2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

Could next year’s group of rookies be better than last season’s crop?

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While the 2011-12 season’s group of rookies lacked a true superstar, there were plenty of difference-makers with less than 25 regular season games* under their belts.

Jeff Skinner captured many adolescent Carolinian hearts on his way to an All-Star appearance and the 2011 Calder Trophy win. Logan Couture was second among rookies with 56 points and rarely looked out of place among the bevy of talented forwards in San Jose. Michael Grabner went from waiver wire cast-off to a 34 goal season, Corey Crawford became the Chicago Blackhawks’ franchise goalie for at least the near future and Brad Marchand’s 2011 playoff run was the most impressive of any first-year player by at least a nose.

The funny thing about predicting a given season is that it’s often very difficult to see players like Skinner and Marchand coming – at least so soon. Unexpectedly strong rookies are one of the variables that can throw previews for a loop and make hockey forecasting almost as embarrassing as missing the next snowstorm. (Then again, isn’t that part of the fun, anyway?)

USA Today’s Kevin Allen brings up an interesting question: could the 2011-12 crop of rookies make a bigger impact on the NHL than last season’s group?

This season’s NHL rookie crop should be as strong as, or stronger than, last season’s crop. The top four picks from the June draft — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) and Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils) — should all have a chance to start with their NHL teams, although Huberdeau hasn’t signed a contract yet.

There probably will be other 2011 draft picks who could get a look. Remember, Carolina Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner, the 2010-11 rookie of the year, was the seventh pick in the 2010 draft.

The Nashville Predators could have three strong Calder Trophy candidates in defenseman Jonathan Blum, and forwards Blake Geoffrion and Craig Smith. To be eligible for Calder consideration, players can’t have more than 25 NHL games on their résumé. Blum played 23 last season and Geoffrion played 20.

Allen also points out 2011 Hockey Baker Award winner Andy Miele (Phoenix Coyotes) and diminutive Calgary Flames draft pick Paul Byron as two possible dark horse candidates to make Marchand-like surprise impacts next season.

It’s risky to make any bold proclamations before training camp even begins, but it might help to take a look at how much of an impact last season’s rookies really made. Here’s a quick look at the 2010-11 rookie leaders in scoring, time on ice and some relevant goalie categories.

Top 5 point producers

1. Skinner (63)
2. Couture (56)
3. Grabner (52)
4. Tyler Ennis (49)
5. Derek Stepan (45)

Top 5 goal scorers

1. Grabner (34)
2. Couture (32)
3. Skinner (31)
4. Taylor Hall (22)
5 (tied). Stepan and Marchand (21)

Top 5 time on ice per game – defense (50 games played minimum)

1. John Carlson – 22:38 minutes per game
2. P.K. Subban – 22:16 mpg
3. Cam Fowler – 22:07 mpg
4. Travis Hamonic – 21:34 mpg
5. Kevin Shattenkirk – 19:50 mpg

Top 5 time on ice per game – forwards (50 games played minimum)

1. Hall – 18:12 mpg
2. Couture – 17:49 mpg
3. Jordan Eberle – 17:40 mpg
4. Skinner – 16:43 mpg
5. Stepan – 16:26 mpg

Top 5 rookie goalies at a glance

Crawford: 33-18-6; .917 save percentage; 2.30 GAA
Sergei Bobrovsky: 28-13-8; .915 save pct.; 2.59 GAA
Michal Neuvirth: 27-12-4; .914 save pct.; 2.45 GAA
James Reimer: 20-10-5; .921 save pct.; 2.60 GAA
Cory Schneider: 16-4-2; .929 save pct.; 2.23 GAA

***

Looking at those stats, it’s going to be especially tough for the 11-12 rookies to top last year’s rookies in two of the three areas on the ice: defense and goaltending. There were a nice set of forwards – especially the Calder finalists – but blueliners such as Carlson and Subban along with goalies such as Neuvirth and Reimer made last year’s rookies more formidable than some might even remember. (Seriously, Carlson is a gem.)

So on August 21, my wild guess is to say that the 2010-11 group will end up being stronger – at least as far immediate impacts are concerned. Of course, if last season is any indication, a lot can change from now and even training camp until the beginning of the regular season.

Do you think the 2011-12 rookie group will be even more impressive than last season’s crop? Who stands out to you as an under-the-radar rookie who could sneak into the Calder race next season? Let us know in the comments.

* – 25 GP is the Calder Trophy cut-off point.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.