an injury replacement may have had a bit to do with the fact that the game is being hosted in Carolina, that’s not to discount his skill and contributions in his freshman season. Touted as the top pure goal scorer in the 2010 draft, Skinner has lived up to that label with 18 goals and 40 points, which places him atop the rookie scoring race. Appearing in all 50 of the Hurricanes games thus far this year, Skinner sees a regular shift in Carolina as well as a solid amount of power play time. Scoring at a point-per-game pace in January, the question is how much better can Skinner get?
It might be hard to claim that the first player selected in the most recent draft is flying under the radar in his rookie year, but that might be the best way to describe Taylor Hall’s first season in the NHL. After an adjustment period over the first two months of the season, which saw him score six goals and 12 points in 23 games, he’s become a regular contributor for the Oilers over the past two months. Hall has seen his ice time take a jump after injuries hit veteran players like Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, and he’s responded well to the additional opportunity. Over the course of 26 games in November and December, Hall has posted 10 goals and 19 points, bringing his season stats up to a team-leading 16 goals and 31 points in 49 games.
Like Logan Couture, John Carlson benefits greatly from his experiences last season. Seeing time both during the regular season and in the playoffs, Carlson’s previous taste of NHL action has made him more comfortable in a regular role on the Capitals blue line. Appearing in all 51 games for Washington, Carlson averages just shy of 22 minutes per game, which places him second among both NHL rookies and on the Capitals. Though he’s known primarily as a puck-moving blue-liner, Carlson has seen time in all situations, including some regular duty on the penalty kill, in part due to injuries to some of Washington’s other defensemen. In total, Carlson has five goals and 21 points for the Capitals, while his +13 rating places him third among both rookies and Capitals.
5. Sergei Bobrovsky, G – Philadelphia Flyers
DOB: September 20, 1988
Signed as a free agent
With the Philadelphia Flyers at the top of the NHL standings as the league breaks for the All-Star game, Sergei Bobrovsky deserves some of the credit for solidifying the situation between the pipes. After last season’s playoff star Michael Leighton was unable to start the season while recovering from injury, the undrafted Russian took the starting reins and did not look back. So impressive was Bobrovsky’s play that when Leighton finally was able to return, he soon found himself on the waiver wire and currently plies his trade in the AHL. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the hope is that the 22-year-old Bobrovsky may finally be a long-term solution in the Flyers crease. So far, the results are promising: a record of 21-6-3, a 2.42 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
Fourth among rookies in scoring, Derek Stepan has adjusted quickly to the NHL. In just his first year of pro hockey, the former collegiate star has seen his average ice time steadily increase as the season has gone by. More importantly, he’s played in every game this year, a bit of a remarkable achievement on a Rangers squad that has been torn apart with injury over the course of the season. Currently third among New York players in scoring, Stepan has 14 goals and 30 points in 52 games this season. After originally lining up beside Marian Gaborik, the 20-year-old has lately played alongside of fellow rookie Mats Zuccarello and veteran Wojtek Wolski.
Though Cam Fowler wasn’t available to return to Team USA’s blue line for the World Juniors this year, you’re unlikely to hear the 19-year-old complaining. Jumping from playing junior level hockey right into a regular role in the NHL, Fowler has not looked out of place on the Ducks blue line. Seeing over 22 minutes of action per game, Fowler leads all rookies in average ice time and in 46 games he has five goals and 26 points. Although Anaheim has a history of taking things slow with their younger players, from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry right through to Bobby Ryan and Luca Sbisa, Fowler is breaking that mold by becoming an indispensible part of the Ducks defensive core.
8. Jordan Eberle, RW – Edmonton Oilers
DOB: May 15, 1990
Drafted 22nd overall (1st round) in 2008
Playing for the offense starved Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Eberle has been given every opportunity to succeed. From power play to even a bit of penalty kill, the 20-year-old sees time in all situations and has had to learn on the job as Edmonton rebuilds. Unfortunately, the lessons are currently on hold for Eberle as he has missed most of the month of January with an ankle injury. Despite this current setback, Eberle has scored nine goals and has 23 points in 37 games. Although it has already been a trying season for the Oiler organization, the continued improvement of players like Eberle and Hall could be a sign of a brighter future for Edmonton.
Injuries on the Colorado blue line gave Kevin Shattenkirk his first taste of NHL action, but his strong play has made sure his big league audition became something more permanent. Among regular rookies, Shattenkirk’s point-per-game average of .68 is second only to Couture. The talented puck mover sees plenty of power play time with the Avalanche and in 38 games, he’s scored seven goals and has 26 points with ten points coming during the man advantage. Though some of Colorado’s injured defensemen have since returned to the lineup, Shattenkirk has shown that he belongs at the NHL level.
10. Michal Neuvirth, G – Washington Capitals
DOB: March 23, 1988
Drafted 34th overall (2nd round) in 2006
It has been a roller coaster of a season for both the Washington Capitals and their rookie net minder Michal Neuvirth. After Semyon Varlamov was injured early on in the season, Neuvirth was handed the starting duties for the Capitals. Though he performed well, Varlamov’s return led to the pair sharing duties. So far in 2011, Neuvirth has played in just three games compared to Varlamov’s six starts and there’s no guarantee that the workload will increase. All told, the Czech goaltender has a record of 15-6-4 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average. Furthermore, the All-Star break could not have come at a better time, as Neuvirth is currently recovering from a lower-body injury.
Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Bryan Bickell (CHI), Alexander Burmistrov (ATL), Kyle Clifford (LA), Corey Crawford (CHI), David Desharnais (MTL), Tyler Ennis (BUF), Michael Grabner (NYI), Taylor Hall (EDM), Travis Hamonic (NYI), Mark Letestu (PIT), Anders Lindback (NSH), Brad Marchand (BOS), Jamie McBain (CAR), Magnus Paajarvi (EDM), Cory Schneider (VAN), PK Subban (MTL), Mats Zuccarello (NYR)