Monday, December 20, 2010

Calder Trophy Watch: Who Is Stepping To The Forefront?

Each year the NHL incorporates a new set of young talent and this year is no different so as we approach the midway point of the NHL season within the next couple weeks to take stock of which rookies are distinguishing themselves from the rest as the top performers and contenders for the Calder.  There have been some impressive rookie performances over the first 30 plus games and those who struggled early to get their legs under them at the level and are showing their talents now.  The current top 10 is made up of players from 9 different teams and with each different team there was a different scenario for the rookie to be integrated in.  Some of these rookies are making their way on established playoff teams from last season like the where others are helping teams that were out of the playoff race last season and either trying to get back to contention or just give the fans hope for the future.
The current top 5 were obvious, and the players for 6-8 were pretty set in name if not their order, but the last two spots were up for grabs as there are some guys who could have easily snuck in at the end of the list.  Enough of the chit-chat, the rankings are from 10 all the way down to number 1:

Jim McIsaac/Getty
10. Michael Neuvirth (Washington Capitals): The 22-year-old goaltender was called into duty as the Capitals number one goaltender to start the season with Semyon Varlamov dealing with injury issues.  This rookie netminder got off to a tremendous start as in October he posted a 7-3 record 1ith 2.15 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.  Since October ended Neuvirth has failed to recapture that form and has lost what looked like it might be a solid grasp on the number one goalie job for the Capitals.  Overall his numbers now rest at 13-6-2 with a goals against average of 2.66 and save percentage of .906.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty
9. Anders Lindback (Nashville Predators): Lindback a 7th round pick in the 2007 draft was pressed into starting duty with the injury to Pekka Rinne and he responded beautifully.  Before Saturday’s awful showing against the Kings in which he gave up 3 goals on 9 shots in 9 minutes he had won five straight and posted 1.00 goals against average .962 save percentage with two shutouts.  Even with the poor showing on Saturday his overall numbers are an impressive 9-2-2 with 2.27 goals against average and .925 save percentage.  The main question for Lindback is with Pekka Rinne due back this week how much time will Lindback get.

Jeff Gross/Getty
8. Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers): Hall, the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft, would get off to a relatively slow start to his NHL career but has certainly picked up his game of late to currently have 10 goals and 9 assists in 30 games.  Hall has 12 points (7G, 5A) in his last 14 games, so the trend is in the right direction.  With the current situation in Edmonton one would expect for Hall to continue to see plenty of ice time, which will give him plenty of chances to improve his numbers and use his tremendous speed and skill to be a contender for the award by the time the season is over. 

Hall’s rookie rankings are: 2nd in goals (10); T-8th in assists (9); T-4th in points (19)

Jeff Gross/Getty
7. Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks): Fowler, the recently turned 19 year old defender, was a surprise faller at the 2010 NHL draft which saw him slip all the way to number 12.  Fowler is looking to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Calder winner, Tyler Myers, who was also the 12th selection in his draft year.  Fowler made the Ducks out of camp and was good enough early in the season for the Ducks to keep him past the 10 game mark that would have allowed them to transfer him back to Juniors.  He has had his defensive struggles at times as you would expect for a player his age his offensive production and ability to log 22 minutes a night in the NHL is certainly impressive.  If he continues to put up points and improves on the defensive side he will certainly be a threat to climb. 

Fowler’s current rookie rankings are: T-2nd in assists (14); 8th in points (17); 1st in minutes (22:16).

Nick Laham/Getty
6. Derek Stepan (New York Rangers): This 2008 second round pick entered Rangers training camp coming off an impressive Sophomore campaign at the University of Wisconsin in which his team reached the title game and leading Team USA to WJC Gold.  His spot on the Rangers was not a forgone conclusion but his play in the preseason forced his way onto the squad and he had a dream debut with a hat-trick in the opener.  Stepan would struggle soon after that landing himself on the fourth line, but has since picked his game back up and is currently playing with Marian Gaborik and manning the point on the teams number one power play unit. If that continues look for his numbers and position in the Calder race to continue to improve as it means more ice time and more quality opportunities. 

Stepan’s rankings among rookies are: T-3rd in goals (9); T-6th in assists (10); T-4th in points (19).

Doug Pensinger/Getty
5. Kevin Shattenkirk (Colorado Avalanche): Shattenkirk was a late comer to the rookie party as he was not called up to the Avs roster until November 4th and has been a stalwart in their lineup ever since.  In just 22 games this defender has put up a staggering 19 points.  The scariest part is it took him a few games to get his offense going as he has scored 18 of those 19 points in his last 16 games which is an unbelievable pace for defense.  Obviously if he keeps up his current pace, especially as a defender he will be a finalist for the award and might just walk away with it.  The only reason he is not higher on the list is I want to see him keep it up for another month.

Shattenkirk’s current rankings among rookies are: T-10th in goals (5); T-2nd in assists (14); T-4th in points (19). 
Dave Sandford/Getty

4. Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers): With all the buzz and attention that surrounds Taylor Hall in Edmonton sometimes it is easy for the diminutive Eberle to get lost in the shuffle, but his big game reminds people of just how good he is.  Eberle would make a statement in his debut with a tremendous shorthanded goal that made people take notice of him right away.  Of the young players in Edmonton, Eberle is the one who has played the most consistent hockey throughout the season to this point.  Like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle should get plenty of ice time to keep his numbers in the race and if this speedy young player has anything to say about it he will try to race off with the award.

Eberle’s rankings among rookies are: T-3rd in goals (9); 4th in assists (13); 3rd in points (22). 

Mike Stobe/Getty
3. Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes):  Skinner, the 7th overall pick in the 2010 draft, who had his critics heading into the draft about his size and speed to play at this level has had an excellent early season campaign as a rookie.  If Skinner keeps up his play he will continue to see plenty of chances in Carolina, especially on the power play where he has collected 9 of his 23 points thus far.

Skinner’s current rankings among rookies are: 6th in goals (8); 1st in assists (15); 2nd in points (23).

Phillip MacCallum/Getty
2. Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks): Couture has been looked at as the best prospect for the Sharks for the past few seasons even having a decent sized tutorial in the NHL last season, but he is breaking out in a big way this year for the Sharks.  Couture as good as he has been for the whole of the season has been even better in December scoring 9 goals and adding 2 assists in the first 10 games of the month.  Possibly the most impressive stat for the big powerful 21-year-old center is that he is T-2nd in the entire league with 5 game winning goals.

Couture’s rankings among rookies are: 1st in goals (17); T-18th in assists (7); T-1st in points (24); T-1st in plus/minus (+8). 

Paul Bereswill/Getty
1. Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia Flyers): Each year the Flyers face the same question about whether their goaltending is good enough for them to be contender’s for the Stanley Cup and this season it was no different.  Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher who combined to get them to the finals last season were back but an injury to Leighton opened the door for Bobrovsky (Bob) and he has not looked back.  Bob was named the NHL rookie of the month for November as he put up a 7-1-2 record in November with a .931 save percentage and goals against average of 2.02.  His overall numbers are not much worse than that as he has a 15-4-3 overall record with a .923 save percentage and goals against average of 2.32 as he has led the Flyers to the best record in the NHL.