The NHL has announced its three finalists for the Calder Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s top rookie. This year, the nominees are New Jersey’s Adam Henrique, Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog and Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
In his second professional season, Henrique became one of the season’s bigger surprises. Injuries to Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson opened the door for Henrique to make the team, and he made the most of his opportunity. Henrique spent most of the season as the team’s top-line center, skating between star forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. He excelled in that role, and in 74 games he finished first among all rookies with 35 assists and third with 51 points.
[Landeskog] tied for the lead among all rookies with 52 points and was second with 22 goals. He led the Avalanche with a plus-20 rating while averaging 18:36 of ice time per game, tops among first-year forwards, and he was one of just four rookies to average more than 1:20 per game on both the power play and on the penalty kill.
[Nugent-Hopkins] finished with 52 points despite playing only 62 games — 20 fewer than Landeskog — because of a shoulder injury. The youngest regular in the NHL this season — he didn’t turn 19 until April 12 — he had 18 goals, three multi-goal games, and five assists in a game, Nov. 19 against Chicago. He was the fourth-ever 18-year-old to have a five-assist game, and the first since Kovalchuk on Jan. 19, 2002.
1) Snubs include Philly’s Matt Read (led all rookies with 24 goals), Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson (played in 83 games!) and Rangers forward Carl Hagelin, who led all first-year players with a +21 rating.
2) The last Avalanche player to win the Calder was Chris Drury in 1998-99 and the last Devils player was Scott Gomez in 1999-2000. No Oiler has ever won.
3) This is the second consecutive year all three nominees were forwards. Last year, Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner and Michael Grabner were the three finalists — the last non-forwards to be nominated for the Calder were Jimmy Howard and Tyler Myers in 2009-10 (the latter would end up winning.)
But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.
After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.
With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.
He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.
The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.
Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.
The Los Angeles Kings are in need of offense, and Jaromir Jagr, the No. 2 scorer in NHL history, is still in need of a new team for the 2017-18 season. Despite that potential match the Kings have no interest in adding the 45-year-old future Hall of Famer to their roster for this upcoming season.
General manager Rob Blake said as much during a question and answer session with Kings fans this past week, via Lisa Dillman of NHL.com.
“Obviously [Jagr] is a tremendous player, been a tremendous player for a number of years, a [future] Hall of Famer,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said during a Q&A session with season ticket holders on Thursday. “When you get to a certain age, you have to be a certain fit on a team.
“We’ve looked at lot of different free agents in the summer and where it fits in in our projections. … There was also the equation of the salary cap and how things fit in. We didn’t go in the direction of Jagr this year. But again, he’s a tremendous player and I’m sure he’ll surface somewhere.”
Goal scoring was a major issue for the Kings in 2016-17 (they were 25th in the NHL) and in recent years they have not been afraid to add older, veteran players to their roster. They still have 35-year-old Marian Gaborik, they added 35-year-old Mike Cammalleri this summer on a one-year deal and even traded for Jarome Iginla late last season. Still, Jagr doesn’t seem to be the “certain fit” the Kings are looking given his age.
Jagr didn’t look quite as good as he had in recent year this past season but he was still able to finish with 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) while playing in all 82 games.
Even though Jagr has remained in peak physical shape and has maintained a high level of production, he is still going to turn 46 this season, and while he has remained durable enough to play in at least 77 games in every season after turning 40 he has shown signs of really starting to slow down as each season has progressed. He can still be a useful asset on the power play and he still has the hands to make plays and contribute offensively. The best scenario for him might be on a team that paces out his workload over the course of the season with occasional nights off (like in back-to-back situations) and limits his minutes to where he can really excel offensively. But that doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing Jagr would be interested in. So it might take him a little longer to find a team that is willing to give him the salary, and playing time, that he desires.
During his first three years with the New Jersey Devils starting goalie Cory Schneider was one of the few bright spots on the team.
At times, he was the only bright spot.
He was one of the best goalies in the league and probably the only thing that kept them even reasonably competitive at times. He never had a save percentage lower than .920 in any of the three seasons and finished in the top-six two different times.
Had he played on a better team that could have given him more offensive support he probably would have been given more consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie (and even without that offensive support he probably should have been given more consideration for it).
But this past season everything sort of fell apart for him, and by extension, the Devils.
He ended up finishing with a .908 save percentage, a mark that was not only the worst of his career, but also one of the worst in the NHL. For a Devils team that was dependent on its goaltending due to a lack of offense and a shaky defense his down year was pretty much the worst possible scenario and it helped result in one of the NHL’s worst records and a fifth consecutive non-playoff season.
Given Schneider’s track record in the NHL it is pretty clear that the 2016-17 season was a massive outlier when it comes to his performance. He has consistently been one of the best goalies in the league. But if the Devils are going to show any sign of meaningful improvement in 2017 they can not have a repeat performance from Schneider. Even with the addition of Marcus Johansson and the drafting of Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick the Devils are still going to be a team that struggles to score goals (even if they improve), especially with Travis Zajac being sidelined for the next four-to-six months. He is also playing behind a defense that surrendered close to 32 shots on goal per game this past season and did not undergo any significant changes.
Given that expected workload and will almost certainly be another year without much goal support the Devils won’t have a chance if Schneider doesn’t return to his previous form.
It would also be beneficial for the Devils given that they still have $30 million committed to him over the next five seasons. He is their best player, their highest paid player, and their most important player. His overall body of work would seem to indicate he is capable of bouncing back, and he very likely will. If he doesn’t, it is going to be another long season for the Devils.