List: 2014 NHL Rookies Making Big Impacts
By Pat White (@patwhite9126)
The NHL regular season is a little past the midway point and the Olympic break is quickly approaching. There are still playoff spots to capture, scoring races to watch and player awards to debate. One trophy in particular to keep an eye on will be the Calder Trophy for the league’s best rookie. Let’s take a look at some exceptional rookies making an impact for their teams.
Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
Memorial Cup champion, No. 1 overall pick, the league leader in scoring among rookies, and a Calder favorite.
It’s been a pretty solid year for Nathan MacKinnon. The 18-year old is tied for the rookie lead in goals (15) with Tomas Hertl and leads all rookies with 31 points. MacKinnon’s offensive talents have been on display, earning him 2:05 minutes per game on the power play. He leads all rookies with seven power play goals.
MacKinnon’s game has quickly evolved this season. He started the season on the third line, but has seen his linemates improve as the season has progressed. The Cole Harbour, N.S. native has increased his point totals every month. He has seven points in nine games in January, including back to back games scoring two goals against Calgary and San Jose.
MacKinnon does needs to improve on his 42 percent faceoff percentage. Fifty-five percent of his shifts start in the offensive zone, but only 47 percent end there. MacKinnon’s play on the defense end could be better, but his offensive play is unmatched. His craftiness with the puck and willingness to battle in the corners make him a headache for opposing defenders. And he is still just 18 years old.
Chris Kreider- New York Rangers
The Rangers are winners of three straight and seven of their last 10 games. A major contributor to the Blueshirt’s success has been the play of Boston College product, Chris Kreider.
The biggest difference in Kreider this year is what he is doing away from the puck. He leads all Rangers forwards with 109 hits and appears to be growing into his 6’3, 226 lb. frame. He is a noticeable force on the ice and playing big minutes for the club. Kreider’s combination of size and world class speed has resulted in 12 goals and 27 points for New York. He has been one of the Rangers biggest threats on the power play, tied for the team lead with five goals on the man-advantage. Kreider has the ability to be an offensive dynamo, play against the other team’s top line, and control the pace of play. As the Rangers continue to surge, look for Kreider to play a major factor.
Mark Scheifele- Winnipeg Jets
If there is one player that I have been defending for the past year and a half, it’s Mark Scheifele. He is finally taking that next step as a major playmaker for the Winnipeg Jets. There is still a ways to go, but Scheifele could be turning the corner as a promising young center man.
After scoring in the first game of the season against Edmonton, Scheifele went 24 games without a goal. The first two months of the season were a tough stretch for the 6’3 forward. But he has rebounded with 18 points in his last 22 games and seven points in his last six games. Scheifele now has nine goals and 27 points, tied with Kreider for third in the NHL. There is a clear chemistry with line mate Blake Wheeler (17 goals, 38 points), which could be a sign of things to come for Jets fans.
Scheifele has shown an ability to fight through checks and get off his wicked shot in space. He needs to bulk up more to compete with the big, tough centers in the Western Conference.
Torey Krug – Boston Bruins
With all of the top flight young guns the Bruins have in there system, who would have thought that an undrafted free-agent from Michigan State would make such an impact this quickly.
Krug burst on the scene last postseason with four goals and six points in 15 games. He has picked up right where he left off and has been an offensive threat from the blue line for the Bruins. On a defensive corp with Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg, Krug leads the Bruins blueliners with 11 goals and 25 points, five goals coming on the power play. The diminutive defenceman can quaterback a power play and is shifty enough to find space on the ice.
Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Chiasson- Dallas Stars
There is a new vibe surrounding the Dallas Stars and the direction the team is going in. Sure, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin grab the headlines, but the rookies should not be overlooked.
Alex Chiasson was my pre-season pick to win the Calder Trophy. He showed promise last season with his six goals in just seven games. The big power forward has continued to take strides as a key contributor to the Stars with nine goals and 24 points. Chiasson is still going through the growing pains of his first full season, but he is in a perfect situation to continue to grow with a young core.
Nichushkin has had a streaky freshman season for the Stars, but his offensive skill in undeniable. He reminds me of a Russian Rick Nash with his big frame, soft hands and smooth stride. Nichushkin is still assimilating to the North American game, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up nine goals and 22 points. Playing with Seguin has made the transition a little easier for him.
Olli Maatta- Pittsburgh Penguins
Maatta’s spectacular play has been overshadowed by the ridiculous run the Penguins have been on in the last two months. Of course the play of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin steal the headlines pretty reguarly. But let’s not forget one of the more exciting rookie defeseman in the league.
Maatta came from one winning organization in the London Knight of the OHL to another winning franchise in Pittsburgh. The Finnish blue liner has fit right into the defense corp in Pittsburgh both offensively and defensively. The key to his play is that he is among veterans such as Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Matt Niskanen. There isn’t a ton of pressure on Maatta, or at least he doesn’t play like there is. His poise both with and without the puck are very impressive.
Frederick Andersen- Anaheim Ducks
Last season, it was Victor Fasth that made headlines for the Ducks as a rookie. This season, it’s Frederick Andersen.
The Ducks are a machine that just keeps on running no matter who is in net. Andersen in 12-2-0 for the Ducks this season with a 1.99 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. The starting job may be Jonas Hiller’s to lose, but Andersen is making a strong push. The days of having one goaltender start 70 games seem to be over.
These days, teams must have two capable goaltenders to be among the league’s elite teams. Andersen has provided that for the Ducks this season. Andersen isn’t just playing against bottom dwellers. He boasts victories over St. Louis (twice), Vancouver (twice) and the New York Rangers.
Other Rookies to Watch
Sean Monahan has been one of the bright spots for the lowly Calgary Flames. His smart, two-way play has been a boost for a rebuilding Flames team.
San Jose’s Tomas Hertl would be tops of this list if it weren’t for a knee injury that could have him sidelined for the rest of the season. Hertl was establishing himself as an offensive weapon for the Sharks with 15 goals and 25 points in his first 35 games in the NHL.
Despite Nashville being a middle of the pack team, Seth Jones has been very solid playing with Shea Weber in the Music City. Jones can play in all situations and will eventually grow into one of the best defenseman in the league. He’ll be on Team USA in no time.
The buzz around Tampa Bay rookies was all about Jonathan Drouin before the season. But now, it’s all about Tyler Johnson who has 30 points in 50 games this season. His play has made the Steven Stamkos injury hurt a little less.