By now, poolies have a handle on the rookies who are making an impact this season. In the case of John Tavares, we have known he was going to be one to watch this year since, oh, 2006. Other rookies, such as Niklas Bergfors (New Jersey) and Jamie Benn (Dallas) have cooled off. So even though they still dot the rookie scoring race, they have fallen.
Some rookies have emerged on the scene of late, while others have stepped up their play significantly. Naturally, these are the guys you want on your team down the stretch. Let’s take a look at a few.
Matt Duchene, Colorado – We should have known Duchene would have taken a couple of months to get rolling as an NHLer. After all, it took a couple of months before he was taken seriously as a top draft pick a year ago. Since starting the campaign with seven points in 21 contests, the 19-year-old (happy belated birthday, Matt – Jan. 16) has 29 points in 32 games and now leads all freshmen. There is no reason to think he can’t get 26 in the final 30 to finish with 60 points.
Rob Schremp, N.Y. Islanders – When I first heard the Oilers would be waiving him and the Islanders were interested in picking him up, my ears perked up. Like Daniel Carcillo when a star drops the gloves and comes at him, I was licking my chops. All I was thinking was, “put him on the wing and let him play with Tavares.” It hasn’t worked out that way so far and Schremp struggled to get into the Islanders lineup. But he is there now and he has posted 15 points in his past 25 games. He’ll continue on a similar pace, but the upside is huge if he ever gets a real shot with J.T.
Dan Sexton, Anaheim – Sexton is a potential 70-point second-liner, but the Ducks have thrust him into that role already. Not a bad jump, considering he was in the ECHL to start the season. After starting off hot, he has just seven points in 15 January contests. In a lot of leagues, a decent depth winger is hard to come by and Sexton will give eight goals and 15 points in the final 28 games.
James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia – There have been three phases to JVR’s season. The first was when former coach John Stevens was giving him 14 or 15 minutes a game and the 20-year-old responded with 19 points in 23 games. Then he was seeing just 11 minutes, give or take, under Peter Laviolette and van Riemsdyk responded with just one point in 13 games. Today the left winger is still seeing around 11 minutes of ice time – but he is producing, to the tune of 11 points in 12 games. With 30 games left in his season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see van Riemsdyk tally 25 points, putting him at 56 for the campaign.
Semyon Varlamov, Washington – The Russian goaltender has been injured for nearly two months and although rookie Michal Neuvirth has been brilliant in spurts, he has been inconsistent. Similarly, Jose Theodore has been solid in spurts, but brutal in others. While Varlamov wasn’t exactly Mr. Consistency when he did play, his 12-1-2 record speaks to the end result: he gets it done. He should be back within two weeks and I would expect him to ease into the starting role, but seize it down the stretch.
Brandon Yip, Colorado - Yip is indeed playing over his head, but much like Sexton, he should be good for at least a point every two games on right wing. Potentially a second-line, 65-point player, Yip has 13 points in his past 15 games for the surprising Avs. The fact there are two players on this list from the Avs, plus youngsters Ryan O’Reilly, Chris Stewart and T. J. Galiardi playing big roles, really speaks to the job coach Joe Sacco has done.
Not mentioned above and why:
Tyler Myers, Buffalo - Started the season on pace for 43 to 49 points and has maintained that pace through to today. Steady as a rock and, as such, he will not surprise.
Tuukka Rask, Boston - Will be an absolute stud between the pipes for years to come and has shown that already as a rookie. With Tim Thomas healthy, however, we’ll see less of Rask.
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