2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

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


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.

Sabres place Lehner on IR; Recall Lieuwen

Connor Brown, Robin Lehner
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They’re just one game into their regular season, but the Buffalo Sabres have already had to shift things around in their crease.

The Sabres announced that they have placed starting goaltender Robin Lehner on injured reserve after he was knocked out of Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury.

In a corresponding move, the club has recalled Nathan Lieuwen from their AHL affiliate in Rochester.

The 24-year-old didn’t play in the NHL last season, but he did have a 1-4-0 record with a 2.98 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage in seven games during the 2013-14 season.

Lieuwen was Buffalo’s sixth round pick, 167th overall, in the 2011 draft.

The Sabres also announced that they have loaned defenseman Jake McCabe and goaltender Linus Ullmark to the Rochester Americans (AHL).

McCabe was a healthy scratch in Thursday’s game against Ottawa, while Ullmark is being activated off I.R. after having double hip surgery during the off-season.



Chara ‘doubtful’ for game against rival Canadiens

Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara
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It looks like the Boston Bruins will be without their captain again on Saturday night.

Head coach Claude Julien told members of the media that Zdeno Chara is considered doubtful for tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Chara suffered an upper-body injury during the preseason and he’s already been forced to miss Boston’s season opening loss to the Jets.

Per CSN, Chara says he’s improving but he won’t return to the lineup until he’s as close to 100 percent as possible.

“Every area of the injury is improving,” said Chara. “Hopefully it’s not long before I’m free of any kind of discomfort. That’s what we’re doing right now…we’re being patient. For sure you don’t want to come back, and be half of what you are…and basically hurting yourself and the team. And you’re putting yourself in a position where you could be missing more time. At this time of the season, I think it’s important to be as close as you can be to 100 percent.”

Based on the number of defensive mistakes they committed on Thursday, the Bruins need Chara back as soon as possible: