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.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: