Over the month of January, Hockey’s Future’s staff was polled to see who they think the top NHL rookie of the month was. There were several surprises, most notably the absence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) in the top spot. Also, Craig Smith (NAS), who for much of the year was among the top Calder candidates in the NHL, has dropped the considerably in the rankings.
Hampered by a groin injury for the last six weeks or so, Henrique still managed six points in nine games over the month of January. His play was far from the high standard he set in the prior months however, and the Devils shut him down in late January, causing him to miss three games.
Having spent the bulk of the season thus far on the first or second line, often alongside superstars Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise, Henrique was recently demoted to third-line duties. He still sees some time on the penalty kill and powerplay, but given his recent lack of production, that time could quickly dwindle. Regardless, Henqrique has been among the most effective rookies playing in the NHL this year. He has 34 points (13 goals) in 44 games, leads all rookies in faceoffs taken (642), short handed goals (four) and points (seven), and in general has played an effective, physical two-way game.
With Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins nursing injuries in January, Sean Couturier decided to make the Calder race a little more interesting, registering nine points in 13 games and almost doubling his totals of 11 points through 32 games prior.
Couturier put up the numbers with the same steady consistency he has shown in other facets of his game. Playing primarily as a fourth-line center, Couturier scored five goals in five games from January 8th to the 17th. When Danny Briere was sidelined by a concussion after a January 21st game against the New Jersey Devils, Couturier was elevated to the top-six, seeing his ice time climb from roughly 13 minutes on average to around 18 or more. He did not however respond as hoped with the increased responsibilities, and has since been returned to playing either on the third or fourth line.
With 12 of his points coming in his last 19 games, Couturier looks increasingly more comfortable on the ice, playing big minutes. If he continues to produce at the pace he has over the last two months, particularly January, then there is no question he will garner at least some minor Calder consideration.
Despite playing only one game during the month of January, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains the rookie points leader and the 2012 Calder Trophy favorite. That could change however in the near future as, injuries aside, his production has dipped. Mid-way through December, Nugent Hopkins had 32 points in 29 games. He managed three in his following 10 games. Some of that no doubt is due to the upper-body injury he sustained which shut him down for almost all of January. It also may be a reflection of an inconsistent group of young players in the Oilers lineup. Regardless, Nugent-Hopkins continues to be one of the top candidates for the 2012 Calder Trophy.
As one of the oldest rookies in the NHL, it is no coincidence Read is also one of the more physically mature, and consistent first-year NHLers. Through 13 games in January he managed three goals and six assists, roughly the same 50 point pace he has maintained all season. That production has been particularly important as the Flyers have lost much of their firepower up front, with both James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere falling to concussions mid-way through the month. Like Couturier, Read saw increased responsibilities, though unlike Couturier, he has responded well, continuing to play top-six minutes and seeing time on both special teams.
Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month, Cody Hodgson has defied logic with his production. Playing almost exclusively in the bottom-six in even-strength situations and seeing primarily second-unit time on the powerplay, Hodgson managed six goals (three on the powerplay) and four assists through 11 games in January. He has done it while playing a strong-two way game as well, often playing along linemates of limited offensive pedigree such as Byron Bitz or Jannik Hansen.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Hodgson will likely not get consideration for the Calder Trophy. That should however not diminish how important he has been for Vancouver, his emergence has given the Canucks arguably the strongest group of centers in the NHL.
Like Read, Colin Greening is 25 and far more physically mature than most other NHL rookies. He has also been fairly consistent from month-to-month, never having a specacular outing, but rarely a poor one either. Through 14 games in January, he managed four goals, five assists, and a plus-three. He managed six of those nine points in a five-game stretch from January 5th to the 12th, and since then his production has dropped off. There is definite connection between his production and the success of the Senators. Of his 27 points, 20 came in Senator wins while only seven have come in regulation or overtime/shootout losses. So his lack of production as of late definitely coincides, at least to some degree, with the current six-game losing streak the Senators are going through.
If Gabriel Landeskog wasn’t playing on a languishing Avalanche team, his name would come up far more often in talks of who the best rookies have been this season, particularly as of late. Through 12 games in January, Landeskog managed seven points, fairly consistent with his production in the previous months, but it has not been his offensive production that has warranted attention this season as much as his physical play. Landeskog currently ranks 19th in the NHL in hits with 141 and has been a physical force most times he touches the ice. He has played first-line minutes lately, often flanking center Ryan O’Reilly.
Few if any rookies have been used as extensively as Adam Larsson has this season, particularly in even strength situations, where he averages 19:09 minutes per game, tops among rookies and 19th in the NHL. Only 19 years old, he averages a total of 21:48 minutes per game, which is third on the veteran Devils team.
Through 12 games in January, Larsson managed three assists and a plus-three rating, playing his typically steady, if non-descript two-way game. He will get minimal Calder consideration because of his lack of offensive output, but few if any rookies have been as integral to their team’s success. When Larsson is playing well in his own zone, the Devils typically have a chance to win.
Another rookie who has been integral to his team’s success is Jared Cowen, who has by this point far surpassed pre-season expectations. Averaging 20:14 minutes per game, sixth among rookies, Cowen has been important to Ottawa’s somewhat surprising success this season.
The month of January was yet another solid outing for the 6’5 defenseman. He managed only three points through 14 games but averaged over 22 minutes a game and finished a plus-two, often playing alongside veteran Sergei Gonchar.
Smith has faltered quite a bit over the past month, managing just five points in 11 January games, all but one coming over a four game streak from the 21st to the 31st. The decline in play started early in January and can be partially credited to a flu bug he had difficulty shaking. Regardless, his ice time dipped significantly, from over 15 minutes a game to around 12.
Though he is still ranked fourth among rookie forwards with 31 points, it would take a monumental turnaround for Smith to remain in Calder considerations. In his past 13 games he has only six points, off pace the 25 he managed in his first 38.