Taking an early look at the race for the Calder Trophy and the long list of impressive starts by rookies to the 2013-14 season.
It’s still early, but there have been so many intriguing freshmen starts around the NHL, so the race for the Calder has already heated up. Surely slumps will come – we’re betting Tomas Hertl won’t win the Rocket Richard. And surely there are a few rookies not on this list who still have their hot streaks to come (we’re looking at you, Valeri Nichushkin).
So here are our rankings of the top rookies so far, with updates to come throughout the season.
10. Danny DeKeyser
The undrafted defenseman out of Western Michigan University won’t pile up points, but he’s seen a lot of minutes in his first full NHL season. DeKeyser is averaging 19:26 of ice and is already playing with poise and confidence, since he gained 11 games of regular season and two games of post-season experience in 2012-13. When Niklas Kronwall had to leave Thursday’s game after Cody McLeod’s dirty hit, DeKeyser stepped up and logged a game-high 25:54 of ice, five blocks and an assist. If Kronwall is out for an extended period, DeKeyser’s Calder pitch could gain some momentum.
9. Ryan Murphy
An offense-minded defenseman, Murphy scored his first NHL goal Thursday night and is now tied for eighth in rookie scoring with four points in seven games. He still needs to shore up the defensive side of his game, but if he keeps getting more than 17 minutes of ice a night, the points should continue rolling.
8. Jacob Trouba
In his very first NHL game, Trouba logged a hefty 25:02 of ice and has actually gone above that number twice since. He hasn’t scored a point since he put up two in that Oct. 1 game, but he’s still a steady hand for such an inexperienced pro player. He’s a minus-2, but that has a lot to do with the fact he’s on a middling Winnipeg team. Trouba is an electric talent and it appears coach Claude Noel will keep leaning on him in every situation for the time being. So far, Trouba averages the second-most minutes on the Jets, behind only Dustin Byfuglien.
7. Aleksander Barkov
His minutes are on the rise, and why not? Barkov’s big body is already making a home in front of NHL nets and he’s been rewarded with two goals and five points in eight games. He’s done everything required to be a serious Calder contender so far, but because there are a slew of other top performers, Barkov gets slotted surprisingly low early on.
6. Nathan MacKinnon
I know – it’s unbelievable MacKinnon ranks this low, but it is by no means a slight. The first overall pick this past June has been great, scoring at least a point in five of his first seven games. He’s not getting the top line minutes some other rookies are, but he may prove more durable and consistent over 82 games. For now, though, he ranks behind some other eye-popping starts.
5. Alex Chiasson
This is crazy: Chiasson scored 13 goals in 57 American League games last season and topped out at 15 in his best NCAA season with Boston University – but he scored nine goals in his first 10 NHL games (this season and last). He now has 13 NHL games under his belt and hasn’t scored a goal in his past three, but he did get two assists in that time. The 6-foot-4, 187-pound winger also sees a lot of ice and has pulled in 17:36 and 18:58 in his past two games. Until he slows, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff should keep giving him these minutes, which will put him in position to continue adding points on the board.
4. Sean Monahan
Will the Flames keep him for the year, or send him back to dominate junior hockey and gain valuable experience at the WJC? So far, Monahan’s play hasn’t done anything to dampen his prospects at a permanent NHL spot – it’s more a question of what’s best for his long-term development. Monahan has scored a goal in four of six games and recorded a point in five of them. His on-ice minutes have also shot up by four or five since he logged 11:40 in his NHL debut.
3. Seth Jones
No, Jones doesn’t have point-per-game totals or a league-leading goal mark, but the fourth overall pick in June is being granted a ton of responsibility for Nashville – and doesn’t look out of place at all. He logged 18:35 of ice in his first game and has only seen fewer than 21 minutes once in the six games since. Jones has a goal and three points and is seeing all situations. The Preds have a penchant for spinning out elite defenders and Jones appears headed down that path.
2. Mark Arcobello
A 5-foot-9, 165-pound undrafted player out of Yale? Now that’s a rookie story to get behind. Arcobello didn’t arrive with the fanfare or expectations of some other Edmonton rookies in recent years, but he’s tied for the team scoring lead with eight points (all assists) through eight games. Arcobello apprenticed in the AHL for three years, topping out at 68 points in 74 games last season, so he’s been a scorer at the pro level already. He’s averaging 17:10 of ice per game, which is tops among rookie forwards – and that’s on the rise. Arcobello has gained the trust of coach Dallas Eakins early and has seen more than 21 minutes his past two games. He’s been the brightest spot during Edmonton’s cold start.
1. Tomas Hertl
Kind of hard to put anybody else at the top of this list when Hertl leads all NHLers in goal scoring. Yes, that total is helped by a four-goal night and a small sample size, but he’s still logged at least a point in five of seven games. His minutes have stayed at around the same level so far and likely won’t increase too much, since the Sharks are a Cup contender loaded with front line talent. And, at this point, what’s a list with Hertl if you don’t include a video of his dazzling goal? Everyone wants to see that again.