Blake Wheeler shifts from a green rookie to a Black and Gold powerhouse, but the 2008-2009 NHL Rookie of the Year is already decided.
There are plenty of former contenders worth mention, so here are your top 10 NHL rookies at the Trade Deadline.
10. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay, Center
Some may clamor for Stamkos to be higher just because he was the No. 1 overall pick and they could cite the attendant hype that goes with it. Others may simply take his overall numbers at a glance and leave him completely off this list.
He takes the No. 10 spot only by his recent performance, where over the past two months he’s been a much more serviceable NHL center than through his first 14 weeks. While Tampa Bay got off to a horrific start (remember how quickly they fired Barry Melrose?) don’t take their frustrations in management out on Stamkos. He can be a star someday and he’s showing signs of life.
Look at him as a long-term potential star and watch him makes strides over this last stretch.
9. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles, Goalie
Quick could easily be rated higher, after all he didn’t really see any action until late December and since then he’s been named the every day backstop for the Kings.
You could try to spread out his stats over a full season and make the argument that if he held his role for a full year he’d have more wins, but his GAA average leaves room for improvement and simply put, there are better rookie Goalies than him out there.
Over the next few months he could certainly climb this list but for now, he’s No. 9.
8. Patrick Berglund, St. Louis, Center
Berglund has been one of the most consistent rookies on this list but this list-maker, as well as his coaching staff all feel like he can do more. He was recently demoted to the 4th line in St. Louis, and it seems to have inspired him to work harder.
He’s not going to blow you off the page with his stats, but he’s a great two-way player with a solid Plus/Minus of 14. He seems to be the type of guy who will rely on others to make him better at this early stage of his career.
7. Jakub Voracek, Columbus, Wing
Columbus has plenty to cheer about when it comes to young talent. Vorecek is one of those players who can play defense and contribute offensively, but to take that next superstar step he’s going to need to see, and take advantage of the special teams offense.
He looks to be just on the outside looking in with under 13 minutes of ice time per game but over the past couple of months has shown spurts of productivity. Compared to the rest of the pack he could move up or down a spot over the next couple of months, but don’t expect more than a solid, respectable rookie campaign.
6. Derick Brassard, Columbus, Center
Had Brassard not met a season-ending injury, there’s no doubt that he’s much higher on this list. In just under 15 minutes of ice time over 31 games he scored 25 points with a plus minus of 12. At this point in the season he has half as many games under his belt as most other healthy rookies and he’s still in the top 10 in rookie scoring.
As the next few weeks play out he may get kicked out of the top 10, I understand that, but even with only 31 games under his belt, he’s one of the top 10 best rookies this year as of this point.
5. Kris Versteeg, Chicago, Wing
When you think of Chicago you think of young talent; you even think of Calder Trophy worthy young talent as recently as last year. Toews and Kane have been the guys getting the mainstream attention but Versteeg is making a strong case to join their ranks.
Versteeg leads all rookies in scoring with 44 points in 56 games and a Plus Minus of 16. He leads all rookie forwards in time on ice and he’s been not just used, but relied upon in the power play and in the shorthanded formations.
If you are a Chicago fan you hope other teams continue to focus on your big names; you’d be content to let Versteeg do his damage as a quiet assassin.
4. Pekka Rinne, Nashville, Goalie
Rinne is your everyday starter in Nashville and for a team that has trouble scoring, they can do a great job playing Defense and it starts with Rinne. The Preds are in the top 10 in the NHL in Goals Against Average, Rinne challenges Mason in Win percentage, save percentage, goals against, and Shutouts. By the end of the season Rinne will compile a resume as solid as any goalie, rookie or otherwise.
Rinne got off to a slow start when he wasn’t the feature of the game plan in Nashville, but ever since he took over the everyday controls he’s been a quiet force and leader of a quiet defense.
He could easily move up this list over the next few weeks.
3. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim, Wing
Ryan was the number two rookie until Teemu Selanne came back to his line. For whatever reason, whether it was chemistry or less scoring chances, Ryan has fallen back to earth, but his season stats are still worthy of taking a long look.
In only 44 games played he’s second among all rookie with 39 points and has the best points per game average in the entire rookie class. His plus-minus is plus-9 and he’s shown that he can excite the crowd and put the biscuit in the basket as good as anybody, but his scoring has fallen off and he slipped out of the number two spot, even with eight power-play goals.
2. Blake Wheeler, Boston, Wing
Wheeler has been the durable stud that Boston knew he would be; the question was when. The answer is all year long. In 61 games he’s got a respectable 36 points and while making the stat sheet has been inconsistent for him, he leads the entire NHL in plus/minus and nearly doubles the next most proficient rookie in that area.
He’s been a major force on what I call the alchemy line in Boston, with David Krejci and Michael Ryder, because the chemistry between these individual players has yielded peak performance from the entire line. He’s not going to shoot the lights out but he’s earned responsibilities on special teams and has been the consummate Bruin forward in just his first year.
Aside from his plus/minus his great team play could go unnoticed and anybody from my top five could be runner up for the Rookie of the Year; some voters may weigh pure scoring higher than others. At the trade deadline Wheeler has this spot by an edge.
1. Steve Mason, Columbus, Goalie
Steve Mason will be a Rookie of the Year who is a true product of the Salary Cap. The Western Conference is so close that every game for Columbus is huge, and many have a playoff feel to them. Mason could have put up his numbers years ago in a different atmosphere and been a respectable goalie. The additional pressure that he faces night in and night out is what makes his stat line so incredible.
Steve Mason is going to be the cornerstone of Columbus and you’ll notice that three top rookies are on this Columbus team, and their fans couldn’t be happier about Hockey in Ohio than they are these days. As if Rick Nash wasn’t enough to get a crowd going.
Mason leads all everyday rookie goalies in wins and goals-against average, and his save percentage is .919. What’s more exciting is that he leads the NHL in shutouts, and is on pace to win 30 games in his rookie campaign.
Read more from Greg Sheehan at http://www.turningtwo.com/