From a fantasy standpoint, only four to eight rookies post valuable numbers every season. Last year it was Steve Mason, Bobby Ryan, Kris Versteeg and Pekka Rinne. Beyond those players you were looking at fewer than 50 points for a forward or 25 wins for a goaltender. Granted, Mikhail Grabovski had several very streaky weeks and Blake Wheeler had a decent first half, while Steven Stamkos and Michael Frolik came on strong in the second half. But the season as a whole boasted just the four names stated above. That’s what you’re looking at year after year – lots of promise, but only a little immediate return.
For 2009-10, we of course have John Tavares and Semyon Varlamov; the two players most experts agree have the best shot at the Calder Trophy. Here are a handful of others to keep an eye on.
Artem Anisimov, C, New York Rangers – Two things could happen with this dazzling pivot that will shoot his production through the roof. One, Brandon Dubinsky could get hurt. Two, Dubinsky could fail miserably on Marian Gaborik’s line. If the latter happens and they give Anisimov a shot, he’ll surprise. Otherwise, for this season, he’s a third-line center looking at 35 or 40 points.
Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas – After a solid pre-season, Benn is poised to steal a top-six spot from the first winger who stumbles. He has already surpassed Fabian Brunnstrom on the depth chart. If he sticks the entire season, it will be the result of producing at a 55-point pace.
Matt Duchene, C, Colorado – The 18-year-old will bounce back-and-forth between the second and third lines, meaning projections are dicey. His impact could be akin to Kyle Turris’ 20 points last year or Patrice Bergeron’s 70-plus points in 2003-04. Or, if he starts slow and finishes strong, perhaps his numbers will look like Stamkos’ did last year.
Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus – With coach Ken Hitchcock keeping a tight grip on the reins, Filatov will be held to a sub-60 point total, but as the most talented player on this list he should flirt with 50 if he works hard and stays in the lineup.
Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay – The best defenseman in the draft and the second overall pick, Hedman can’t be ignored. The feeling here is, however, that his offense will come in later seasons. For now, I would be surprised at anything above 30 points. Even 25 will be tough. He’ll round out his game in other ways first.
Evander Kane, RW, Atlanta – He’ll at least get a nine-game tryout and if he produces they’ll keep him. An injury to a key top-six forward would certainly help him. If he goes back to junior he’ll be a Calder favorite in 2010-11.
Ville Leino, LW, Detroit – Still Calder eligible, the 25-year-old has had a strong camp. The Red Wings need to make up for some of the scoring they lost and so far Leino has fit the bill. He should easily top 45 points and could make a run at as many as 60 right off the hop.
Sergei Shirokov, RW, Vancouver – The shifty Russian took the Canucks camp by storm, seemingly posting points every time he played a game. A sprained knee kept him out of some exhibition action, which only helps keep him under the radar in fantasy leagues. The wildcard of this list, I expect him to score anywhere from 30 to 60 points, but he has the potential for more.
Viktor Stalberg, LW, Toronto – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer in the pre-season could not have had more things fall into place for him. He’s got size, speed, hands and he’s NHL ready. In just a few weeks he went from “needs another year” to “Calder contender.”
James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia – JVR has earned a spot on the third line. The numbers game will keep him there, making it unlikely he will get to 45 points. Still, as with all situations like this, a couple of key injuries in the lineup could impact his production dramatically.
There are a handful of others to keep an eye on, but they are real long shots. After seeing what Versteeg did last season, however, it’s clear you can’t count anyone out. Even those who have been cut could get recalled in a couple of weeks and go on to receive Calder consideration (Right Bobby Ryan?). Just understand that out of a dozen good rookies to choose from, you have about a one in three chance he’ll pay dividends consistently throughout the year.
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