On last weeks episode of The Icebox, Mr. Macri and myself touched a bit on rookies. Jeez.. since we’re about half way through the season with most teams playing about 20 games so far, we might as well just hop right into Calder nominees. Obviously this award goes to the player that finishes with the best overall credentials by the end of the season, but there are some kids that I’ve been watching lately that have been a pleasant surprise. So without further ado, I’ll shoot you my honorable mentions and than we’ll get down to brass tax.
Brendan Gallagher- Drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall, and sitting at just 5’9 you’d think his path to the NHL would be a little rougher than what you see on paper. You know how they love their short guys in Montreal though.. Through 14 games, Gallagher has eight points, including five goals. Just watching him skate against the rangers twice this past week, he has unbelievable speed and a knack for the net. Not only that but he’s extremely defensively sound, and a +/- of positive 7 speaks to that. The only rookie that’s better than him in that category, we’ll be getting to later.
Jakob Silfverberg- We watched Jakob make his NHL debut last year during the playoffs against the Rangers, and on that note here’s a segue for you: Shorthanded, he absolutely roofed his fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist on Thursday last week. Short handed no less. He may not be putting up numbers yet, but this kid can handle the puck. He’s a strong skater, and has an absolute rocket, but has a bit to work on before you can throw him in a top 6 roll.
Mika Zibanejad- Another Ottawa Senator; as well as Swede on the list. Why is it that all three of these guys have been a living hell for the Rangers the last few days? This kid has UNBELIEVABLE speed, and silky smooth mitts on top of that don’t make him any easier to stop in the offensive zone. He just has to work on finishing. If he was on the ice more, I’m sure he would, but that comes with experience rook. In any event, you can see that the kid just has a swagger about him when he skates, and just needs to develop his skills a little more.
Alex Galchenyuk- If this kid continues his warpath through the NHL he could very well find himself on or just missing the Team USA Olympic roster next year (assuming NHL’ers are allowed to go). Lets face facts, he’s the best American rookie in the league by a long shot. Sitting at 6’1, 196 lbs, Montreal didn’t force him into a top six role, as well as moving him to wing where there isn’t as much defensive responsibility as his natural position of Center. But defense doesn’t seem to be his problem, posting a +8 rating through 18 games. One might say he’s not scoring enough, to be considered, but the kid was never a natural scorer. Don’t get me wrong, he has some finesse, but even his days playing juniors with Sarnia, he was always a passer. His numbers this year prove that.
Vladimir Tarasenko- Vlad got off to a nice start in St. Louis, and made them look like the Hitchcock days of 2-1,1-0 games were over. He started the season on FIRE, through his first eight games he had ten points, including five goals. He has picked it up of late but there was a streak of about four games he was held pointless, and has one goal in his last ten. Don’t get me wrong, Tarasenko has talent for days, and unbelievable offensive ability.. But like most Russians (a-la Alex Ovechkin.. Semin.. ect.) they lack defensive responsibility, and tend to be streaky sometimes. I’d like to see him get a little more time and string a few solid games together, before I throw him in my top three, because he’s more than capable of doing it. The two Russians to win the Calder trophy have unbelievable careers in the NHL, maybe its a sign..
Nail Yakupov- What’s not to say about the 1st overall pick in last year’s draft? He’s an electrifying player. A testament to that is his 16.7 shooting percentage. Malkin (13.6), Ovechkin (12.2), and Crosby (14%) are all over three points shy of that. He may not play a lot of minutes, but the minutes he plays he makes them count. Especially on the power play. Half of Yakupov’s points come on the power play, including a game winner against phoenix. The only problem I have with Yakupov is that he is not very responsible in his own end posting a -10 rating. Put it this way, Yakupov has been on the ice for at least one goal in every game but two this year. Than again.. Edmonton only has two players that are in the positive for that category.
Corey Conacher- When your team is surrounded by offensive studs, the likes of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos and company, its hard to count a kid out that’s playing with them. Corey Conacher leads all rookies with 17 points through 18 games. That’s almost a point a game for the youngster. Not only that he’s just outside the top twenty in the league for points overall, as a rookie. He is by no means a big person, but he is extremely shifty. Watching a guy like St.Louis play, and seeing how he adapts to the game has definitely elevated his level of play. As I mentioned before, He plays on a team that has at least three guys that are solid 60-70 point guys. When they’re not performing what happens to Conacher? He’s not performing. There was a stretch that the Lightning lost six in a row, and Conacher was held without a point. That speaks a lot about a player because a guy winning the Calder should have an even balance of effort for a team that he has for himself. If Conacher were playing on another team, with less talented players do you think he would be putting the points up he has now?
and the winner is..
Johnathan Huberdeau- Out of all the people that are mentioned on this list, Huberdeau has to play on the least talented team. Yes I’m biased because I don’t think there should be a team in Miami, but lets face facts.. This team is TERRIBLE. They have some of the best prospects in the league, but the team that they have on the ice right now couldn’t get any worse. Huberdeau, in his first year with Florida not only leads the team with points, but is the best goal scorer they have with eight goals so far. Muller who’s been a pleasant surprise this year has the second most. They have four people on their team that are on the ice more when they’re team scores, than the other team, and you guessed it.. Huberdeau is one of them. He is just a solid all around player, he knows how to put the puck in the net, and he knows how to dish it as well. Speaking of shooting percentages.. he ousts Nail Yakupov by three points, shooting 19.0% on the year. I’ll let you read that over again. If it was me choosing the Calder, this kid would have my vote hands down, simply for what he’s doing on an awful team.