In this shortened 48-game season, we’ve now reached the quarter-poll. As such, I think now is a good time to review what rookies have come out of the gate flying and give an early look at the top 5 Calder Trophy contenders at this point. Check back often as I a update the list, and keep you in the loop as to who the front-runners are.
5.) Alex Galchenyuk, Centre, Montreal Canadiens: Galchenyuk, or Chuckie as his teammates have nicknamed him, has been playing on a line with Brendan Prust and fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher. He has three multi-point games already this season and has put up 7 points in 11 games for the Habs. The youngest player on the list, the 3rd overall pick from June isn’t getting huge ice time as he averages just 12 minutes per game at this point. As he continues to earn the trust of coach Michel Therrien, we should expect his minutes to increase, and he will have a chance to move up the list. He does need to use his wrist shot more at this point, as he’s mainly been a playmaker and not a shooter to this point. When he does let his shot fly, his good power and tremendous release can give goalies issues.
4.) Nail Yakupov, Left Wing, Edmonton Oilers: Yakupov created a ton of controversy with his goal celebration after a last minute game tier vs the Los Angeles Kings. Since that time he’s taken the time to refine his goal celebrations by scoring 4 more goals to tie for the rookie goal scoring lead. The 19-year old, #1 overall draft pick from last year’s draft is showing that his natural sniping ability works against NHL goaltenders. Injury problems shuffled Edmonton’s lines, and the Oilers have recently put him on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (returning from injury) and Jordan Eberle. If he connects with the other young studs, he could climb this list very quickly.
3.) Justin Schultz, Defence, Edmonton Oilers: Schultz has been a revelation on the Oilers blue line. He has shown a solid defensive game and is playing 23 minutes a game for the oilers. With 7 points in 12 games, he’s helping to keep the Oilers offence afloat, even after they have suffered injuries to 4 of the top 5 centres in the organization. Schultz is a natural powerplay quarterback, and his offensive instincts and tremendous passing and shooting skills are helping the Oilers on the man advantage where he’s put up 4 points. Schultz needs to continue to connect with the other Oilers’ young guns, and hope his teammates can get healthy in order to climb his way up the list.
2.) Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing, St. Louis Blues: Tarasenko has been the NHL’s flashiest rookie this season. Included among his 5 goals and 10 points in this season are several highlight reel goals. Tarasenko has been a human highlight reel for the Blues, and is showing the high end offensive skill that had him putting up big numbers in the KHL this season during the lockout. Tarasenko was playing with Alex Steen and Andy MacDonald to start the year, but was recently dropped down a line to play with Patrick Berglund, and Jaden Schwarz. It will be interesting to see if this change will effect Tarasenko’s ice time and statistics, but he has so much talent that he may be able to overcome it and earn his way back into the top 6 and get back that extra ice time he was previously getting.
1.) Cory Conacher, Right Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning: Conacher has coming flying out of the gate with 5 goals and 12 points in his first 11 games, and is our current rookie scoring leader. The 23 year old is the oldest player on the list. He has found instant chemistry with linemates Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell and is showing why he won the AHL MVP and Rookie of the Year last year for Norfolk. The pint sized winger was a free agent signing and the comparisons to Bolts winger Marty St. Louis are obvious. One concern is that his shooting percentage of over 22% so far this year may be a bit high, and unsustainable. It will be interesting to see if he can offset that by getting a little bit more than the 15 minutes of ice time per game that he is currently averaging. He’s playing well at both ends of the rink and is gaining the trust of head coach Guy Boucher so he may see more responsibility as the year goes on.
Its been an exciting start for many rookies across the league. We’ll check in on this list again at the NHL’s mid-season mark. How do you think it will change? How will be the big risers and fallers over the next 12 games? Feel free to leave your comments below.