Ranking the 10 Most Surprising NHL Rookies in 2013-14

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IDecember 17, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Surprising NHL Rookies in 2013-14

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    Tomas Hertl started the season off with quite a shocking bang, scoring six goals and seven points in just the first three games. What other rookies have stunned fans, coaches and analysts with their unexpectedly strong starts?

    This list is about rookies whose performances have been the most surprising, not the best. Nathan MacKinnon's strong season, for example, has surprised absolutely nobody.

    Instead of high-profile rookies like Sean Monahan or Torey Krug, this ranking will instead feature those who weren't even expected to see NHL action at all. Like Hertl, it will also include a few youngsters who were expected to be only secondary players, not major difference makers.

    Are you ready for a ranking so awesome that Adam Oates will consider it disrespectful? Then let's begin!

    Scoring data comes from NHL.com, and all advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

10. Nate Schmidt, Washington Capitals

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    What Was Expected: Nate Schmidt was not expected to play in the NHL this year, and he indeed started the season with the AHL's Hershey Bears.


    What's Being Delivered: Injuries forced the Capitals to rely on a host of young and inexperienced defensemen. Though not a scorer, big Nate Schmidt effectively played defensively responsible top-four minutes, often alongside John Carlson or Mike Green. His 18:10 of even-strength ice time per game was the most among rookie defensemen and second on the Capitals.


    2013-14 Outlook: With veteran John Erskine reactivated from injured reserve, Schmidt was sent back down to the AHL this past Sunday. The undrafted 22-year-old, who was a first team all-star last year in the WCHA, has almost certainly earned himself a callback later this season.

9. Ryan Stanton, Vancouver Canucks

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    What Was Expected: When the Canucks plucked the undrafted Ryan Stanton off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks, they were expecting to add some grit to the Utica Comets blue line. Stanton had scored 60 points in 224 AHL games for the Rockford Icehogs.


    What's Being Delivered: Stanton scored three points in his first five games and currently leads all Canuck defensemen with 11 even-strength points. His 10 assists are the most among rookie defensemen and fourth among all rookies.


    2013-14 Outlook: Despite his scoring, which will likely prove very temporary, Stanton has been a third pairing option at best, with virtually no usage whatsoever on special teams. That being said, Stanton is clearly an upgrade over Yannick Weber and Andrew Alberts and could be in Vancouver to stay.


8. Marek Mazanec, Nashville Predators

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    What Was Expected: Marek Mazanec was expected to compete for the starting job. Not with Pekka Rinne on the Nashville Predators, but with Magnus Hellberg on the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals.


    What's Being Delivered: A rookie of the month performance in November. When Pekka Rinne was knocked out of action by a hip infection, Mazanec took the starting job away from Carter Hutton and kept the team afloat. He started ten games that month, allowing no more than two goals in the final eight, a streak which included two shutouts.


    2013-14 Outlook: With five straight losses, including tough back-to-back ones against Washington and Carolina, the 22-year-old Czech has yielded the starting job back to Hutton. Mazanec may yet enjoy a few more starts before Rinne's return sends him back to Milwaukee.

7. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

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    What Was Expected: Highly touted 19-year-old prospect Hampus Lindholm was expected to potentially crack Anaheim's lineup on the third pairing.


    What's Being Delivered: Lindholm has been an effective top four defenseman for the Ducks. At even strength, his 17:05 of ice time per game is fifth among rookie defensemen, and his 11 points lead Anaheim's blue line. Plus/minus may be a somewhat flawed statistic, but it is still impressive that his plus-16 is highest among rookies, five higher than second place.


    2013-14 Outlook: The talented Swede will continue to be relied upon in the immediate future, given the long-term injuries to Sheldon Souray and Luca Sbisa. Upon their return, he will likely be eased back onto the third pairing.


6. Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars

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    What Was Expected: Despite six goals and seven points in his seven games last year, expectations for Alex Chiasson were relatively modest. He even frequently found himself toiling away on the third line of the AHL's Texas Stars last year.


    What's Being Delivered: Chiasson once again started off hot, scoring five points in the first four games, or nine points in his first nine. Currently, his eight goals are third among rookies, his 71 shots are fifth and his 17 points are sixth.


    2013-14 Outlook: The 23-year-old winger appears to be in Dallas to stay. His 16:53 of ice time per game is third among rookie forwards and fourth among Dallas's forwards. That includes 3:10 of power-play ice time per game, the most among rookie forwards. Chiasson is also trusted in defensive situations, killing 1:08 minutes of penalties per game. Cancel Nichushkin's coronation as Dallas' rookie of the year!

5. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    What Was Expected: With all the great young prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, a seventh-round selection like Ondrej Palat was considered a long shot to crack Tampa Bay's lineup.


    What's Being Delivered: The 22-year-old Czech has been a legitimate two-way forward, even during his stint in the top six. Palat also averages 2:05 of penalty-killing time per game, third among rookie forwards.


    2013-14 Outlook: Palat is just one of many exciting young players that will continue to figure prominently in Tampa Bay. You could probably have made most of the list out of Bolts like Palat, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik and hard-hitting defenseman Radko Gudas.


4. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

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    What Was Expected: Frederik Andersen was expected to fight Igor Bobkov and John Gibson for a spot on the AHL's Norfolk Admirals.

    What's Being Delivered: The 24-year-old Danish netminder has eight starts so far this season, allowing one goal three times, two goals three times, and three goals twice. Two years ago he led the Swedish elite league in save percentage and was named rookie of the year.

    2013-14 Outlook: With Viktor Fasth out with a muscle inflammation, Andersen remains in Anaheim's lineup. It is also perhaps only a matter of time before the goalie-rich Ducks trade their underachieving and high-priced starting goalie Jonas Hiller, which could make room for Andersen more permanently.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

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    What Was Expected: If it weren't for a preseason injury to Raffi Torres, Tomas Hertl may not even have started the season in San Jose.


    What's Being Delivered: Hertl is leading the Calder race for Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old Czech scored six goals and seven points in his first three games on his way to being named October's Rookie of the Month. Achieving instant chemistry with Joe Thornton, Hertl leads all rookies with 15 goals—five more than Sean Monahan and seven more than anyone else. His 24 points are six more than anyone else, he leads the league with 92 shots and his plus-10 is third among rookies. 


    2013-14 Outlook: San Jose is giving Hertl every chance to continue to be a top contributor. Hertl is sixth among rookie forwards with 13:30 of even-strength ice time per game and one of only seven averaging two minutes of power-play ice time per game.

2. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

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    What Was Expected: An impressive 2012 playoff performance was followed by a disappointing 2012-13 regular season that featured just three points in 23 games. Thanks to a new coach, Chris Kreider was expected to be in the mix for a roster spot this year.

    What's Being Delivered: The big 22-year-old winger has been one of New York's best forwards, especially in November when he secured 13 points in 15 games. His eight goals, 10 assists and 18 points are all top four among rookies, and his plus-9 is fifth. That plus/minus is no illusion, as Kreider has had team-leading, possession-based play against a level of competition second only to Rick Nash.

    2013-14 Outlook: His 17:05 of total ice time per game is second among rookie forwards, as is his 2:42 with the man advantage. At even-strength, his 14:22 is the most among rookie forwards and fourth among Ranger forwards, just six seconds back of Nash for second. Kreider is here to stay and is a smart bet to be a Calder finalist. 

1. Mark Arcobello, Edmonton Oilers

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    What Was Expected: Mark Arcobello was expected to spend a fourth straight season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, which was considered the likely ceiling for the 25-year-old, 5'9" forward. Assuming Edmonton's top lines didn't get hit with a freak string of injuries, of course.


    What's Being Delivered: Arcobello was inserted into Edmonton's depleted top six and instantly put up 10 assists in his first 10 games. Shuffled back down the lineup upon the return of the team's stars, Arcobello has still managed six points in 19 games since then. He currently leads all rookies with 13 assists.


    2013-14 Outlook: Edmonton's eyes have been opened to the potential of a two-way, possession-based player like Arcobello. He is used as a secondary option on both the power play and the penalty kill, and his average ice time is similar to Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov. How many 5'9" forwards will have to excel before it stops being such a surprise?


    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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