Huselius is Named October’s Rookie of the Month

By Mark Fischel

Kristian Huselius Nabs Rookie of the Month

Highly touted Calder Candidate Kristian Huselius wraps up an exciting month of October by being named the Rookie of the Month. In getting this award, Huselius beat out Mark Bell, and Atlanta’s Kovalchuk and Heatley, and Jeff Jillson

Huselius ranks fourth among NHL goal scorers (9), leads all rookies in goals (9), tied with Mark Bell for rookie points leader (11), tied with Kovalchuk with Power-play goals (3), tied with Jeff Jillson for Power Play Points (5), and leads rookies with Short Handed points (1 goal)

Huselius’s season started with scoring his first NHL goal against Philadelphia on a 2 on 1 effort, where he was able to beat Cechmanek with a shot that trickled over his right pad. The goal-scoring was absent for the next 4 games, as he was getting plenty of chances but was unable to put the puck in the net, most notably in a rematch against Philly on Oct 13th. In his 6th game vs Vancouver on Oct 16th, Huselius notched his 1st power-play goal of the season. But it wouldn’t be till after the Panthers Western road trip that Huselius finally caught on fire.

At home against Washington, Huselius notched his first multi-point game in the 4-3 OT loss against Washington, which also saw his first PP assist on a Bure crashing of the net goal. Against the Los Angeles Kings, Huselius scored his second PP goal on a blast from the left circle which beat Potvin left on the short side. Highlighting what is Huselius’s play-making ability less than 2 minutes later, he added an assist on the PP with a beautiful pass to Jason Weimer streaking to the front of the net. That concluded his multi-point streak at two games, but not his goal scoring streak.

With Valeri Bure injured and the Panthers quest to find a scoring line center, Marcus Nilson was placed as the center between Huselius and Ivan Novoseltsev and they formed what is being called the “Kid-Line” With Nilson’s gritty play, Ivan’s speed, and Huselius’s playmaking ability and scoring ability, the line quickly meshed together and became the defacto #1 line in terms of production.

Against the Penguins, the “Kid-Line” came together again to give Huselius his 5th goal of the season on highlight passing and playmaking between the three members. The second pair of multi-point games came on the Panthers New York portion of their road trip. Against the Islanders, Huselius scored two more goals, included a short-handed goal in an last period attempt to pull the Panthers to one goal, but the Islanders proved too much for the Panthers and another strong night for Huselius went for naught.

At this point already hot, Kristian kicked it up a notch against the Rangers to make his case for the Rookie of the Month award. On the PP, Kristian cranked up a shot that deflected off of Brian Leetch’s stick and past a handcuffed Richter for his 3rd PP goal of the season and the game winner. In perhaps what served the rest of the NHL notice, Huselius showed off to the New York crowd and to the nation via the highlight reels his remarkable skills on a solo effort to add the insurance goal to the Panthers 3-1 win.

Intercepting the puck on the boards to Richter’s left, Kristian cut across the slot and deked out Berard and Ulanov to the ice with his quick stickhandling and skating. As the defenseman fell to the ice, Huselius patiently kept going across the slot while Richter threw himself back across the crease in a vain attempt to stop the puck from going in the open net.

So how was Huselius able to make the adjustment to the NHL so quickly? Two of the main reasons: Stickhandling and Hockey Sense. The common perception was that he wasn’t going to be able to handle the rough play and wouldn’t reach NHL readiness until halfway through the season. Huselius has remarkable on–ice vision and hockey sense, and this allows him to read the plays and be in the right spot at the right times. He is very adept at finding open ice to take shots, or use his passing ability to find teammates in prime scoring position.

Skilled players are able to make room for themselves and the players around them, and the stick-handling ability Huselius possesses opens up the ice for him. Several instances when Huselius had the puck, defenders wouldn’t directly challenge him for risk of opening up a passing lanes for his teammates to exploit. When he was challenged in close situations, Huselius is able to keep the puck away and has the ability to open up enough room to sneak off a shot on goal.

On the several full and partial breakaways he had this season as well, Huselius’s ability to stickhandle helps him with deking and keeping the goalie and defenders guessing. This was used to devastating consequences against Mike Richter, Olaf Kolzig, and Chris Osgood on odd man situations or breakaways for goals.

As Huselius keeps adjusting to the NHL game, he will be providing the Panthers with a much-needed scoring presence on the second-line. When Valeri Bure returns the options open up even more, and with Pavel Bure seemingly shaking off his usual slow start, and Kozlov’s continued scoring, the Panthers offense will be able to get back on track and help out the improved but beleaguered defense and goaltending. Hopefully that translates into wins….