As the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings battled for the Stanley Cup last June, I took an early look at some of the top projected rookies for the 2009-2010 season. Now, after their first month in the NHL, we’ll take a look at how some of those players have adjusted so far, and some other freshmen who’ve emerged as early Calder candidates.
John Tavares (NYI) – JT’s had a decent start to his NHL career with 7 points in his first 9 games. He hasn’t looked out of place so far but he doesn’t exactly have much to play with. I’m very curious to see how he’ll manage the strain of a full NHL season, especially given that he currently plays over 19 minutes per game, which is tops among rookie forwards.
Victor Hedmen (TBL) – Victor Hedmen leads all rookies in average icetime, playing 25 minutes a game, which is unbelievable. Tampa Bay obviously has a lot of respect for Hedman, because he’s seeing more icetime than Niklas Lidstrom, Kimmo Timonen and Sergei Gonchar. Wow.
Matt Duchene (COL) – I wasn’t convinced that Duchene would be strong enough to play in the NHL this season and I was totally wrong. Duchene has looked pretty good for Colorado so far and he just got word that he’ll stay with the club for the whole season. The only knock on Duchene is that he’s not the most impressive rookie playing for Colorado right now.
Ryan O’Reilly (COL) – I think O’Reilly has to be one of the biggest surprises in this year’s rookie class. Through, 11 games, he’s scored 10 points and he’s a +10. He’s a one of the reasons for Colorado’s hot start this year and was their strongest rookie in October.
James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – Injuries have slowed van Riemsdyk’s debut season a little, but he still has 7 points in his first 6 games. There’s no doubt about his skill, but the biggest questions facing van Riemsdyk are his ability to play a full NHL season and how much ice time he’ll see on a deep Philadelphia Flyers roster.
Matt Gilroy (NYR) – Matt Gilroy has lived up to expectations that came from all the buzz he generated last spring. He has certainly helped the New York Rangers develop a quick transition game that most teams underestimated at the start of the year. I’ve been impressed with Gilroy’s poise this year, and his +4 rating through 11 games is a testament to how smart of a player he is too.
Davis Drewiske (LAK) – Drewiske was signed as an undrafted player this summer by the Los Angeles Kings and has fit in very well so far. I watched him play on Sunday night against Columbus and he’s got a great first pass and he plays a smart game. He’ll definitely be a player to keep an eye on as a cheap pickup for your hockey pools – the Kings certainly think so, as they’ve already re-signed him for the next 3 seasons.
Tyler Myers (BUF) – Tyler Myers can do everything. He’s big, he’s tough, and he can score goals too. With 5 points in 8 games, he’s also a +8 and the shootout winner he scored last weekend is just another intangible skill he possesses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Myers as the Buffalo Sabres top defenseman by the end of the season.
Michael Del Zotto (NYR) – The entire hockey world has been raving about Del Zotto for the past few weeks now, and for good reason. He’s an exciting player to watch and he gives the New York Rangers what Mike Green gives the Washington Capitals. Del Zotto also leads all rookies in points and trails only Dan Boyle for the league lead in points by a defenseman.
Jason Demers (SJS) – Most hockey fans had never heard of Jason Demers before, but that’s going to change quickly. He was San Jose’s 7th round pick in 2008 and spent last year in the AHL, where he scored 33 points in 78 games. This season, he already has 8 assists in the NHL. He started the season as the probably 6th or 7th defensemen, but with his strong start, he looks like he’s battling for top 4 minutes! Add this man to your fantasy roster now!
Honourable mention goes to Erik Karlsson (who was just sent down to the AHL), Peter Regin, Viktor Stahlberg, Evander Kane, Niklas Bergfors and Semyon Varlamov. These guys have played very well at times this year and are definitely worth following over the next few months.
Other players I had discussed as potential rookie standouts included Nikita Filatov, Tyler Bozak, Cody Hodgson, and Jordan Schroeder. None of these players have permanently cracked the rosters of their respective teams at this point in the season and are likely to spend another year developing in the minors. However, a few of these players could jump up to the big show if their team’s depth charts get depleted with injuries.
I also listed Jonas Gustavsson as a potential breakout rookie and really, at this point, it’s just as much a question mark as it was last June due to his recurring injuries. It’s still possible that The Monster has a huge freshman season, and to me, it seems very probable given all the opportunities Vesa Toskala is affording him. You have to figure that eventually, Jonas Gustavsson will take advantage of this.
Your Reporter in the Field,