Ilya Samsonov

NHL Power Rankings: Top rookie performances so far

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we keep it on an individual player level and dig into the 10 best rookie performances so far this season.

It has been an interesting rookie class because two of the most anticipated rookies — top-two picks Jack Hughes and Kappo Kaako) have gone through some early growing pains and have not really played their way into the Calder Trophy discussion. That is nothing to be concerned about, either. Not every 18-year-old is going to jump right into the league and make an immediate impact. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes it takes two. They both still have great futures ahead of them and should be stars (maybe even superstars?) in the NHL.

It has, however, been a great first half for rookie defensemen (four in the top-ten) and a couple of rookie goalies.

Which rookies have stood out the most so far this season?

To the rankings!

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Makar entered the season as one of the Calder Trophy favorites, and he has not only met the high expectations placed upon him, he has probably exceeded them. He is already the best defenseman on one of the NHL’s best and most exciting teams. An exceptional skater, great passer, and a lightning fast release that just looks effortless and unstoppable. He is a one-man highlight reel almost every night.

(See it here, too)

2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. When the 2019-20 season began it was expected that a Hughes would be at the top of the rookie class. And there is. It’s just probably not the one (Jack, the No. 1 overall pick this year) that most thought would be this high on the list. For the third year in a row the Canucks have one of the league’s top-two rookies as Hughes joins their promising core alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres. One of the few bright spots in yet another massively disappointing season for the Sabres. At 24 he is a little older than your average rookie, but he has been a great fit next to Jack Eichel on the Sabres’ top line when he’s been healthy. As of Monday he still leads all rookies in scoring even though he has not played in close to a month due to injury.

4. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins acquired Marino from the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in a trade that few people noticed when it was announced. All Marino has done this season is help transform the Penguins’ defense into one of the league’s best. He is already a 20-minute per night player, helps drive possession, has great defensive metrics, and has helped bring back mobility and puck skills to the Penguins’ blue line.

5. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman has made some questionable trades and decisions over the past few years, but this is one that he knocked out of the park. The Blackhawks acquired Kubalik from the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round draft pick almost exactly one year ago. He was always considered a talented prospect with offensive upside (something the Kings could use!), but he hadn’t shown a willingness to actually sign with the Kings. So they traded him. The Blackhawks were the team that pounced and added some desperately needed scoring depth. He has 21 goals on the season, with 10 of them coming over the past two weeks. Recency bias plays a role here, but he has made a huge jump in the Calder Trophy discussion from where he was even a few weeks ago when he probably was not even on the radar.

6. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. The Capitals’ goalie of the future should probably be getting even more playing time in the present. In his 19 appearances this season he owns a 15-2-1 record with a .927 save percentage and is currently on a run where he has won 10 consecutive decisions. He has not lost a start since Nov. 15 against the Montreal Canadiens. His play is probably making it easier to say goodbye to long-time starter (and long-time top-shelf goalie) Braden Holtby this summer in free agency.

7. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets. Like Kubalik, he is another rookie that has picked up his play very recently. When Blue Jackets starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury, Merzlikins had yet to win a game in the NHL and had a sub-.900 save percentage. It would have been easy to write off the Blue Jackets’ playoff chances at that point. Instead, Merzlikins has helped carry the team into the first Wild Card spot (as of Monday) in the Eastern Conference thanks to an 8-2-0 record, three shutouts,

8. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Not going to lie, I kind of hate putting him this low because I feel like it underrates the season he has had. He has been really good. But, I also think the top-four here are clearly the head of the rookie class. It is also hard to ignore how downright dominant Kubalik and Merzlikins have been recently and the role they have played for their teams. Fox was one of two key additions to the Rangers’ blue line over the summer alongside Jacob Trouba. Trouba has the big name and the massive contract, but there is no denying which player has been the better addition for the Rangers — it is Fox.

9. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. Necas is very quietly putting together a strong rookie season. He is the fifth-leading scorer on the team and his current scoring pace would put him on track for nearly 20 goals and 50 points with strong possession numbers. Not quite enough to be a Calder Trophy favorite, but that is still a heck of a season for a 21-year-old in his first full NHL season.

10. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. Suzuki was the key long-term player for the Canadiens in the Max Pacioretty trade, and they are getting their first taste of what he is capable of this season. He is still a bit of a work in progress, but he has improved dramatically over the past couple of months and is currently the fifth-leading scorer among all rookies. Pacioretty is having a career year for the Golden Knights, but Tomas Tatar (the other key player in that trade) having a great year of his own, and Suzuki showing a ton of potential, it is one that — so far — has worked out well for both teams.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights win DeBoer’s debut; Hats off to Ovechkin

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Another milestone for the greatest goal scorer to ever play in the NHL. He recorded his 25th career hat trick on Thursday night and reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th consecutive season to start his career, a feat accomplished only by him and Mike Gartner. Read more about it here.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames. Huge night for the All-Star goalie as he stopped 35 shots during regulation and overtime and all three shots he faced in a shootout to help lift the Flames to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flames have now won six of their past seven games. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames are now tied for first place in the Pacific Division.

3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights won Peter DeBoer’s coaching debut on Thursday night, 4-2, over the Ottawa Senators thanks to a big game from Stone. He scored a goal and recorded an assist in his first game back in Ottawa as a visiting player. Stone played the first six-and-a-half years of his career with the Senators and was one of the team’s best players during his time there. He was a key part of their 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final and became one of the league’s best two-way players. The Senators traded him to Vegas at the trade deadline a year ago. He received a lengthy ovation from the Ottawa crowd on Thursday.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Jaroslav Halak gave up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 24 seconds into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, then slammed the door shut the right of the night to help the Boston Bruins to a 4-1 win.
  • John Tortorella recorded his 200th win as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in their 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. It is a huge win for the Blue Jackets and a costly game for the Hurricanes as defenseman Dougie Hamilton exited the game with a nasty looking leg injury. Read about it here.
  • The Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Read about it here.
  • Sam Montembeault replaced an injured Chris Driedger in the Florida Panthers’ net and helped them get a big win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his great play with the Montreal Canadiens by scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He now has three goals and seven total points in seven games since joining the Canadiens.
  • Rasmus Dahlin scored his third goal of the season to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Dallas Stars.
  • John Gibson stopped 33 shots for the Anaheim Ducks as they hand the Nashville Predators their seventh defeat in their past 10 games.
  • Philipp Grubauer stops all 27 shots he faces in a shutout win for the Colorado Avalanche over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jake Virtanen avoids a suspension earlier in the day and then scores the game-winning goal for the Vancouver Canucks in a big win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Highlights of the Night

This might have been Rittich’s biggest and best save of the night.

Cam Atkinson wasted no time making an impact in his return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup with this assist early in the first period.

Chris Kreider scores a game-winning power play with 30 seconds to play in regulation to help give the New York Rangers a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Blooper of the Night

After whiffing on a shootout attempt earlier this week, Brad Marchand had some more problems on a breakaway.

Auston Matthews tried the lacrosse move and it did not work.

Factoids

  • Cale Makar scored his 10th goal of the season for the Colorado Avalanche, tying him for the most in franchise history for a rookie defenseman. [NHL PR]
  • Patrice Bergeron reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, the second most in Bruins franchise history behind only John Buyck. [NHL PR]
  • Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov is the 10th rookie goalie to ever win nine consecutive decisions during the regular season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Calgary Flames 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Florida Panthers 4, Los Angeles Kings 3
New York Rangers 3, New York Islanders 2
Montreal Canadiens 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Anaheim Ducks 4, Nashville Predators 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Buffalo Sabres 4, Dallas Stars 1
Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 0
Vancouver Canucks 3, Arizona Coyotes 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals sign Nicklas Backstrom to five-year, $46M extension

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The Washington Capitals face big questions about their future, but Nicklas Backstrom will remain a part of it. The Capitals were able to sign Backstrom to a five-year, $46 million contract extension on Tuesday.

Backstrom, 32, will see that $9.2M AAV kick in starting in 2020-21, and then expire after 2024-25. Interestingly, Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8M cap hit) and T.J. Oshie ($5.75M) also see their deals expire after that 2024-25 campaign.

Apparently Backstrom negotiated his own contract, focusing on getting top dollar, while the Caps wanted to account for his age:

Backstrom has ranked as one of the NHL’s more underappreciated stars for years. The Capitals note that he leads the franchise in assists (668) and is also the only active player to generate 50+ assists in six consecutive seasons. Backstrom ranks second in franchise history in points (908), second only to Alex Ovechkin (1,255).

A quick cap outlook after Capitals sign Backstrom

Going truly deep on the Capitals’ future decisions is probably the job for a full post, but we can take a quick peek.

Cap Friendly places Washington’s cap spending at about $71.1M on 16 roster spots heading into 2020-21. If the ceiling remains around $81.5M, that would leave the Caps with about $10.4M in space.

Such comments serve as a reminder that the Capitals face other tough decisions, both soon and off in the distance.

Most pressingly, Braden Holtby (30, current cap hit: $6.1M) needs a new contract after this season. Ilya Samsonov may or may not be the future. If the Capitals find some way to sign Holtby, it would probably require making painful omissions elsewhere.

The Capitals also must determine what Alex Ovechkin’s next contract will look like. The 34-year-old’s $9.538M cap hit runs out after 2020-21.

It will be fascinating to see how Backstrom ages. His smart, borderline Selke-worthy style may grow old quite gracefully. Still, it’s kind of startling to realize that he’s 32 already. Some old folks might take that as a reminder of our (er, their!) mortality.

Did the Capitals make the right call with this hefty extension? Did Backstrom make a mistake by haggling on his own? What should the Caps do with Holtby and others?

With the Capitals running rampant over the league and not that far removed from that glorious Stanley Cup, extending Backstrom certainly feels like a crowd-pleaser right now, at least. Frankly, the slick Swede was so underpaid before, it also seems fair.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Panarin’s 5-point night; Price, Samsonov stop them all

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THREE STARS

1. Artemi Panarin, Rangers: It was a pretty darn good night for the Rangers forward during a 6-2 win over the Islanders at MSG. Panarin scored twice and added three assists to become the second Rangers player in as many games to record a five-point night at home. In his last four games the Russian forward has four goals and 12 points.

2. Carey Price, Canadiens: Price made all 31 saves to help blank the Flames 2-0. The shutout was the 46th of his NHL career, tying him with Ken Dryden for third place on the Canadiens’ all-time list.

3. Ilya Samsonov, Capitals: Alex Ovechkin provided both goals in a 2-0 win over the Hurricanes. For Samsonov, he stopped all 23 shots he faced to pick up his first career NHL shutout. Ovechkin, meanwhile, tallied career goals No. 685 and 686 to pass Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time list. More on that here.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s a look at Panarin’s five-point night:

Ivan Barbashev is thankful for this gift from the Ducks:

Brad Marchand continued the Bruins’ woes in the shootout with this unique failed attempt against the Flyers.

PREMATURE FIGHT OF THE NIGHT

It wouldn’t be an Islanders-Rangers game without a little edge to it. Ross Johnston and Micheal Haley dropped the mitts 2:33 into the game. Before the next face-off it was Matt Martin and Brendan Smith‘s turn to go at it. The only problem? You can’t have another fight before the puck drops after the first one. That meant Martin and Smith were assessed game misconducts and tossed from the game.

STATS OF THE NIGHT

SCORES
Canadiens 2, Flames 0
Rangers 6, Islanders 2
Capitals 2, Hurricanes 0
Flyers 6, Bruins 5 (SO)
Blues 4, Ducks 1

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Islanders’ goaltending; Avs’ deadline targets

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Jacob Markstrom met his “mini me” prior to Canucks practice. (NHL)

Nikita Gusev has been a healthy scratch at different times this season, but his signing in starting to pay off for the Devils. (The Hockey News)

• How has goaltending impacted the Islanders’ success this season? (TSN)

• Why aren’t the Sabres closer to locking up a playoff spot than they actually are? (Rotoworld)

• Nobody should’ve counted out the Columbus Blue Jackets before the start of the season. (The Cannon)

• The Canadiens have struggled defensively, so Habs Eyes on the Prize suggests pointing the finger at Luke Richardson. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Caps GM Brian MacLellan supports Alex Ovechkin‘s decision to skip the All-Star Game. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Raw Charge breaks down quality starts and steals for goalies this season. (Raw Charge)

• How should the Golden Knights handle Marc-Andre Fleury while he’s struggling? (Sinbin.Vegas)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a special player ever since he first joined the Sharks. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Who should the Avs target ahead of the trade deadline? (Mile High Hockey)

Philipp Grubauer and Ilya Samsonov have both pushed Braden Holtby for playing time at different times in their career. How similar are those two situations though? (Nova Caps)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.