A few games past the quarter-mark of the season and a number of first-year players have separated themselves from the competition when it comes to rookie-of-the-year honors.
A few freshmen may drop and a few may yet jump into contention, but we feel pretty strongly one of these 10 – and, really, one of the top six at most – will walk away with the Calder Trophy next June in Las Vegas.
10. Evander Kane, C, Atlanta
Atlanta has been a better team through 27 games than it has ever been and Kane, 18, is a big reason why. He’s third among Thrashers forwards in plus-minus and has three game-winning goals, second on the team to Rich Peverley.
9. Michael Del Zotto, D, NY Rangers
The 19-year-old has been quarterbacking the league’s 12th-ranked power play since Day 1 of the season. Del Zotto’s five goals and 17 points have him fourth in Rangers scoring this season even though, along with the rest of the Blueshirts not named Marian Gaborik, he’s cooled off somewhat.
8. Niclas Bergfors, RW, New Jersey
Bergfors, 22, has quietly jumped to second in rookie scoring with nine goals and 19 points. He’s playing 15-and-a-half minutes a game for the league’s third-overall team and of his nine goals, five have come on the power play and two have been game-winners.
7. James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia
The second overall pick in 2007 may have taken longer than hoped to arrive, but he’s making his mark. Van Riemsdyk, 20, has given the Flyers offensive depth this season in the face of injuries to other top-six forwards; his six goals and 19 points are good for fifth in team scoring and his four game-winners lead the Flyers.
6. Ryan O’Reilly, C, Colorado
Colorado has surprised everyone this season as a team and O’Reilly, 18, has surprised everyone as an individual. Second round picks aren’t supposed to make the NHL four months after they’re selected, but that’s exactly what O’Reilly (33rd overall, 2009) has done. And he’s thrived, sitting tied for fifth in rookie scoring and, most impressively, tied for fifth in the league with a plus-13 mark.
5. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado
Colorado’s other 18-year-old center got off to a slow start statistically, but has been doing it all for the Avs this season. He plays against other teams’ top players, kills penalties, plays with the man advantage and, with six goals and nine points in his past seven contests, has recently shed his snake(bitten) skin.
4. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston
The Bruins have vaulted to the top of the Northeast Division with a 7-2-1 mark in their past 10 games and Rask, 22, has started seven of those games, winning five and losing one in a shootout. Has he supplanted defending Vezina Trophy-winner Tim Thomas as Boston’s No. 1? Not yet. But with an 8-2-2 record, a 1.97 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, it’s tough to keep Rask out of the net.
3. John Tavares, C, NY Islanders
The expected Calder winner isn’t doing anything to lose that mantle, it’s just his supporting cast is offering little support. Tavares, 19, leads all rookies and his team in scoring with 13 goals and 24 points and is seeing nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game as the No. 1 center for the 26th overall Islanders.
2. Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo
Likely the biggest surprise – if only because of the position he plays – Myers, 19, is eighth in rookie scoring with three goals and 15 points. More importantly, No Sabre plays more minutes than Myers and his team is one point out of the division lead with two games in hand. He kills penalties and plays the point on the power play; he’s even seen time stationed in front of the goal with the man advantage, a la Zdeno Chara.
1. Semyon Varlamov, G, Washington
When your team is in first place overall and you’re the starting goalie, there’s really no place a rookie can be other than at the top of the Calder race. Varlamov, 21, supplanted Jose Theodore as the Capitals’ No. 1 netminder during the playoffs last year, but had to battle to keep the spot this season. He won. Varlamov has played seven of the past 10 Caps games and has bettered his numbers to 12-1-2 with a 2.21 GAA and .924 SP. Forget the Calder, this guy is in the running for the Vezina...as long as he can stay healthy.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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