Rookies are telling the story
Ah, some teams are ten games in (already), so it's time for my first edition of the Power Rankings.
With all of the talk about 'The New NHL,' it would seem some of the focus has been taken off of all of 'The New NHLers' who are having a big impact so far in this young season. Sure, you've heard of Sid Crosby and Sasha Ovechkin, but with an average of four rookies per team, there are plenty of newcomers making an impact.
So, think you're on the ball with your water-cooler hockey talk? Not if you don't know these fellows.
Eastern Conference (rookies ordered by team's ranking)
- Andrej Meszaros, defence, Ottawa. The just-turned-20 former Vancouver Giants star hasn't played big minutes this year (12:54), but considering the company he's keeping on the Senators blueline, that's hardly a surprise. A silky smooth offensive defender, Meszaros has three points in six games. Projects: Another all-star for Ottawa's backend.
- Alexander Perezhogin, left wing, Montreal. The man at the centre of one of hockey's ugliest incidents in 2004 has apparently put that all behind him. Playing on the Habs top line, Perezhogin is putting up points at a point-per-game pace and proved deadly on the powerplay. Projects: 60-point finesse winger.
- Ryan Miller, goal, Buffalo. This one's a no-brainer. The Sabres are off to their best start in years (6-2), and Miller has been between the pipes for every minute so far this year. I wouldn't be surprised if he's one of the league's top goaltenders at season's end. Projects: Franchise goaltender and Team USA's hope for the future.
- Mike Richards, centre, Philadelphia. Another easy one. The Flyers have had some good contributions in goal (Antero Niittymaki) and defence (Wade Skolney, Randy Jones) from rookies, but the 20-year-old Richards is playing like a ten-year pro. His shorthanded goal on Saturday versus Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada merely put an exclaimation mark on his coming out party. Projects: They didn't brand him the next Yzerman for nothing.
- Cam Ward, goal, Carolina. In a season of amazing rookie performances so far, Ward has been second to only Ovechkin. I tuned into the Washington-Carolina game Saturday, hoping to see a matchup of the two superstars, only to watch as Ward left the game due to injury early on. Then I changed the channel. The runnerup to Crosby for the player of the year award in junior, Ward has the potential to carry this Hurricanes team. Projects: They didn't put him on Team Canada's preliminary roster for nothing.
- Alexander Steen, right wing, Toronto. A lot of people say a lot of things about Maple Leafs fans, but they certainly know their team. That said, not even the most ardent Toronto fanspredicted an early impact like Steen has made so far (3 goals, 7 points, 8 games). And he's out there killing penalties. It must be in his blood? Projects: Excellent two-way, second-line player.
- Paul Ranger, defence, Tampa Bay. Who was going to fill the No. 6 spot on the Lightning defence following the departure of Brad Lukowich and Jassen Cullimore was a bit of a headscratcher, and so far it has been split duties for Ranger and Timo Helbling. Neither has had a ton of icetime, but the 21-year-old, fleet-of-foot Ranger has been solid in limited minutes. Projects: He certainly has NHL-level skating ability, but whether or not he puts the other pieces together, it's too early to tell.
- Lukas Krajicek, defence, Florida. Who says defencemen can't make an impact early in their careers? With Jay Bouwmeester not quite living up to expectations offensively, Krajicek has filled a hole on the Panthers powerplay (ranked 27th in the NHL) and netted three points in nine games. Projects: Top-four blueliner.
- Henrik Lundqvist, goal, NY Rangers. Ten games into the season is a little early, even in Rangerland, to be hearing whispers about a goalie controversy, but this time around it's because someone is actually playing well in the New York net. Anyone who can post a 1.64 GAA and .936 save percentage behind Tom Poti has my vote for the Hart Trophy. Projects: The best Swedish netminder since
- Zach Parise, centre, New Jersey. I interviewed Zach earlier this year, and he sounded like, well, a goofy kid. Considering the Devils lack of scoring centremen (no, John Madden does not count), it's a good thing he doesn't play like one. There are some good bloodlines here, too. Projects: 70-point player.
- Chris Campoli, defence, NY Islanders. A seventh-round pick as a 20-year-old in 2004, Campoli was a surprise when he made the Ilses out of camp and has settled into an effective, 15-minutes-a-night player. Is also one of four plus players (+1) on New York's roster. Projects: Finesse-type, top-six defenceman.
- Kevin Dallman, defence, Boston. Dallman is one of the top rookies in the NHL in icetime so far this year, averaging 21-minutes per game. A mainstay with Providence in the AHL last season, Dallman's icetime will decrease now that Nick Boynton has returned. Projects: Was an offensive dynamo in juinor and has the potential to produce on a second-line powerplay unit.
- Adam Berkhoel, goal, Atlanta. With both Mike Dunham and Kari Lehtonen going down with injury, the Thrashers were in a huuuuge hole in net to star the year. Berkhoel finally gave this struggling club a solid presence in net in a 4-3 win over the Devils on Saturday after fellow rookie goaltender Michael Garnett was embarassed in two starts (6.34 GAA). Projects: He played with the Gwinnet Gladiators last season. 'Nuff said.
- Sasha Ovechkin, one-man show, Washington. If the Capitals are this terrible with Ovechkin, then how bad would they be without him? Simply put, as evidenced by his two-goal game against Roberto Luongo, Ovechkin is a superstar already. Projects: Art Ross Trophy winner in five years (or less).
- Sid Crosby, centre, Pittsburgh. This team is sub-terrible. Ugly, ugly, ugly describes their play so far (if you add a few more uglies). The stat that shows just how much Crosby is creating on his own? Eight of his 11 points so far have come at even strength. Ugly.Watching Crosby matchup (and get beaten by) Dave Scatchard of the Bruins on Saturday just added to the ugly. Projects: I dunno.
- Ryan Suter, defence, Nashville. The 20-year-old nephew of longtime NHLer Gary Suter, Ryan has been playing (and putting up points) a lot more than I expected so far. Suter leads the undefeated Predators in plus/minus and has four assists in seven games. Projects: First-line powerplay QB.
- Niklas Kronwall, defence, Detroit. He hasn't played yet due to a serious knee injury, but let's pretend he has. (Although it doesn't appear the Red Wings need him.)
- Alex Auld, goal, Vancouver. Aside from a nasty 6-0 loss to the Wild, Canucks starter Dan Cloutier has been solid. That said, Auld has tended goal for two wins — on the road against Detroit and at home against Dallas. If those don't sound like starts a team would give to its backup, you're beginning to get the idea. Projects: Decent starting goaltender.
- Jason LaBarbera, goal, Los Angeles. Why he's not their starting goaltender already, I'm not exactly sure. LaBarbera has been one of the league's best netminders this year, and my guess is that after Mathieu Garon's gaffe last night with 27 seconds remaining, the youngster will be getting a lot more starts. Projects: Franchise goaltender.
- Jussi Jokinen, left wing, Dallas. Sidling up next to Mike Modano isn't a bad way to start anyone's career. Jokinen (no relation to Florida's Olli) lit up the Finnish elite league in the lockout year and has five points in eight games so far with Dallas. Projects: 50-point, second-line winger.
- Derek Boogaard, left wing, Minnesota. Hey! An enforcer makes my list. The 'Boogeyman' was dealing out bloody noses for the Prince George Cougars back when I lived in B.C., and it's interesting to see the 6-foot-7, 270 pound hulk has two points in his first six NHL games for the Wild. Projects: Chara sparring partner.
- Dion Phaneuf, defence, Calgary. Among all of the fantastic rookie performances so far, Phaneuf has been one of the best. He's playing over 22 minutes a game and looks well beyond his 20 years. Projects: Norris Trophy winner.
- Marek Svatos, right wing, Colorado. I think people forget Svatos is a rookie because of the splash he made in 15 games last season. Still only 23, this pint-sized scorer had the second hat trick of the season in his sixth regular season game. He's good. Projects: Another late pick that turns into a sniper for the Avs (see Milan Hejduk).
- Ryan Getzlaf, centre, Anaheim. After getting off to a slow start, Getzlaf has three points in his last two games after a great game against Phoenix last night. A big, dominant power forward in the physical WHL, he's exactly the type of player the Ducks need more of. Projects: First-line power forward.
- Milan Michalek, left wing, San Jose. It was a long two years away from hockey for Michalek, who missed most of 2003-04 and all of 2004-05 with knee problems. He's stepped into a spot on the Sharks top line with mixed results, but has certainly displayed the potential that made him a No. 6 overall pick in 2003. Projects: 60-point, all-finesse winger.
- Brad Winchester, left wing, Edmonton. Amazingly, the Oilers likely have the weakest rookie class this season. A big body at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Winchester offers a solid checking-line presence and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. Projects: Third-line obscurity.
- Brent Seabrook, defence, Chicago. There are a lot of rookies getting a lot of minutes for the Blackhawks, and so far, Seabrook's impressed me the most. Big, strong and physical, Seabrook has also surprised by putting up six points in eight games so far, good for third in team scoring. Projects: Top-two, two-way defender.
- Keith Ballard, defence, Phoenix. The Coyotes benched Sean O'Donnell, traded Cale Hulse and limited the icetime of Denis Gauthier all because of Ballard's strong play. Coach Wayne Gretzky hasn't had much to rave about early this season, but he loves Ballard's aggressive play. Projects: Top-four defenceman.
- Jay McClement, centre, St. Louis. McClement has seemingly been a Blues prospect forever, as he was picked in the 2001 draft, but at just 22, he's getting a chance to really contribute to a St. Louis team's anemic offence. Projects: 50-point, second-line centre.
- Gilbert Brule, centre, Columbus. To hear Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean bemoan the loss of Brule, one would think the team's top offensive weapon had gone down (which it did, in Rick Nash, but that's besides the point). The 18-year-old Brule is not very big, and a Roman Hamrlik bodycheck that his father called a 'welcome-to-the-NHL hit' fractured the kid's sternum. Imagine being called a wussy by dear old dad in the international media, and you now know the indignities Brule has faced. Projects: First-line sniper.