Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI)
Defensemen Jared Cowen, Jake Gardiner and newly acquired forward Cody Hodgson are among the Northeast Division’s top rookies for the 2011-12 season.
Jared Cowen, D, Ottawa Senators: Selected ninth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, Cowen has been a very pleasant surprise for the Senators this season. With only 10 games of pro experience under his belt heading into the season, Cowen has emerged as one of the teams’ top-four defenseman. His time of 19:14 is sixth overall in average rookie time on ice this season. His 16 points in 74 games also puts him sixth in rookie defensive scoring. At 6’5 and only 21 years of age, Cowen offers an intriguing combination of two-way ability that should make him a primary fixture on the Senators blue line for years to come.
Jake Gardiner, D, Toronto Maple Leafs: While Maple Leafs management knew they had a special player in Gardiner, even they couldn’t predict the type of impact he has had this early in his career. Gardiner has been, at times this season, the Maple Leafs best defenseman. He’s the NHL rookie leader in defensive scoring with 25 points in 67 games, and he averages the third-most minutes for rookie skaters with 21:24. On the Maple Leafs, he sits fourth in ice-time for defenseman and third in defensive scoring. One area that will have to improve is Gardiner’s defensive game as he can get caught out of position and lacks awareness in his own zone. This could be an area that improves as he becomes more NHL experienced.
Cody Hodgson, C, Buffalo Sabres: Much was made about the deal that landed Hodgson in Buffalo and, after a 10 game pointless streak, Hodgson is starting to find his groove. The 22-year-old is starting to heat up, scoring his first (and second) goal(s) as a Sabre on Wednesday vs. the Montreal Canadiens. He also added two assists the game prior vs. Tampa Bay, which broke his 10-game pointless streak. As a member of the Vancouver Canucks, Hodgson really made a name for himself this year. He scored 16 goals and added 17 assists in 63 games. With the Sabres, Hodgson is considered a long-term solution as a top-two center.
Northeast Division Notes
Boston Bruins – Bruins kick off their Western road trip tonight in San Jose. Rich Peverley could return to the lineup at some point during the trip, but still remains day-to-day. Nathan Horton has no timetable for return, but is continuing his off-ice workouts.
Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller turned aside 34 shots as the Sabres blanked the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, on Wednesday. The shutout was Miller’s sixth of the season. The win pulls the Sabres into a tie for eighth with 80 points. Christian Ehrhoff recorded his 200th career assist in the game. Nathan Gerbe Wednesday missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. Travis Turnbull made his NHL debut vs. the Montreal Canadiens, replacing injured forward Patrick Kaleta. Kaleta is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens wrapped up their season series with the Sabres, losing 3-0. Carey Price made his 62nd start of the season in the loss. The Canadiens only managed one win in six games vs. the Sabres this season. Scott Gomez remains out of the lineup with a concussion.
Ottawa Senators – The Senators will venture to Montreal on Friday for the club’s sixth and final game of the season vs. the Canadiens. With back-to-back games this weekend, the Senators are looking to move closer to the division-leading Bruins.
Toronto Maple Leafs – The Maple Leafs will return to action on Thursday when they visit the New Jersey Devils. Clarke MacArthur is in search of his 20th goal of the season. He’s gone 10 games without scoring.