Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: NHL Rookies Becoming NHL Stars

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - a great group of NHL rookies go from "Future Stars" to household names!

This Year’s NHL Rookies Are Becoming NHL Stars

NHL rookie Adam Henrique and the New Jersey Devils
take on the Ottawa Senators
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)
With the NHL’s 82 game schedule completed and the playoffs set to begin, the debates are raging in the media and amongst hockey fans regarding the annual awards that will be handed out June 20th in Las Vegas. Is Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, the Rocket Richard Trophy winner with 60 goals, also the Hart Trophy winner as the MVP or will Evgeni Malkin’s league-leading 109 points win the trophy? Has St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott played enough games to be considered for the Vezina Trophy with Jonathan Quick (Kings) and Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)? Here in Ottawa, the award conversation revolves around Erik Karlsson. Is he the clear winner of this year’s Norris Trophy?

One thing is clear though, the NHL has no shortage of stars and world-class talent, and that number continues to grow. This season, an astounding number of young players have staked their claim to being the stars of the future in the NHL. How has this year’s group of rookies impacted the NHL? We need look no further than the Philadelphia Flyers, where 11 first-year players hit the ice at the NHL level for at least four games this season.

Leading the way for Philadelphia was rookie forward Matt Read. The former Bemidji State University star did not finish at the top of the rookie scoring race (he finished fourth with 47 points), but he has been an integral part of the Flyers season. When Philadelphia traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter during the off-season, many wondered who would fill the void left by their departure. Well, Read and fellow rookies Sean Couturier (27 points in 77 games) and Brayden Schenn (18 points in 54 games) have stepped into the lineup and made an impact with stars like Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. The most impressive number for me when I look at the Philadelphia rookies - Read and Couturier have combined for ten game-winning goals this season!

In the Western Conference, Edmonton’s first-overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog finished the season at the top of the rookie-scoring race. These two may be the favourites for the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year and it will be interesting to see how their seasons are viewed. Nugent-Hopkins scored 18 goals and had 52 points, but he was limited to 62 games due to injuries. Landeskog had 22 goals and 52 points and suited up for 82 games with the Avalanche. Landeskog helped keep his team in the hunt for a playoff position until the final weeks of the season.

As impressive as Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins and the Flyers rookies have been, another player has made his case for Calder consideration - New Jersey’s Adam Henrique. The third round selection (82nd overall) in the 2008 draft, Henrique is a two-time Memorial Cup champion with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires and the talented junior star has brought his game to the next level - the NHL level. Averaging over 18 minutes per game and 23 shifts per game, he is playing top-line minutes in New Jersey, scoring 16 goals and adding 35 assists in 74 games. It is not just his total points that are impressive, Henrique’s overall game has been outstanding - he plays a regular role with New Jersey’s penalty killing unit and leads all rookies with four goals and three assists while shorthanded.

One rookie that does not score very often, but you will certainly be hearing his name in the coming years is Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen. He may not be in the running for Calder consideration, but he certainly deserves a mention. This time last year, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft was wrapping up his junior career with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League. He joined the Binghamton Senators and helped win a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League. A rugged d-man, Cowen made the Senators roster with a strong showing at training camp and played in all 82 games. He scored 5 goals and added 12 assists, but it is not his offensive prowess he will be famous for, it will be his presence and hockey knowledge behind his own blue line.

There is plenty of debate about the NHL game - injuries continue to be a major concern, the need to see more goals scored and even realigning the divisions and playoff formats are all major talking points. One thing is certain though - the league has an abundance of young stars that will one day become household names and the faces of the game.

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