Ranking the 10 Most Surprising Rookies of the 2013 NHL Season
At the start of the season, this appeared to be a huge season for rookies.
NHL teams and observers expecting big things from Mikael Granlund in Minnesota, Chris Kreider with the Rangers, Nail Yakupov in Edmonton and Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis.
Wile Yakupov and Tarasenko have made solid contributions to their teams, Granlund and Kreider have yet to find their places with their respective clubs. Both have spent time in the minor leagues and have played inconsistently at the NHL level.
Here's a look at the rookies who have exceeded expectations and surprised with their performances in 2013.
10. Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers
Justin Schultz was not an unknown commodity at the start of the season. He was a highly sought-after defenseman when he finished his college career at Wisconsin. He eschewed the Anaheim Ducks who had drafted him in 2008 and became a free agent.
He signed a contract with the Edmonton Oilers and has become a prominent defenseman. Schultz has excellent offensive skills and has scored six goals and tallied 14 assists. While he has a minus-12 rating, he is a solid competitor and his offensive skills make him a key player for the Oilers.
9. Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins
Dougie Hamilton received quite a bit of attention at the start of the season. Many included him in the group of most promising rookies even before the first puck was dropped.
However, the 19-year-old Hamilton's youth made him a very questionable addition for a veteran team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Hamilton's greatest attribute has been his poise. He has not always dominated play, but he understands what is expected from him and his arrow is pointing up.
Hamilton has four goals and 10 assists for the Bruins and a plus-four rating. Hamilton excels at making the late pass that sets his teammates up for scoring opportunities.
8. Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders
Casey Cizikas was not on the list of top rookies at the start of the season in the NHL.
He was not on the list of key players for the New York Islanders, either. However, Cizikas made the team and has contributed for head coach Jack Capuano.
Cizikas has played 35 games at center for the Islanders. He has scored five goals and added nine assists. He's far from a superstar, but he has made an unexpected contribution for this surprising team.
7. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau was highly thought of at the start of the season, but it seemed like Chris Kreider, Vladimir Tarasenko and Nail Yakupov were well ahead of Huberdeau at the start of the season.
All of those skaters are much faster than Huberdeau. However, Huberdeau has been the leading scorer in the league among rookies, with 13 goals and 12 assists.
While he has slowed down a bit in the last few weeks, Huberdeau finds a way to get in the proper position to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
The game seems to slow down for Huberdeau, and he should have a long and productive career because of it.
6. Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa Senators
Mika Zibanejad figured to get an opportunity with the Ottawa Senators this year because of his immense talent, but it did not seem likely that head coach Paul MacLean would have to depend on him.
Zibanejad has gotten a regular opportunity to produce for many reasons, and one of them is due to the number of injuries that the Senators have suffered. Zibanejad has gotten the chance to play regularly, and he has six goals and 10 assists.
Zibanejad also plays well on both ends of the ice. He is plus-seven for the season and is averaging better than 13 minutes of ice time per game.
5. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
Brendan Gallagher was not the top rookie in camp for the Montreal Canadiens when the lockout came to an end. All eyes were on Alex Galchenyuk because of his status as the Canadiens' first-round pick last year (third overall).
However, Gallagher has done nothing but work hard and improve from the first day of training camp. He earned a spot in head coach Michel Therrien's rotation and has been a solid contributor. Gallagher is a tough, nasty and annoying player to compete against, but he is productive for the Canadiens.
Gallagher is the third-leading scorer among rookies with 11 goals and 10 assists. He is also an impressive plus-10 while averaging nearly 14 minutes of ice time per game.
Not bad production for the 147th pick in the 2010 draft.
4. Cory Conacher, Ottawa Senators
Cory Conacher did such a good job with the Tampa Bay Lightning that he may have solved their goaltending problems.
Conacher started the season on fire for the Lightning, easing some of the pressure on stars like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. When opposing teams saw Conacher perform, they saw him as an exciting player who could provide an offensive spark.
One of those teams was the Ottawa Senators. They traded goalie Ben Bishop to the Lightning for Conacher at the trade deadline.
Conacher has scored nine goals and 15 assists, and is averaging more than 14 minutes of ice time per game.
3. Patrick Wiercioch, Ottawa Senators
When it came to young defensemen who were expected to make an impression in 2013, you would have had to wait a long time before Patrick Wiercioch's name came up.
Wiercioch had been drafted in 2009, and he was not listed prominently among the Senators' prospects. However, Wiercioch has played with toughness, determination and maturity.
Wiercioch has four goals and 11 assists for the Senators and a plus-two rating. He also earned respect among his teammates when he stood up to Adam McQuaid of the Boston Bruins and engaged him in a fight after the Bruins' strong boy had run over Ottawa's Chris Neil.
2. Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings
Jake Muzzin didn't figure to get a lot of run as he attempted to earn a spot on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Muzzin, however, was forced to step in when the Kings suffered serious injuries on their blue line. Muzzin has more than met head coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi's expectations.
Muzzin has scored six goals and eight assists for the Kings and he is an eye-catching plus-14 for the season. Muzzin is averaging over 18 minutes of ice time per game.
1. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Saad has been a tremendous find for the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks.
The rookie has played with power and has an explosive quality to his game. While it took him a while to find his scoring range, he has been finding the back of the net and setting up his teammates with frequency since late February.
Saad has scored eight goals and 13 assists for the Blackhawks and he is plus-13 for the season. He is one of the hardest working players on the team, and head coach Joel Quenneville is confident enough in Saad to use him for an average of 16 minutes per game and play him in key short-handed situations.
Saad is an excellent rookie who should only get better as his career advances. The 43rd pick in the 2011 draft has a chance to become a dominant player with the Blackhawks.