Year of the Rookie: Youth Looks to Be Served in the 2010-11 NHL Season
He has become the fourth NHL rookie in history to accomplish this feat. The last man to do it, the frenetically sought-after Fabian Brunnstrom, managed a hat trick in his first game in 2008. The undrafted Swede hasn't done much since, but hopefully Stepan will do more after his record-tying start.
The other two to score three goals in their first game were Alex Smart back in 1943 for the Montreal Canadiens and Real Cloutier of the Quebec Nordiques in 1979. Cloutier however scored his goals in his sixth season with the Nordiques at the age of 23. This was Quebec's first season in the NHL. Cloutier, was an NHL rookie but not a newcomer to professional hockey or the Nordiques.
The skinny Stepan was a second-round pick from the 2008 entry draft. He was playing at the University of Wisconsin last year where he was more of a playmaker than a scorer. He is just one of a growing list of young players who is being dumped straight in to the NHL with little or no minor professional league experience.
Last season it was easy to come up with a list of 12 rookies who made significant contributions to their NHL teams and deserved some sort of consideration for the Calder Trophy. That was without counting Evander Kane.
Who do you like for rookie of the year this year?
This year there looks to be more good young players than ever playing key roles on their NHL teams and vying for Rookie of the Year consideration.
A Bruin team depleted at center is playing second-overall pick Tyler Seguin. The talented 18-year-old has played limited minutes to date but already has one goal and is anxious for more.
Montreal has dumped the power play into the lap of the cocky P.K. Subban. He could be logging first-pair minutes until Andrei Markov gets back. He loves the ice and loves the time.
Buffalo is looking to tiny speedster Tyler Ennis to help invigorate a scoring line for them this year. He has three assists already and was perhaps the most dangerous Sabre in the playoffs last year.
The Islanders look to give their Swiss streak Nino Niederreiter a chance to make the team this year. The 18-year-old has the size and can skate in this league, but he still might not be quite ready for it. Twenty-seven-year-old goaltending prospect Nathan Lawson may get a chance with the big club this year if Roloson or Dipietro is injured for any length of time.
The aforementioned Derek Stepan has started out on fire for the Rangers.
Challenged at wing the Penguins are going to try out 21-year-old power-forward prospect Eric Tangradi next to Evgeni Malkin.
The Thrashers have introduced a couple of great prospects over the past few years with Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. The hope has to be that eighth overall pick Alex Burmistrov will continue the tradition. He has the attitude and the talent. Time will tell if he generates the statistics this year.
John Carlson carried the load on the back end for the Capitals last year in the playoffs. The young American is being asked to carry it all season long this year for the Caps. Look for the fifth overall pick from 2007, Karl Alzner, to be another young player on defense helping him out.
Twenty-five-year-old goalie Corey Crawford, after playing in eight games in three seasons with Chicago, looks to finally be getting a chance as backup for the Blackhawks. Jack Skille is still injured but looks to have a good chance to make a gutted Chicago roster.
The Nashville Predators are constantly drafting and developing great young talent. Colin Wilson played too many games last year to still qualify for the Calder, but look for him to have a fabulous full season with the Predators. Alex Sulzer or Teemu Laakso is looking to back-fill the defensive depth chart after the departure of Dan Hamhuis. Twenty-two-year-old rookie Anders Lindback is being called on to be the rookie backup goalie in Nashville.
Alex Pietrangelo the fourth overall pick in 2008 is getting a chance to start on the blue line for the Blues this year. He got over five minutes of power-play time in his first game and looks to stay in the NHL this year.
The Flames had Calder-eligible center Mickael Backlund slotted into the second-line center spot. Apparently he's being pushed back on the depth chart after the signing of spent veteran Brendan Morrison. Before the season ends expect sanity to reign and Backlund to earn back a top-six forward spot and contribute in Calgary.
Edmonton looks like rookie heaven. World junior hero Jordan Eberle has already scored a goal that has made highlight reels across the continent. Taylor Hall meanwhile has spent his time getting open. He looks to have a wrist shot he can put in from center ice. Oh, and rookie Magnus Paajarvi just led the team in scoring in the preseason. It's going to be exciting in Edmonton again.
The Canucks seem to have finally settled on their goaltending understudy Corey Schneider as the backup behind Luongo. The highly regarded Schneider was Vancouver's first-round pick (26th overall) in 2004. It's time for him to get a tryout with the big club.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has played big minutes in Phoenix's first two games in the Czech republic. He's poised and skilled with the puck and an excellent skater. He will be a perfect addition on a very old Phoenix defense.
This is an unprecedented number of rookies playing key roles in the NHL. Young players seem to be offering teams a prime combination of dependable health and talent for the dollar spent.
This will lead to many teams being energized with youthful verve while at the same time experiencing the mistakes of youth.
This should make for a great Calder Memorial Trophy race. Verve and mistakes together mean some exciting, high-scoring hockey for fans. It also means ulcers for coaches who would probably be much happier with that 30-year-old veteran who knows what he's doing in the rookie's spot.
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