Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)
Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner took the NHL by storm last season, using his unique skating ability, scoring acumen and carefree attitude to win the Calder Trophy. At 18, Skinner became the youngest player to play in the NHL All-Star Game — which happened to be held in Raleigh last season — and also became the first Hurricanes player to win rookie of the year honors.
Even beyond Skinner, the 2010 Entry Draft has been kind to the Southeast Division. Of the 12 players from that year’s draft to have made it to the NHL, five reside in the Southeast, representing four of the division’s five teams.
Skinner has been joined in Carolina by defenseman Justin Faulk, the 37th overall pick last year. Faulk was a key cog in Minnesota-Duluth’s NCAA championship last spring, and has had nearly as much of an impact with the Hurricanes in 2011-12. He leads the team in average ice time with 22:46 a game through 50 contests, and his eight goals — the most recent of which won the game in overtime Tuesday in Washington — are the most ever by a Carolina rookie defenseman. While he faces an uphill climb to give the Hurricanes back-to-back Calder winners, Faulk is certainly making a case to be among the NHL’s three finalists as the league’s top rookie.
In Winnipeg, hockey fans are getting their first up-close look at 2010’s eighth overall pick, Alexander Burmistrov, but the Russian forward was opening eyes in Atlanta last season. Burmistrov’s combination of skill, speed and defensive accountability are reminiscent of a young Marian Hossa, also a former Thrasher. Burmistrov is already used in all situations by Jets coach Claude Noel, and while he’s yet to put up big offensive numbers, he still has 13 goals and 13 assists for Winnipeg as a 20-year-old — similar to the numbers Hossa put up in Ottawa at that age when he had 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 60 games in 1998-99.
The Panthers selected three players in the first round in 2010, and their highest selection is already playing full-time in Florida. Third overall pick Erik Gudbranson has had his growing pains in his first professional season — he’s last on the team in plus/minus at minus-20 despite playing mostly at even strength, often in favorable situations — but his future still looks bright. He’s a great character player who has the size and toughness to be an intimidating force, and while he may never put up big offensive numbers he does possess a hard shot that could be utilized down the road.
Last but not least, Brett Connolly has overcome the draft year injuries that plagued him in junior to earn a roster spot in Tampa Bay. The sixth overall pick possesses modest numbers in his first NHL season, with four goals and seven assists through 52 games, but he has played limited minutes as the Lightning ease him in to life as an NHL player. The team’s decision to ship out Steve Downie prior to the NHL deadline would indicate that the Lightning see Connolly playing a bigger role down the stretch and for years to come as he grows into his big frame and becomes more consistent.
Southeast Division Notes
Tampa Bay Lighting – Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes took a huge hit with their 7-3 home loss to Ottawa Tuesday. The Lightning not only failed to gain ground on idle eighth-seed Winnipeg, but goalie Mathieu Garon suffered a groin tear in the first period and had to leave the game. Garon, who is expected to miss three to four weeks, hasn’t been a savior for the Lightning, but he has provided much more stability than Dwayne Roloson. Tampa Bay will have to lean on the struggling Roloson and call-up Dustin Tokarski down the stretch, greatly reducing the Lightning’s thin playoff aspirations.
Washington Capitals – Rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov was given a 10-minute misconduct for abuse of officials Tuesday in Washington’s 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina for shoving linesman Jean Morin following a scrum with Carolina’s Jeff Skinner. Coupled with the two-minute minor he received in the same sequence, Orlov’s penalty minutes quadrupled from four to 16 on the season. Orlov will likely hear from the league offices as the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement states that any player given a penalty for abuse of an official may be subject to a fine. Rule 40.1 and 40.2 actually states that any player who deliberately uses physical force — as Orlov clearly did — should receive a game misconduct. Furthermore, Orlov’s actions — if reassessed by the league — probably fall under Rule 40.3, a Category II-level automatic suspension due to the use of deliberate physical force on an official. That calls for a minimum 10-game suspension. The most serious infraction, a Category I abuse of officials, requires intent to injure and calls for a minimum 20-game suspension, but it was clear Orlov wasn’t trying to hurt Morin. Since the officials only called a 10-minute misconduct, Orlov may be spared the suspension he probably deserved by letter of the law, but that will be up to Brendan Shanahan and the NHL’s disciplinary wing.
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