Victor Mete — David Schlemko
Starting goalie: Carey Price
Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask
Victor Mete — David Schlemko
Starting goalie: Carey Price
Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask
The NHL’s rookie class for the 2017-18 season is an impressive one with what is sure to be a tightly contested Calder Trophy race at the top.
Forwards Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), and Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes), as well as defensemen Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) and Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa Bay Lightning) are all making tremendous impacts for their teams this season and are clearly the cream of the crop when it comes to first-year players around the league.
One of them (most likely Barzal or Boeser) is going to take home the Calder Trophy this season.
But they are not the only rookies that are standing out this season.
Let’s take a look at five more whose performances have slid under the radar. None of these players will end up winning the rookie of the year award this season, but they have been key contributors to their teams so far and deserve some credit for it.
Danton Heinen, Boston Bruins
The Bruins are a really intriguing team in the East. They have three of the best forwards in the league at the top of their lineup, a goalie that is capable of carrying the team when he gets hot, and they have rebuilt their defense over the past couple of years. They are also getting a ton of contributions from rookies. McAvoy has already blossomed into a top-pairing defenseman, and Jake DeBrusk, a 2015 first-round pick, is currently on a 20-goal pace.
They also have Heinen, a 22-year-old forward that is getting his first full-time look in the NHL.
Currently he is fourth among all NHL rookies in scoring with 38 points, while his 0.82 point per game average is third behind only Barzal and Boeser.
He has been especially good on a line with veteran forward David Backes. When Backes and Heinen are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Bruins are controlling 60 percent of the shot attempts and outscoring teams by a 14-10 margin (via NaturalStatTrick).
Alexander Kerfoot, Colorado Avalanche
After choosing to not sign with the team that drafted him, the New Jersey Devils, Kerfoot became an unrestricted free agent this past summer and ended up landing an opportunity with the Colorado Avalanche. It has paid off immediately for everyone.
Another key contributor this season has been the 23-year-old Kerfoot.
In his debut season he’s already recorded 30 points in 40 games and has been one of the team’s top point producers.
The Avalanche have been a disaster on the ice in recent seasons, but they are exceeding expectations this season and their top-four scorers (MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Kerfoot) are all age 25 or younger. Landeskog is the only one of that quartet that is over the age 23. And they also still have 19-year-old Tyson Jost.
There is still a pretty good young core here to build around.
Yanni Gourde, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are looking absolutely terrifying this season — and for future seasons given their contract situations — with a bunch of superstars at the top of the lineup and a bunch of young, talented, cheap players sprinkled around them. We mentioned Sergachev up above as one of the Calder Trophy leaders, and they also have second-year forward Brayden Point lighting up the scoreboard (Point, by the way, is the third-leading scorer on the team).
Then there’s Yanni Gourde.
Gourde barely makes the rookie cut this season because he turned 26 in December and had played in 20 games a season ago, but by NHL rules he does still qualify as a rookie.
The Lightning have excelled in recent seasons by building around talented, undersized forwards that are capable of putting the puck in the net and Gourde is just the latest example. Listed at only 5-9, 172 pounds, Gourde is one of the smallest players in the league. Before getting his first real shot in the NHL he had been a productive player at pretty much every level of hockey that he played at.
He earned a regular spot with the Lightning this season and has proven to be a valuable addition. Along with his offensive production (14 goals, 16 assists in 44 games) he has also been a key contributor to their penalty kill.
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins weren’t expecting to need Jarry this season, but when the Antti Niemi experiment proved to be a failure their plans had to change a little. So far, he has been excellent as Matt Murray‘s backup and has filled in admirably for him while Murray has been away from the team dealing with a personal family matter. With Murray again away from the team following his father’s passing this week Jarry is going to get even more opportunities to play in the immediate future.
So far this season Jarry is 9-3-2 in his 15 appearances and has a .923 save percentage that is tops among rookie goaltenders (minimum 15 games played).
Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
They also have 2015 first-round pick Kyle Connor starting to make an impact.
Connor is currently third among all rookie forwards in goals scored, but is second only to Boeser when it comes to goals per game.
He is currently on what would be a 30-goal pace over 82 games.
The Jets’ rebuild has been slow — painfully slow, and probably slower than it needed to be — but their patience and desire to build almost entirely from within is finally starting to be rewarded with this group of forwards.
If they can keep getting solid goaltending they are going to be a tough team to knock out of the playoffs.
Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils
The Devils are another team that is getting significant contributions from rookies this season.
Currently the Devils are in a playoff position in the Metropolitan Division and are looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011-12. Leading the way is a trio of rookies that are all among the team’s top-four scorers. Included in that group are No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier and free agent signing Will Butcher.
It should not be much of a surprise that Hischier has played well and made an immediate impact. That is what you hope — and expect — from a No. 1 overall pick. Butcher has been outstanding and is currently the team’s top possession player.
The biggest surprise out of the group, though, might be 19-year-old Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick by the Devils in 2016.
Through the Devils’ first 42 games, Bratt is second on the team in scoring, is seventh among all rookies, and is playing close to two minutes on the penalty kill per night … as a 19-year-old rookie.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.
It’s a long regular season, so sometimes you have to maintain some gas in the tank, but the Penguins and Bruins have little reason to hold back on Sunday.
Both teams will enter bye weeks after today’s game in Pittsburgh, so expect an all-out-effort from both sides.
Generally speaking, this is a story of two team going in different directions. The Penguins are repeat champions, yet now they face very real questions about even making the playoffs. The Bruins were the team that barely crept into the postseason in 2016-17, but now the B’s seem primed to lock down a round of home-ice advantage.
The Bruins are winners of three in a row and eight of nine, with Patrice Bergeron & Co. throttling the Carolina Hurricanes last night by a humiliating score of 7-1.
“We understand that we’ve got something good right now, and we just want to do everything we can to keep it rolling,” Jake DeBrusk said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “We’re starting to find our identity and I think it’s about staying consistent. We’ve done a good job in the standings, but there is still a lot of hockey to be played.”
While the Bruins are hotter than boiling chowder, the Penguins have been struggling, but it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh is coming off of a 4-0 win from Friday. They are getting a look at Daniel Sprong with Sidney Crosby, and will be a bit less fatigued heading into this contest.
“I think it comes down to building off of a solid game against the Islanders that’s something we haven’t done a great job of,” Sidney Crosby said, according to the Penguins’ website. “We’ll look to do it here and get some good rest and make sure we’re ready for a big second half.”
This game means more to the Penguins, but both teams have enough to play for – and enough rest coming up – that this should be a fun one on NBCSN tonight.
• Team USA’s Olympic Women’s Team made their final cuts. A pair of players from the 2014 team didn’t make the final roster this time. (Grand Folks Herald)
• The Islanders might play game at Nassau Coliseau while their new rink is being built. (The Sports Daily)
• Some Red Wings believe their team is playing better this year than they did last year, but the results still aren’t there. (Detroit Free Press)
• Former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch explains how a change of scenery can restore a player’s confidence. (Sportsnet)
• Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton designed the Charlotte Checkers’ latest jersey. (Charlotte Observer)
• Eddie Olczyk could have kept his cancer diagnosis a secret, but he decided to go public with it because he wants to be help those who might be going through the same thing. (Sporting News)
• It’s time for the Arizona Coyotes to show some progress. (Fan Rag Sports)
Look, it’s still December, so the Bruins would be getting ahead of themselves if they’re already thinking about playoff seeding.
Let’s look ahead a little bit for them, then: with the way things are looking in the Atlantic Division, it seems like the Tampa Bay Lightning might be untouchable on the top, but then the second seed may very well come down to Boston or their buddies, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
(That’s not to discount everyone else, particularly not their best buddies in the Montreal Canadiens.)
With that in mind, a round of home-ice advantage isn’t an outrageous goal for the Bruins to shoot for. At minimum, they’re putting themselves in a good position to gain a playoff spot without sweating things into the end of the regular season, so nights like these could help.
Also helpful: a backup goalie who’s playing more like a 1A/1B, as Anton Khudobin continued his solid play with a 36-save shutout of the Buffalo Sabres, as the Bruins won 3-0.
That margin of victory was far smaller than the scoreboard would indicate, as Boston tacked on two empty-net goals at the end. Instead, Jake DeBrusk‘s Gatorade-launching, fantastic snipe was the only goal of the game where a netminder was actually in place.
Impressive. Also impressive: the Bruins lately, as they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games. They’ve also been strong in a broader sense, as they’re now 17-10-5; consider how much dimmer things looked for the B’s on Nov. 15, when they fell to 6-7-4.
Again, the Bruins have a shot at surpassing the Maple Leafs, at least eventually. Here’s where the Atlantic’s second and third seeds stand after each squad won on Tuesday:
Maple Leafs: 21-13-1, 43 points in 35 games
Bruins: 17-10-5, 39 points in 32 games
Yes, Toronto has a four-point lead against Boston, but the Bruins hold three games in hand. As this post notes, the Maple Leafs face a harsh end to December, so it’s possible that the gap could really narrow as 2018 rapidly approaches.
From the Sabres’ perspective, this was a solid all-around effort, as the Bruins rarely got anything easily (aside from a near-own-goal, as Zach Bogosian has to feel pleased to avoid the wrath of Robin Lehner, narrowly). Still, they fell short once again, adding frustration to a consistently frustrating 2017-18 campaign.