Hockey fans have been spoiled rotten for rookies this year. The NHL hasn’t seen a season so flush with young talent in years. There can be only one Rookie of the Year; only one Calder Trophy winner.
When it comes to Calder consideration, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine have dominated the conversation. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but we should not forget the rest of the 2016-17 rookie class.
Matthews and Laine are two of the League’s most exciting, dynamic, and talented young rookies, but they are not the only ones.
Drafted in the third round (83rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Matt Murray helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup championship last season and he’s out to do the same this time around.
Murray failed to meet the league’s threshold for games played last year and is therefore still considered a rookie. He now finds himself in a position to win back-to-back Stanley Cups as the Penguins appear poised to make another run at the Cup.
If Murray manages to win back-to-back Stanley Cups and wrestle the Calder away from Matthews and Laine, he would be the first goaltender to accomplish the feat since Montreal’s Ken Dryden did it back in 1973.
Though he began the year on injured reserve, Murray has effectively taken Marc-Andre Fleury’s job as Pittsburgh’s new number one net minder. Look for Murray to backstop the Penguins for years to come.
Mitch Marner was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Though the headlines have largely been dominated by his teammate Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ success thus far has been in part due to the outstanding play of Marner.
Last year Marner won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights of the OHL. He racked up an incredible 116 regular season points as well as another 44 playoff points on his way to winning one of hockey’s hardest trophies.
His 45 points puts him above all rookies for first in the league.
He leads the Leafs in assists (31) and though he lacks the size and scoring touch of Matthews, he is a consummate playmaker. In addition, Marner has been praised by head coach Mike Babcock for his unparalleled work ethic.
He will remain a fixture of the Maple Leafs for years to come.
Did someone mention the Toronto Maple Leafs? The Leafs are among the league’s youngest teams. Accordingly, they are flush with rookie talent.
Drafted eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, William Nylander finally managed to secure himself a spot with the big club. He played 22 games with the Leafs last season, accumulating six goals and seven assists over that span.
Through 50 games Nylander has amassed a respectable 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points on the season. He is fourth in points among rookies and is bound to break the 50-point mark. He may even accumulate over 60 points through the course of the 2016-17 season.
His nifty three-goal game against the Boston Bruins over the weekend makes him the second Leafs rookie to score a hat trick this season.
Between Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, the Leafs have a bright future in front of them.
Yesterday Sebastian Aho was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, and deservedly so.
Drafted in the second round (35th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Aho has been quietly making a name for himself. Aho, a native of Rauma, Finland, accumulated 45 regular season points in as many games with Karpat of SM-liiga last season; including 15 points in 14 playoff games.
So far this season, Aho has managed to put together 31 points in 51 games with the Hurricanes; including a hat trick in the Canes’ 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on January 31. The 19-year-old Finn has found considerable success playing alongside Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm.
At just 19 years of age, Aho is one of the youngest players to ever crack the Hurricanes’ lineup. Given the fact that his greatest asset is his speed, Teemu Selanne might want to trademark ‘The Finnish Flash’ before the nickname is usurped.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the league’s most unpredictable successes. A large part of that success has been due to the excellent play of rookie blue liner Zach Werenski.
Drafted eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Werenski was simply electric to start the season. He has been rumored to be among the Calder candidates, having earned the NHL’s Rookie of the Month nod back in November.
Playing on the first defensive pairing alongside Seth Jones, Werenski averages a little over 21 minutes a game; including time on the power play. He has accumulated 31 points in 51 games, 17 of which have come on the man advantage.
What’s more is Werenski’s ability to hit the net. He’s gotten 121 shots on goal thus far and is set to become an offensive threat on Columbus’ back end for years to come.
Tkachuk has managed to carve out a space for himself on the struggling Calgary Flames. The sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and son of NHL great Keith Tkachuk, has tallied 33 points so far this season, good for fifth best among rookies. Tkachuk won the Memorial Cup last year alongside Toronto’s Mitch Marner.
Drafted in the second round (55th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Montreal, Artturi Lehkonen has been solid for the Canadiens this year. Although the Habs could use a little more scoring depth, Lehkonen has shown himself to be one of the League’s most responsible two-way rookies. He regularly sees time on the penalty kill and has managed a respectable 16 points on the season.
Mantha’s NHL career got off to a rough start after he broke his right tibia shortly before the 2014-15 season kicked off. Drafted 20th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Mantha struggled to find his place on the team. This season has been good to Mantha, as he has managed 26 points in only 37 games. If Mantha can stay healthy, he will have a bright future in the NHL.
He was making waves before he ever stepped foot on NHL ice. Drafted in the third round (66th overall) by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jimmy Vesey opted to finish off his college career playing for Harvard. As a result, he allowed his entry level contract to expire with the Predators, who in return, traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres shortly before Vesey’s contract was nullified.
Though Buffalo made a valiant effort to resign the Harvard graduate, it was to no avail. When Vesey hit the open market it was the New York Rangers who had won him over. Playing with the likes of Rick Nash and company, Vesey has accumulated 12 goals and eight assists on the season. Without a doubt, he will be a big part of the Rangers organization moving forward.
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