NHL Rookies with the Most Responsibility for the 2013-14 Season
This year's group of NHL rookies has been one of the better ones in recent years. While some of the rookies were drafted this past June in New Jersey, there are older first-year players that are carrying some big responsibilities in the early going.
A lot of these players, unsurprisingly, are playing on teams that are not powerhouses, or at least were not thought to be as the season began. Top teams don't normally give rookies a lot of responsibility unless they are truly exceptional.
In some cases, these rookies have been key players in contributing to the early success of their teams. In other instances, while these players have a lot of responsibility, it may be a long season in terms of overall losses for their clubs.
Let's have a look at the 2013-14 NHL rookies, in no particular order, who have the most responsibility among their peers.
Honorable mentions: Sean Monahan, Danny DeKeyser, Morgan Rielly and Mattias Ekholm
All stats can be found on nhl.com unless otherwise noted.
Jacob Trouba: Winnipeg Jets
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Jacob Trouba had an excellent start to the NHL season. Not only was he one of the better rookies in the early going, he was one of the better defensemen in the Western Conference; he was playing some great hockey on the blue line.
Hi logged over 21 minutes of ice time per game over his first eight games, second most among rookies, and was playing some tough minutes in those games. The Jets defense has struggled mightily in their own zone over the past few seasons, but Trouba was playing with a great deal of maturity despite his rookie status.
Unfortunately, he is on injured reserve for the time being as he recovers from a crash into the boards when he attempted to make a hit on Jordan Leopold.
The former University of Michigan defender will be an important part of the Jets upon his return as they try and make the playoffs in the very competitive Western Conference.
Eddie Lack: Vancouver Canucks
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While some may not think of being the backup to Roberto Luongo as a challenge, it is. Not only does Lack have to perform on the ice, but he has to try and match Luongo's big personality off the ice, as displayed in this recent Twitter exchange.
The affable Lack has done a good job on both counts. He is also seen as a potential replacement for Cory Schneider, who had a big following in Vancouver before being traded to the New Jersey Devils.
The 6'5" Swede is not likely to play more than 20-25 games in 2013-14, barring injury to Luongo. Regardless, the Canucks remain a team in the hunt for not only the playoffs but a long run once they get in. Lack will not be playing any throw-away games this season, as the Pacific Division is a strong one.
High expectations remain in Vancouver, and Lack's .906 save percentage and goals-against average of 2.95 signal a decent start to the 2013-14 season.
Aleksander Barkov: Florida Panthers
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The Florida Panthers' Aleksander Barkov has been as good as advertised. He's the youngest player in the NHL yet has been charged with a lot of responsibility in Florida.
The Panthers are not a very good hockey club right now, but on the nights when they have played well, Barkov has often led the charge. He has earned seven points in his first 10 games and is even in the plus/minus department despite the Panthers being badly outplayed on many nights.
A highlight in the early part of the season was his three-point effort against Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-3 Panthers victory.
Barkov has the potential to be one of the best centres in the game in a few years.
Mark Arcobello: Edmonton Oilers
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Mark Arcobello is one of the great stories among rookies this season. He is tied for the rooking scoring lead with 10 points. The 25-year-old has not taken a direct path to the NHL, as he played college hockey at Yale, spent time in the East Coast Hockey League and then made his way to the Oilers' AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.
With Sam Gagner injured with a broken jaw, Arcobello was slotted into the second-line centre spot after a very good training camp. Arcobello has averaged 17:13 minutes of ice time to start the season. That is the highest average of all rookie forwards.
Arcobello has been expected to play with some quality players and produce scoring chances. He has done both, and he may prompt the Oilers to consider moving Sam Gagner to the wing upon return. Arcobello has also had a great faceoff percentage of 53.7 over the first 10 games.
He is easily the biggest surprise among NHL rookies so far.
Radko Gudas: Tampa Bay Lightning
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While a lot of fans may not be familiar with Radko Gudas, they will be after their clubs face the Lightning. Gudas is a hard-nosed defenseman who takes no prisoners in the defensive zone.
The native of the Czech Republic plays a physical game despite not being the towering presence that many defenders are in today's NHL. He's 6'0", but plays a lot bigger.
Gudas is logging a lot of minutes for the Lightning. He's playing over 20 minutes per game for the Lightning, which ranks him third on the team among defensemen. He's third among all NHL rookies in ice time and has been playing against a lot of top offensive players in the difficult Atlantic Division.
Gudas is unlikely to score a lot of points in the NHL, but with the high-flying forwards that Tampa Bay has, he will be counted on to be an excellent shutdown defender who can move the puck quickly.
Mark Pysyk: Buffalo Sabres
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The Buffalo Sabres are off to a terrible start, but rookie defenseman Mark Pysyk has played very well considering the tough circumstances.
The former Edmonton Oil Kings star is just 21 years old, but he has played a mature game so far. The Sabres have leaned on him heavily, as he is averaging 20:08 minutes of ice time per game. That is third among Sabre defenders and fourth among all NHL rookies.
Pysyk has also had some power-play time and has chipped in with one assist during the man advantage.
The Sabres are going to be challenged to win hockey games, but Pysyk has the potential to become a top-two defender for Buffalo in the very near future. He's good enough to be a deciding factor once the team does start winning more games.
Nathan MacKinnon: Colorado Avalanche
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The Colorado Avalanche have been playing a great brand of hockey to start the season, featuring speed and high skill. Matt Duchene has been outstanding, the defense has held up and the goaltending has been superb.
This has eased the transition for No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon. Whereas some rookies are playing on some weak teams, the Avs have been strong, which puts a little less pressure on MacKinnon.
The former Halifax Moosehead still has been counted upon to play some big minutes in certain games and obviously carries the burden of being the top pick in the 2013 NHL draft. MacKinnon has earned seven points in 10 games, which is a great rate considering the depth at forward in Colorado.
MacKinnon has had to play well in all three zones for head coach Patrick Roy, and defensive responsibilities for centres are much greater than wingers in nearly all teams' systems. MacKinnon is a plus player with a plus-three rating, and he will only get better defensively as he learns the NHL game even more.
Looking ahead, the duo of Duchene and MacKinnon at centre is going to be one of the better ones in the NHL.
Seth Jones: Nashville Predators
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It still seems surprising to refer to Nashville Predator Seth Jones as the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NHL draft. His fall from the projected first pick in the draft was eye-popping.
The top pick among defensemen has had an amazing start to his season. Jones has jumped into the deep end in Nashville and has not only kept his head above water but has flourished.
Jones leads all rookies in ice time with an average of 24:23 minutes. That puts him more than three minutes clear of the next highest average. He has been paired a lot with Shea Weber and has faced the top offensive players on opposing teams on many shifts.
But Jones has not just played well defensively, as his relative Corsi number of 11.8 shows, he has also had four points and a game-winning goal to start the season. He doesn't handle the puck like a grenade, as many rookies tend to do.
Expect Jones to be a threat to win the Calder Trophy this year, and if he continues to mature at this rapid pace, he could be a Norris Trophy candidate in the next two or three seasons. His poise, skill and smarts will serve him well in his NHL career.