Nick Suzuki

The NHL’s All-Underrated rookie team

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Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks defender Quinn Hughes have long been thought of as the only two legitimate Calder Trophy candidates. But is it really just a two-horse race? One of those two players will likely be named rookie of the year, there are other first-year players having impressive seasons in 2019-20.

So, we decided to build the all-underrated rookie team for the 2019-20 season. We’ll pick two wingers, a center, a pair of defensemen and a starting netminder. These first-year players have received their share of recognition, but none of them has gotten serious Calder consideration.

Here we go:

Dominik Kubalik – W – Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old scored a hat trick in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s now up to 29 goals and 44 points in 62 games this season. That puts him on pace for 37 goals in 2019-20. That’s an impressive total for any player, let alone someone who is in their first season in North America.

Even his teammates are openly campaigning for him now:

Kubalik’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider that 25 of his 29 goals and 35 of his 44 points have come at even strength. No other rookie has more than 12 even-strength goals in 2019-20. That’s how good the ‘Hawks freshman has been.

Nick Suzuki – C – Montreal Canadiens: Suzuki was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights along with Tomas Tatar and a second-round draft pick. The Habs had to give up captain Max Pacioretty to them that haul, but it’s a deal that’s worked out well for both sides.

Suzuki started the year playing wing on the fourth line and he’s since emerged as a valuable contributor down the middle. The 20-year-old is in the middle of a four-game pointless drought, but he’s managed to pick up 13 goals and 40 points in 66 games. His numbers are solid, but don’t jump off the page. That’s mainly because he didn’t start getting power play time until later on in the season.

He deserves to be mentioned among the group of under the radar rookies. He’s shown that his hockey IQ is up there for a player of his age and he has the offensive instincts to chip in offensively with regularity.

“He’s a smart player, he figures it out, but at the end of the day it’s having been through that grind before,” head coach Claude Julien said of the rookie’s heavy workload in junior hockey, per CBC. “Once the guys go through it once they’re a lot better the second time around. So to me, he had it before he got here and that’s why he’s doing well.”

Victor Olofsson – W – Buffalo Sabres: Olofsson is to power play goals what Kubalik is to even-strength production. The Sabres rookie has scored 19 goals this season and 11 of them have come on the man-advantage. Sure, you’d like to see him produce more at five-on-five, but when you can get this type of offense from a player drafted in seventh round, you shouldn’t complain.

No matter what you think of his even-strength production, you have to be encouraged by the fact that his first NHL campaign has gone this well. It’s definitely something he can build on going forward. And since when is being a lethal weapon on the power play such a bad thing anyway?

Adam Fox – D – New York Rangers: How is it possible to be underrated in New York? Well, Fox has found a way. The 22-year-old has an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 63 games this season. He’s also averaging 18:45 of ice time per game, but he’s played over 20 minutes in each of the last eight games.

It’s always good for a youngster to be mentioned in the same breath as a player like John Carlson. The numbers in the above tweet are really impressive.

Canadiens forward Max Domi banked a puck off Fox and into the Rangers net in the first period of last night’s game, but the rookie responded with a goal and an assist in his team’s comeback victory.

Ethan Bear – D – Edmonton Oilers: Penguins defenseman John Marino would’ve probably been in the spot had he been healthy, but he’s been sidelined for a while now. Bear is worthy of being here. The 22-year-old played 18 games in the NHL last year, but he still qualifies as a rookie in 2019-20.

He’s emerged as a key piece on a team that’s been lacking quality defenders for a while now. Bear has begun getting more power play time recently and he’s also averaging 21:42 of ice time, which is more than Makar (20:52) and slightly less than Hughes (21:44).

Bear has five goals and 20 points in 64 games this season. Those numbers should continue to climb now that he’s getting added time on special teams.

Elvis Merzlikins – G – Columbus Blue Jackets: How could it not be Elvis? Yes, Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov has also put together a strong rookie year, but no one expected the Blue Jackets to compete for a playoff spot this year.

Merzlikins suffered an injury on Tuesday night and Columbus needs him to get back as soon as possible. He’s posted a 12-9-8 record with a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage this season. And, oh by the way, he’s also tied for the league lead in shutouts, with five.

The 25-year-old’s first season in North America has gone as well as anybody could’ve expected. The Blue Jackets are 1-4-5 in their last 10 games, but they’re still clinging on to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They need Elvis to get back in the building (sorry) as soon as possible.

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Cirelli, DeBrusk lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Zach Sanford, Blues – C/LW: Sanford recorded just 20 points in 60 games last season, but he averaged a modest 12:35 minutes. Through Jan. 9th, he had three goals and 10 points in 32 contests in 2019-20, but again his ice time was low at an average of 12:26. Over his last eight games though, his playing time has increased to 14:05 minutes per game and he’s scored three goals and nine points over that span. It certainly helps that he’s been regularly skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. Sanford is still playing above his head right now and it’s questionable if he’ll be worth owning in standard leagues after this hot streak is over, but there is the potential for him to surprise people the rest of the way if he does keep getting decent minutes.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW/LW: This isn’t the first time Yamamoto has been called up, but this is looking like the time he sticks with the Oilers. He has been so good with five goals and 10 points in 11 contests with Edmonton this season. Yamamoto has been highly regarded for a while, it’s just taken a bit of time for him to develop and now that he has, he could be a great offensive force going forward. He’s only owned in 10% of Yahoo leagues, so in most cases it’s not too late to take a chance on him.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: Debrusk is one of those players who isn’t quite worth owning all the time in standard leagues, but he’s not far off. He’s been solid offensively with 17 goals and 32 points in 48 games and his eligibility on both wings gives fantasy owners a nice amount of flexibility when it comes to using him. He’s just maybe a hair less productive than the low end of what you’d typically want on your team. As an injury stopgap measure though, he’s pretty much the ideal. If you’re hunting your free agent market for hot players, he also works there after scoring an impressive six goals and 12 points over his last 10 games.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand was red hot with five goals and seven points in his last four games when he suffered a rib/cartilage contusion and an oblique strain that cost him four-to-six weeks. He returned on Jan. 19th and picked up right where he left off with another five goals and six points in his last four contests. At this point he has 17 goals and 29 points despite being limited to 40 games. He managed to score 23 goals in 2018-19 even though he was averaging just 12:20 minutes, so now that he’s getting 17:28 minutes per game, it’s not shocking to see him be such a significant goal scorer. He’s owned in 41% of Yahoo leagues and there should be use for him on teams in many of the leagues where he’s still available.

Zach Hyman, Maple Leafs – C/LW: Hyman couldn’t make his season debut until Nov. 13th and it took him a while to get going offensively with two goals and three points in his first 10 games. That’s partially masked how big of a threat he’s been for a while now. From Dec. 4th onward, Hyman has shined with 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games. In spite of that, Hyman is still owned in just 25% of leagues. That’s somewhat understandable given that in previous seasons he’s been good, but not great offensively and the high powered Maple Leafs’ offense features far bigger names who get most of the attention, but at this point, picking up Hyman is worthy of serious consideration.

Jesper Bratt, Devils – LW/RW: Bratt was having a pretty quiet season with six goals and nine points in 27 contests before Taylor Hall was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes. Since the trade though, he’s seen an uptick in responsibilities and his production has climbed up along with it. He went from averaging 13:12 minutes before the trade to 15:07 minutes over his last 13 contests. Over that recent span he has three goals and 10 points in 13 games. Bratt has been playing alongside Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, who were Hall’s former linemates, so it has been a case of Bratt getting a nice opportunity as a result of the trade.

Kevin Hayes, Flyers – C: Hayes has been a hot-and-cold player this season. That combined with his center-only eligibility makes him a tough sell as a player to pick up and hold long-term. If you’re interested in short-term pickups though, you can attempt to strategically grab and drop him. In that regard, this might be a good time to consider him because it looks like he’s at the beginning of a new hot streak with two goals and five points in his last four games, including a three-point showing on Saturday.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: The Calder Trophy conversation right now is basically Quinn Hughes versus Cale Makar – and for good reason, those two defensemen have had excellent campaigns. That said, there a few rookie forwards who have been standing out too and one of them is Suzuki. With 10 goals and 33 points in 54 games this season, he ranks fourth in the rookie scoring race. He’s had some prolonged cold streaks, such as his recent stretch from Dec. 31-Jan. 18 of just two goals and four points in 11 games, but he’s also had some really great runs and he’s on one right now with a goal and six points in his last four games.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Ennis is having his best season in years with 13 goals and 30 points in 52 contests thanks in part to him having a significantly bigger role with Ottawa than he did in Toronto or Minnesota. He’s still been somewhat hot-and-cold, so he’s not a great option all the time, but right now he’s enjoying one of his hot streaks with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: From Jan. 14th onward, Cirelli has been one of the league’s top performers with four goals and 10 points in seven games. Of course, he’s been pretty good all season with 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games. His center-only eligibility is his biggest knock at this point, but even with that in mind, you could do worse than having him on your team long-term.

Players You May Want To Drop

Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – RW: Atkinson had an amazing run of eight goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that’s behind him now. He hasn’t gotten a point in any of his last four games, even as the Blue Jackets as a squad continue to excel. Atkinson is a player worth always keeping an eye on because when he’s at his best, he’s superb, but I think for some owners it’s okay to risk exposing him to the free agent pool during the stretches where he’s not producing.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal has a foot injury right now, but that might not end up being a significant injury. Even if you take that out as a factor though, Neal just hasn’t done that much. He had that amazing run of 11 goals in his first 14 games, but he’s found the back of the net just eight times in the 36 games that followed and that’s even with his hat trick on Dec. 31st. He hasn’t even really had a meaningful hot streak since October. Neal will almost certainly find his way back to the 20-goal milestone after falling well short of that in 2018-19, but that’s mostly just thanks to that hot start. If you missed out on that, there hasn’t been much benefit to owning Neal this season.

Alex Killorn, Lightning– LW/RW: With 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games, Killorn has already set a new career-high in goals and matched his 2018-19 points total. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so it’s not at all hard to believe that this will be the 30-year-old’s best campaign to date. That said, he’s largely riding on his early success at this stage. From Nov. 18-Dec. 31 he was playing like an elite with 13 goals and 28 points in 23 games, but since then he has five goals and six points in 14 contests, including just three points in his last nine contests. Even if you decide against dropping him right now because, again, his season overall has been spectacular, you should keep a critical eye on him over the next couple weeks. It’s entirely plausible that his best days of the 2019-20 campaign are behind him.

Tomas Hertl, Sharks – C/LW: This one is more of just a reminder of the unfortunate. Hertl suffered a torn ACL/MCL on Wednesday and he won’t play again this season as a result, so dropping him if you’re in a single season league is a no brainer. I would however like to take this time to encourage you to keep him in mind when it comes to fantasy drafts for 2020-21. He was underperforming a little – along with the Sharks as a team – before the injury so that combined with his season being cut short could lead to him slipping in drafts next season. You might get very good value for selecting him as a result.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair is having a strong season with 21 goals and 34 points in 51 contests. The catch is that most of his production has been the result of a couple big hot streaks. He had five goals and eight points in eight games from Oct. 23-Nov. 9 and another 11 goals and 15 points in 10 games from Dec. 3-21. Since his latest hot streak, he’s been limited to just four assists in 14 games. Feel free to drop him for now and just keep an eye out for his next big run.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

NHL Power Rankings: Top rookie performances so far

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Under-the-radar rookies; Ovechkin’s suspension

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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.

• Find out a little bit more about Nicklas Backstrom‘s new contract extension with Washington. (Nova Caps)

• Here’s a list of five-under-the-radar rookies that could compete for the Calder Trophy. (The Hockey News)

• Three-on-three hockey is awesome, but don’t expect to see much more of it going forward. (TSN)

• Martin Brodeur is hoping to get a bigger role with the Devils going forward. (NHL.com)

• Check out Elliott Friedman’s latest 31 thoughts blog. (Sportsnet)

• Even though hockey has changed a lot, there’s still a need for “muscle”. (National Post)

• Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an effective pest in the NHL? (ESPN)

• Sabres top prospect Dylan Cozens is inspiring a lot of young athletes in Yukon. (New York Times)

Alex Ovechkin has decided which game he’ll miss as part of his suspension for skipping the All-Star game. (Washington Post)

• NBC Sports Boston breaks down the 10 best left wingers in hockey. Do you agree with this list? (NBC Sports Boston)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: 20 trade candidates; Can Josi win Norris?

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.

• The Leafs are about to face a stiff test without Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly. (The Hockey News)

• To overcome those injuries, the Leafs will have to rally together. (TSN)

• Sportsnet has 20 trade deadline candidates that you’ll hear about between now and the end of February. (Sportsnet)

• The department of player safety couldn’t have handled the Kassian – Tkachuk situation much worse. (Vancourier)

P.K. Subban isn’t planning on asking for a trade out of New Jersey. (NHL.com)

• Canadiens rookie Nick Suzuki is adapting to life as an NHLer. (Montreal Gazette)

• Mile High Hockey provides us with a 2020 Mock Draft. No surprises at the top of this list. (Mile High Hockey)

• With Tuukka Rask injured, who will the Bruins call up in his place? (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• The Leafs can and should acquire Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers. (Leafs Nation)

• Can Roman Josi win the Norris Trophy this season? (On the Forecheck)

• It looks like the Sharks are starting to turn things around. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

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.