Hockey’s Future’s Calder Poll: February 2011

By Kevin Forbes
Photo: Jeff Skinner has been the runaway favorite for the Calder Trophy for the better part of the 2010-11 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching and the gusting trade winds are shaking up the rosters of many of the league’s teams. The NHL’s rookies are no more immune to organizational movements than any other hockey player, as Kevin Shattenkirk can already attest to. After being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche and breaking into the league this season, Shattenkirk looks to be well on his way to solidifying a lengthy NHL career. The only change is that his future now lies in St. Louis, after a recent trade saw him moved from the Avs to the Blues.

Shattenkirk is hardly an exception in the league as the deals continue to occur. While rookie players are rarely a hot commodity at the deadline, other members of the freshmen class of 2011 will also be affected by trades and could see their roles increase or diminish as the future of the league’s teams, stretching into the playoffs and beyond, is decided.

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. Jeff Skinner, C – Carolina Hurricanes
DOB: May 16, 1992
Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2010

The current leader of the rookie scoring race, Jeff Skinner‘s coming-out party might have been the NHL All-Star Game, but those who watch the Hurricanes closely will be quick to tell you that the 18-year-old has been a revelation in Carolina all season long. The youngest player in the NHL this season was highly featured when he participated in the All-Star Weekend in front of the home crowd in Carolina, but unfortunately had just a single assist in a losing effort for Team Staal. Festivities aside, Skinner has been a consistent contributor for the Hurricanes all season long. Playing in all 61 games this season, Skinner has scored 22 goals and has 46 points, placing him second on the Hurricanes in scoring. His six power play goals put him third among rookies, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he leads all first year players in ice time with the man advantage. As the Hurricanes are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, Skinner will need to continue to contribute to keep Carolina’s post season dreams alive.

2. Logan Couture, C – San Jose Sharks
DOB: March 28, 1989
Drafted 9th overall (1st round) in 2007

Despite playing in just his second year of pro hockey and his first full year in the NHL, Logan Couture is quickly becoming a clutch player for the San Jose Sharks. It might be his 25 goals this year, which leads the Sharks and is second amongst all rookies. It could also be his seven power play markers, which ties him for first amongst rookies. It could even be his eight game-winners, which leads not just first year players, but is tied for the league lead among all NHL players. In any case, Couture’s nose for the net is hardly the only thing he’s bringing to the Sharks line-up. Seeing regular shifts in all situations, Couture continues to see increased responsibility as the season progresses. As San Jose looks towards the playoffs in a tight Western Conference, his ability to put the puck in the net when the stakes are down will be a near necessity should he and the Sharks wish to return to the post season this spring.

3. Taylor Hall, LW – Edmonton Oilers
DOB: November 14, 1991
Drafted 1st overall (1st round) in 2010

As the second half of the NHL season continues, Taylor Hall is starting to showcase the talent that led to him being the first overall pick in last summer’s draft. Since the change of the calendar, Hall has climbed up the scoring charts, in part thanks to an increase in responsibility on a rebuilding Oiler squad. Recent injuries to players such as Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and fellow rookie Jordan Eberle may have made a long season even longer for Oiler faithful, but Hall has responded well after being tasked with helping fill the void. Over the course of 61 games this season, he has 21 goals and 40 points. His seven power play markers are tied for the rookie lead, while his average ice time is top amongst rookie forwards. Recently, Hall scored his first career hat trick, leading the Oilers to a win against the Atlanta Thrashers. As he continues to mature and develop into an NHL star, the young sniper will be counted on to lead Edmonton more and more.

4. Sergei Bobrovsky, G – Philadelphia Flyers
DOB: September 20, 1988
Signed as a free agent

Playing behind arguably the top defensive unit in the league on the Eastern Conference’s top team, it is almost unfair to compare Sergei Bobrovsky with his fellow rookie goaltenders. Some, like Michal Neuvirth and Cory Schneider, are playing well, but seeing limited opportunities as their team’s backup net minders. Others, like Corey Crawford and James Reimer, could be considered their team’s go-to goaltenders, but when it comes to Calder consideration, it might be a case of too little, too late. Bobrovsky stands high above the field with a record of 23-9-4, including a six game winning streak in the middle of January and both his 2.45 goals-against-average and his .918 save percentage statistically place him among the top 15 goaltenders in the league. As last season proved, the Flyers don’t necessarily require a top flight goaltender to enjoy playoff success and while Bobrovsky may not be considered an elite goaltender this early in his NHL career, he should be able to fill the role looking forward for the near future.

5. John Carlson, D – Washington Capitals
DOB: January 10, 1990
Drafted 27th overall (1st round) in 2008

The month of February has led to increased responsibility for the Washington CapitalsJohn Carlson. Averaging just below 22 and a half minutes of ice time over the course of the season, Carlson’s duties have seen a jump in the past month, an increase at least partially due to the absence of top defenseman Mike Green
. Over the course of ten games in February thus far, Carlson has averaged more than 25 minutes a game. Though he has only three assists over that period, Carlson has earned his coach’s trust in Washington and, more importantly, is rounding out into a more complete player. With five goals and 24 points in 61 games, Carlson is tied for the lead on the Caps in blue line scoring. With Washington battling for the Southeast Division lead, Carlson is on track for a return to the NHL playoffs. Last year, he made a name of himself by stepping into a key role on the Capitals blue line and tallying four points in seven playoff matches. With the extra experience of this season behind him, Carlson has to hope that his second taste of playoff action will last much longer.

6. Cam Fowler, D – Anaheim Ducks
DOB: December 5, 1991
Drafted 12th overall (1st round) in 2010

A minute cruncher in Anaheim, it’s easy to forget that Cam Fowler just recently turned 19 years old. Stepping directly from junior hockey into the NHL, the former OHL star has hardly skipped a beat since making the Ducks right out of training camp. Although his minus-22 is worst among first year players, Fowler leads all rookie defenders with seven goals and 29 points. He’s also the leader among all rookies in ice time, averaging 22:30 minutes per game, placing him third on the Ducks. Necessity has forced Anaheim to depend on the young rookie, perhaps even more than they would normally be comfortable with, but the Ducks are still in middle of the playoff battle in a competitive Western Conference and an extremely tight Pacific Division. Without Fowler’s contributions, it is hard to say how much farther back the Ducks would be.

7. P.K. Subban, D – Montreal Canadiens
DOB: May 13, 1989
Drafted 43rd overall (2nd round) in 2007

As the injuries continue to hit the Canadiens blue line, PK Subban has seen his own responsibilities increase. His average ice time has jumped from below 20 minutes a game in November to seeing more than 25 minutes on average so far in February. Subban’s production has matched his increased duties, with the defender tallying five of his seven goals and 15 of his 26 points over the past 22 games. Seeing action in a total of 56 games so far this year, Subban’s rookie season has been a roller coaster to say the least. Plagued at times with frustrating inconsistency, necessity has led the Canadiens to rely on Subban more and more. As such, he’s gone from being a healthy scratch in December to seeing almost 30 minutes a game in a few recent matches. Barring a late season collapse, Montreal appears to be a safe bet to make the playoffs, but replicating last year’s post season run could be a difficult task.

8. Brad Marchand, C – Boston Bruins
DOB: May 11, 1988
Drafted 71st overall (3rd round) in 2006

Making his debut on the top 10 rookie list, Brad Marchand has been a nice surprise for the Boston Bruins. Finding chemistry alongside of fellow QMJHL-alum Patrice Bergeron and veteran Mark Recchi, the 22-year-old Marchand is enjoying a strong 2011 calendar year thus far. After scoring just 13 points in 33 games over the first three months of the season, the diminutive forward has seen his ice time jump and his production similarly rise after the beginning of the New Year. In 24 games over the course of January and February, Marchand has 14 goals and 21 points. In total, Marchand’s 34 points this year ties him for 5th among NHL rookies, while his four shorthanded markers place him tied for second in the entire league. Although their play styles are completely different, Marchand’s offensive output has helped lessen the blow caused when Marc Savard was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a concussion. Provided Marchand continues to contribute, the Bruins could be in great shape entering into the stretch run of the season.

9. Derek Stepan, C – New York Rangers
DOB: June 18, 1990
Drafted 51st overall (2nd round) in 2008

Perhaps one of the more surprising rookies this season, Derek Stepan has been quietly putting together an extremely strong and steady freshman campaign. In his first season of pro hockey, Stepan has seen his responsibilities continue to increase as he becomes more and more comfortable with the pace of the NHL. In 62 games thus far, he has tallied 16 goals and 34 points, placing him third on the Rangers and tied for fifth among all rookies. Although he started his NHL career with a hat trick in his first game, Stepan has become more consistent as the year has gone by. The Rangers are battling in a division with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but still have a good shot at returning to the post season after missing the playoffs last year. Injuries have ripped through New York’s lineup all season long and players like Stepan, who has yet to miss a game, are the glue that is keeping the Blueshirts together.

10. Michael Grabner, RW – New York Islanders
DOB: October 5, 1987
Drafted 14th overall (1st round) in 2006

It was mid-January when Michael Grabner began to heat up. Opposing teams are still waiting for him to cool down. From January 13th until today, over a period of 20 games, Grabner has 16 goals and 24 points. For comparison sake, over his previous 57 NHL games, the Austrian had just 23 points. It seems after spots in both Vancouver and Florida, Grabner has found a home in Long Island, where he’s seeing plenty of ice time in all situations. With a stat line of 25 goals and 36 points in 57 games this year, Grabner has three shorthanded markers, three game winners and a power play goal. A pure sniper, he leads all rookies in goals scored and is second on his team, while also placing fourth on the Islanders in points. Blessed with lightning speed, it is easy to see why the Canucks made him a first round selection in 2006 and in New York, he has found a team that is willing to overlook some of his other shortcomings, provided he keeps scoring. Although it might be difficult to assume that he will continue to score at a 70 goal/season pace, Grabner’s NHL future is in his own hands.

Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Bryan Bickell (CHI), Kyle Clifford (LA), Corey Crawford (CHI), Jordan Eberle (EDM), Tyler Ennis (BUF), Travis Hamonic (NYI), Mark Letestu (PIT), Jamie McBain (CAR), Michal Neuvirth (WSH), Magnus Paajarvi (EDM), Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), Mattias Tedenby (NJ)