John Tavares of the New York Islanders has been one of the most talked about hockey players since he was an early teen. At 15 he was granted “exceptional player” status by the Ontario Hockey League in order to play for the Oshawa Generals.
Tavares became the youngest OHL player ever and scored 45 goals and 77 points in the 2005-2006 season. Year by year he continued to build, and by the end of his fourth OHL season Tavares had tallied 215 goals and 433 points in just 247 games. On top of that, Tavares won two gold medals playing for Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2009.
And then came the hype for the 2009 entry draft. Tavares was projected to be drafted first overall by most, but some news outlets, including myself, gave some leeway for Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who eventually went second overall. Tavares went first.
After a strong start to his first NHL season, 19 points in his first 21 games, Tavares seemed to be shaping up to be exactly what he was expected to be: an elite NHL player. But a cold streak has him sitting at just 33 points in 58 games (zero points in his last five games and 14 points in 37 games) and an awful minus-14 rating.
Tavares’s average play has opened the door for other rookies to obtain the spotlight and possibly the Calder trophy.
The third overall pick from the 2009 draft, Duchene has played an integral part in the Colorado Avalanche's extremely successful season thus far. Duchene tops all NHL rookies with 39 points (18 goals) and has scored 12 points in his last 12 games.
And Duchene isn’t the only rookie who’s had success on the Avs this season. Brandon Yip, who made his Avs debut in mid-December, has scored 16 points in 21 games and Ryan O’Reilly has proven to be a regular on the Avs third line, chipping in with 20 points and a plus-seven rating in 58 games.
His 6'8" frame is originally what got him noticed but Buffalo Sabres first-round draft pick Tyler Myers adds more to the Sabres' roster than a massive body. The monster defenseman is third among all rookies in scoring with 31 points and leads all Sabres defensmen in ice time at just over 23 minutes a game.
The 22-year-old rookie goaltender has been one of the bright spots in what's been a disappointing season for the Boston Bruins. As of today the Bruins are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and although they are tied in points with the eighth place Philadelphia Flyers (they’ve played one more game than the Flyers and therefore are behind them in the standings), it's far off from the first place Eastern Conference finish from last season.
Although still considered a backup goaltender to Tim Thomas, Rask has started nearly half of the Bruins' games (26) and has recorded impressive numbers with a 2.02 GAA and a .929 save percentage. With rumors swirling about Tim Thomas’ future as a Bruin, Rask may have found himself a starting role as an NHL goaltender.
James van Riemsdyk
Although he drew cold in December where he only scored one point in 15 games, van Riemsdyk started the season hot with 18 points in his first 16 games. His plus-seven rating is first among all Philadelphia Flyers forwards and he's third among all rookies in scoring with 31 points and only averages 13 minutes on the ice per game.
So as the 2009-2010 season closes in on its last 20-plus games, you have to wonder whether John Tavares will pick up the slack and help the Islanders gain back some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race and get himself back to the top of the NHL rookie list.
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