NHL Rookies Not Receiving Enough Attention in 2013-14

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2013

NHL Rookies Not Receiving Enough Attention in 2013-14

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    All eyes were on Nathan MacKinnon when he took the ice for the first game of his career with the Colorado Avalanche last month.

    There was good reason for that because he was the first pick in the NHL draft last summer. The Avs selected MacKinnon because of his eye-catching speed and ability to be creative with the puck. 

    Seth Jones was the No. 4 pick in the first round by the Nashville Predators. Jones looked like he would be the top pick for several months, but he slipped to the Preds. Still, all eyes were on him as well when Nashville's season started.

    Not all rookies are high draft picks. Most work their way up through the minor leagues and don't get a chance to play in the NHL until they earn their opportunity.

    In this piece, we look at some of the productive rookies who are not getting publicity like the stars of last year's draft, but deserve attention nevertheless.

RW Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 stats: 19 games; five goals, six assists, minus-four

    Analysis: Alex Chiasson has size, strength and know-how in the offensive zone. While much of the focus is on the Stars' 2013 first-round draft pick Valeri Nichushkin, Chiasson has become a productive player in his rookie season, and he has the potential to do even more.

    Chiasson understands where to position himself in the offensive zone and that allows him to get quite a few excellent scoring opportunities. Chiasson has the size at 6'3" and 202 pounds to anchor himself in front of the net to scoop up rebounds and make big plays. He also has a powerful shot that he can get away quickly. 

    In addition to his strength and ability to fire the puck quickly, Chiasson has excellent playmaking ability and is a surprisingly good passer, according to Hockey's Future.

LW Michael Bournival, Montreal Canadiens

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    2013-14 stats: 17 games; five goals, four assists, plus-four

    Analysis: The Montreal Canadiens continue to come up with strong performances from their rookies. A year after Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher gave the Canadiens a dose of speed and skill, Michael Bournival is proving to be a determined performer who can contribute on both ends of the ice. 

    Head coach Michel Therrien likes Bournival's instincts and execution and that's why the rookie is playing on the same line with slick Tomas Plekanec and speedy Brian Gionta. Bournival has the type of well-developed game that allows him to make plays in all three zones. He has the kind of complete game that keeps him from making typical rookie mistakes.

    Few expected Bournival to make the Canadiens this year, but he is making the most of his opportunity and has not shown any signs of regression.

C Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2013-14 stats: 19 games; four goals, four assists, minus-two

    Analysis: Tyler Johnson is an undrafted free agent who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 and has worked hard to develop into a productive NHL player. The 5'9", 182-pound Johnson has the quickness, instincts and hands to make plays consistently.

    He was the leading scorer for Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in Syracuse last year and he has made a nice adjustment to the NHL. Johnson plays hard and has not looked anxious. He is also a battler on faceoffs where he has won 52 percent of the draws he has taken.

    Johnson centers the Lightning's third line, and head coach Jon Cooper is expecting more from Johnson the rest of the way. All of the Lightning players are going to have to pick it up as a result of Steven Stamkos' broken leg, and that includes this hard-working rookie. 

C Brandon Pirri, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2013-14 stats: 14 games; four goals, four assists, plus-four

    Analysis: Brandon Pirri is a talented offensive player who has the potential to become a big-time scorer for the Blackhawks.

    Perhaps not a superstar, but a center who can score as many as 20-to-25 goals and add in -to-35 assists. However, Pirri's game is not fully developed at this point. While he has been productive in his rookie season, head coach Joel Quenneville has to decide if he wants to keep Pirri in the lineup as the team's second-line center.

    No final decisions have been made, but Quenneville and the Blackhawks are keeping their options open. General manager Stan Bowman acquired Kris Versteeg in a trade Nov. 14, and he can play multiple positions, including center. 

    Pirri led the AHL in scoring in 2012-13, so he will continue to get his opportunities but he must maintain his productivity and do a good enough job on the defensive end if he is going to maintain his position.

D Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

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    2013-14 stats: 20 games; two goals, four assists, plus-14

    Analysis: Hampus Lindholm was the Anaheim Ducks' first-round pick in the 2012 draft and he has been an excellent asset for the Ducks this year.

    He did not play up to his offensive expectations last year in the AHL, but Lindholm showed he was an excellent skater and that he could be dominant in the defensive zone. He has continued to develop his skills this year and his impressive plus-14 rating demonstrates that he does not make many mistakes. 

    He has the size at 6'3" and 197 pounds to hold his own in the corners when fighting for the puck, and once he gets it, he can carry it up ice with his smooth skating stride.

D Radko Gudas, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2013-14 stats: 19 games; one goals, five assists, plus-six

    Analysis: Radko Gudas is not going to get much support as one of the top rookies of the year because he is an unheralded Czech defenseman who was drafted in the third round in 2010. He has needed time to develop his skills.

    Gudas is not a top-level offensive threat, but he is a rock-hard, bone-crunching hitter who is completely unafraid to play at this level. He is also a pugnacious type who already has 61 penalty minutes and has shown he is willing to fight.

    Gudas squared off with Jarome Iginla of the Boston Bruins in each of Tampa Bay's first two games against Boston. Gudas does not make many mistakes, and he is teamed with Matt Carle on the Lightning's first defensive pairing. Gudas is averaging 20:01 of ice time per game.

RW Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

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    2013-14 stats: Six games; three goals, four assists, plus-four

    Analysis: Tyler Toffoli has all the tools to become a star at the NHL level.

    He had a chance to show what he could do late in the regular season and in the playoffs. Toffoli is big enough at 6'1" and 187 pounds to hold his own with opposing defensemen. He can establish his position and put himself in a spot to make plays in the offensive zone.

    Toffoli is a good, but not great skater and that's one of the reasons he has not been able to establish himself as an NHL player to this point. However, he has looked good in six games since being called up from the AHL, and he has the hands to stick around with the Kings.