At the end of each month of the NHL season, we’ve taken a look at some of the year’s Calder candidates. With almost half the season in the books, we’re starting to get a more clear picture on which rookies are the real deal, and which rookies still need some more seasoning. Here’s the January update:
John Tavares (NYI) – John Tavares had a slower month in January, scoring only 5 points in 11 games. The good news is that he continues to lead all rookies with 17 goals this season, while his 33 points is second best among rookies. The other set of good news for Tavares is that while the Islanders currently sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, they’re only 1 point out of 6th place, heading into Thursday night’s games. Yeah, the East is that close!
Tyler Myers (BUF) – With 4 complete months of the NHL season in the books, it’s pretty clear to me that Tyler Myers is the front-runner for the Calder trophy. His combination of defensive poise and better-than-expected offensive production makes him not only the best rookie, but one of the best up-and-coming defensemen in the league. The most amazing thing about Myers is how is the go-to guy for the Sabres defense in all major serious situations. He’s also tied with van Riemsdyk for 3rd in rookie scoring and leads all rookies with 23 assists.
Matt Duchene (COL) – Matt Duchene scored 10 points in 12 games in December and has carried his strong play as of late into January, where he scored 5 times and added two more assists in only 9 games. He’s now the leading point-getter among NHL rookies. So just like last season, Duchene is making a big push in the 2nd half of the year.
Niklas Bergfors (NJD) – Bergfors remains in the hunt for the rookie scoring title with 27 points on the year for the Devils. He has 8 powerplay goals, which ties him for the league lead with Tavares, as well as 4 game winning goals. He hasn’t scored a point in his last 10 games, which tells me that he’s due to break out of his cold streak soon. I’m expecting Bergfors to pick up the production in February.
James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – January was a great month for James van Riemsdyk because he scored 5 goals and added 5 assists. This puts JVR third in rookie scoring, only 4 points behind Duchene for the rookie lead. This is great news for Philadelphia too, as December was a pretty dismal month – van Riemsdyk only scored 1 goal in 12 games. It’s no big surprise to see Philadelphia winning games again, in part because their depth forwards, like van Riemsdyk, are scoring timely goals.
Victor Hedman (TBL) – Victor Hedman might be the most under-the-radar 2nd overall pick in recent history and he has quietly put together a very solid debut season. He has 14 points in 49 games this season and he’s become an increasingly important part of Tampa Bay’s defense. In January, he logged over 19 minutes of ice time in 9 of 11 games.
Ryan O’Reilly (COL) – It was another tough month for Ryan O’Reilly. He has scored 1 goal in December and January combined. Having said that, O’Reilly does bring other things to the table for Colorado, including his strong two-way game. He’s +6 this year, which is a pretty good accomplishment for an 18 year old kid.
Dan Sexton (ANA) – After putting up 11 points in his first 13 games, Anaheim decided to keep Sexton in the big leagues! Good call, as he delivered a solid month in January too, scoring 7 points in 14 games. In fact, Sexton currently holds the highest points-per-game average among all NHL rookies. He’s a major longshot for rookie of the year honours, but if he can hold this pace through the rest of the year, he’ll have to at least earn strong consideration.
Michael Del Zotto (NYR) – Del Zotto has 24 points in 54 games this season, and only 4 of those points came in January. It looks like his hot start has began to cool off, and this also explains the Rangers recent decline down the Eastern Conference standings. I hate to say this about such a young player, but you really get the feeling that if New York are going to make the playoffs, Del Zotto has to be a big part of that and while the offense is important, so is strong defensive play. That -17 stat bothers me, especially when your goaltender is Henrik Lundqvist.
Tuukka Rask (BOS) – Like Varlamov, Rask hasn’t played much in the past couples months, as he’s amassed a 3-4-0 record in 11 appearances. I wondered earlier in the year if Boston had a potential goaltending controversy but it looks like that thought have been premature. Tim Thomas is definitely the number one guy in Beantown and will likely get the majority of starts for the Bruins as we enter the homestretch of the regular season.
New Mentions from December
Cody Franson (NSH) – Meet Cody Franson, another one of Nashville’s seemingly endless supply of awesome blueline prospects. Franson has quickly and quietly scored 15 points in his 40 NHL games this season and is +10. Wow! He’s also averaging over 14 minutes of ice time per game, which is quite a feat for a team that’s defense includes names like Weber, Hamhuis and Suter.
Rob Schremp (NYI) – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big Rob Schremp fan because he strikes me as the kind of player who believes his own hype and carries around a greater-than-deserved sense of entitlement. However, since getting a new start with the Islanders, Schremp has done a pretty well. He has 17 points in 31 games and seems to be fitting in well. The biggest question about Schremp at this point is that while everyone knows how skilled he is, will he buy into the team-first concept that the Islanders have spent the past few seasons building. Let’s hope he does.
Honourable Mentions for January
Jimmy Howard (DET), Evander Kane (ATL), Artem Anisimov (NYR), Tim Kennedy (BUF), Jason Demers (SJS) and Davis Drewiske (LAK), Jamie Benn (DAL) and Semyon Varlamov (WSH)
In summary, coming into February, I think the stronger rookies are starting to separate from the pack. Tyler Myers is the consensus choice to win the Calder trophy as of today. John Tavares and Matt Duchene are also making noise and if anything, Duchene is the guy that may be the biggest challenge for Myers. Duchene seems to be building more and more momentum as the weeks pass by. To me, Myers, Duchene and Tavares are the top 3 rookies in the league right now but there are 4 or 5 other players right beneath them that could put themselves in this race if they can string together a few strong months.
Your Reporter in the Field,