Stock Watch for the Top Sophomores in the NHL in 2015-16
The NHL's 2014-15 season produced a solid crop of rookies, such as Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (pictured above), the 2015 Calder Memorial Trophy winner. Now in their sophomore campaigns, these young stars must rise to the challenge of building upon their promising debuts.
Some, such as Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau, have picked up where they left off last season. Several, including Ekblad, are coping with heightened expectations. Others, such as Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, are showing notable improvement.
The following slideshow examines the stock of this season's top NHL sophomores. Comparison of this season's performance and stats with those of last season factored into the ranking. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section below.
Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals
The versatile 20-year-old forward filled in for the sidelined Nicklas Backstrom before sliding over to second-line right wing. Burakovsky is proving to be an adaptable young player.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Skating alongside center Steven Stamkos, Drouin had six points in his first 10 games. The 20-year-old recently returned from a lower-body injury.
Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild
Dumba's ice time has declined in recent games. However, the 21-year-old is still among the Wild's leaders in hits, shots and blocked shots.
Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
The 25-year-old goaltender is settling well into the backup role in Winnipeg. He's won four of his seven appearances thus far, with a 2.36 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Anders Lee, New York Islanders
With seven points in 16 games, Lee is on pace to equal last season's 41-point performance. While skating on the second line, he's among the Islanders' shot leaders.
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Currently sidelined by a foot injury, the 19-year-old Pastrnak is off to a sluggish start. While a dazzling offensive performer, he has only four points in 10 games thus far.
Teemu Pulkkinen, Detroit Red Wings
With seven points in 15 games, Pulkkinen is already well ahead of last season's production. The 23-year-old is also among the Wings' leaders in shots and puck possession.
Victor Rask, Carolina Hurricanes
Playing alongside Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, the 22-year-old Rask has nine points in 15 games. He's on pace for over 50 points, well ahead of the 33 he netted as a rookie.
Tobias Reider, Arizona Coyotes
Despite a recent five-game pointless streak, the 22-year-old winger has eight points in 15 games. His five goals rank among the Coyotes' leaders.
Ryan Spooner, Boston Bruins
Averaging only 14 minutes per game, the 23-year-old Spooner is on pace to easily eclipse last season's 18-point total. With nine points in 14 games, he's moving up among Bruins scorers.
Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks
With seven points in 14 games, Teravainen will easily top the nine points he put up in 34 games last season. His two game-winning goals rank among the Blackhawks' leaders.
Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers
Trocheck's struggled with his consistency this season. Still, the 22-year-old's 11 points in 15 games put him among the Panthers' scoring leaders.
10. Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers
New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes was a pleasant surprise for the Rangers, stepping straight from college hockey into a full-time NHL role. The 6'5”, 227-pounder's 45 points ranked among last season's top 10 rookie scorers. He was also among the Rangers' scoring leaders.
Hayes continues to impress in his sophomore season. With 10 points in 15 games, he's one of the Rangers' leading scorers. He tops them in game-winning goals (two) and ranks among their leaders in shots and takeaways.
Despite Hayes' offensive stats, there are aspects of his game that need improvement. While he effectively uses his impressive size and reach to win puck battles, he's not a particularly physical player. His faceoff percentage is a woeful 37.4 percent. Still, the 23-year-old has plenty of time to fine-tune his overall NHL game.
9. Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers
Over the course of 2014-15, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom saw a significant increase in his playing time and blue-line responsibilities. He finished second to Justin Schultz in points (20 in 60 games) among Oilers defensemen and third among NHL rookie blueliners.
As an NHL sophomore, Klefbom continues to shine. The 22-year-old's seven points in 15 games leads all Oilers defensemen and ranks among their top 10 scorers. He also leads the club in shifts and blocked shots, plus he's second in ice time, and the same goes for short-handed minutes.
Klefbom's performance is often overshadowed by that of the Oilers' young forwards and the club's overall shaky defensive game. A big (6'3”, 215 pounds), smooth-skating blueliner, Klefbom has a skill set beyond his limited NHL experience. In the coming years, he's only going to improve.
8. Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators left wing Mike Hoffman's 27 goals led all NHL rookies in 2014-15. He was also his club's leading goal scorer. Hoffman finished third in plus/minus (plus-16) and fifth in points with 48.
Despite missing four games with a lower-body injury, Hoffman is still having a solid sophomore season. With four goals and 10 points in 11 games, the 25-year-old winger is once again among the Senators' leaders. He's also one of their leaders in takeaways.
With his speed and scoring touch, Hoffman remains a key part of the Senators' offensive attack. After being awarded a one-year, $2 million contract in August via arbitration, Hoffman will be in line for a significant raise if he maintains his solid play throughout his sophomore season.
7. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg had an impressive debut in 2014-15. Quickly establishing himself as a first-line left wing, Forsberg led the Predators in regular-season and playoff scoring. He was also among the league's rookie scoring leaders, earning a spot on the 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team.
The 21-year-old Forsberg is showing no signs of slowing in his sophomore campaign. With nine points in 14 games, he's once again among the Predators' top scorers. He's also their leader in puck possession. Forsberg's improving defensive game has him among their top players in takeaways and hits.
Offensive consistency was an issue for Forsberg down the stretch last season. It's something he's still grappling with early in 2015-16, going pointless in eight games. Over the course of the season, however, his production should improve.
6. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad was the 2015 Calder Memorial Trophy winner as the NHL's rookie of the year. In 81 games, the 19-year-old scored 12 goals and 27 assists for 39 points. He also led the Panthers in power-play points and finished second in ice time.
With only four points in 15 games this season, Ekblad's offensive production is down compared to the same point a year ago. However, he leads the Panthers in puck possession and is among their leaders in shots. The youngster is still playing a responsible defensive game, displaying a poise and skill set beyond his youth.
Most young NHL defensemen require several years of development to reach Ekblad's level of play. As the season progresses, his offensive numbers should improve. Meanwhile, he will continue to polish his already solid defensive game.
5. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov started slowly in his rookie campaign but gradually saw his playing time increase over the course of the season. He finished with 11 goals, 26 assists and 37 points in 80 games. He was impressive during the 2015 playoffs, tying for the team lead in goals with five.
Last spring's postseason performance was just a taste what to expect in Kuznetsov's sophomore campaign. Skating alongside superstar Alex Ovechkin, the 23-year-old has 15 points in 14 games. That puts him second to Ovechkin among Capitals scorers. He's also one of their leaders in takeaways and shooting percentage.
Kuznetsov's steady improvement is another reason why the Capitals are considered a potential Stanley Cup contender this season. He's quickly established himself as a core player, a role he's likely to be in for a long time.
4. Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone was a finalist for the 2015 Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. He tied for the rookie scoring lead (64 points) with Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau. Stone was also named to the 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team.
Stone is enjoying a tremendous sophomore performance. With 15 points in 13 games, he's among the Senators' leading scorers. During that stretch, the 23-year-old was held pointless in only three games. He's second among Senators forwards in ice time. He's also the club's leader in puck possession and takeaways.
Stone's two-way skills are garnering attention around the league. On Nov. 7, the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren reported the Senators winger was getting strong consideration for Canada's roster at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. That's quite an honor for an NHL sophomore.
3. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen led all rookie goaltenders last season in wins (22) and shutouts (4). He also posted a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Allen's solid performance earned him a spot on the 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team.
The 25-year-old netminder is off to a hot start to this season. He's won seven of his 10 starts, including three by shutout. His 1.53 GAA and .950 save percentage rank among the league leaders for goalies with five or more starts. On Nov. 8, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Tom Timmermann reported Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock commended Allen for his recent stellar play.
Entering this season, it was a toss-up between Allen and veteran Brian Elliott over who would take over the starting goalie role. Over a month into this season, it's obvious Allen has secured the job. Goaltending has been an issue in the Blues' recent playoff struggles. Allen could be the guy who finally carries them on a lengthy postseason run.
2. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg finished second to Florida Panthers blueliner Aaron Ekblad in points among rookie blueliners. With 40 points in 65 games, he was honored by being named to the 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team.
Like his Stars teammates, Klingberg is off to a sizzling start this season. With 15 points in 16 games, he's the leading scorer among NHL defensemen and also ranks among the Stars' scoring leaders. Klingberg's among their leaders in ice time, particularly on the power play.
Thanks to Klingberg's contributions, the Stars are among this season's highest-scoring clubs. On Nov. 9, the Dallas Morning News' Mike Heika reported the young Swede is also improving his defensive game. Though it's still early in Klingberg's career, Heika sees signs of Hall of Fame blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom in the young Stars blueliner.
1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau was a finalist last season for the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. He was also named to the 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team. The diminutive (5'9”, 159 pounds) winger tied for the rookie scoring lead with 64 points and was among the Flames' leading scorers.
While the Flames are struggling early this season, the same cannot be said of Gaudreau. With 17 points in 16 games, he's the Flames' top scorer and is among the league's scoring leaders. He's also among his team's leaders in power-play points, shots and takeaways.
If there was any lingering doubt entering this season over Gaudreau's ability to adjust to the NHL game, he's quickly put it to rest. Johnny Hockey is a legitimate star and among the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable campaign for the Flames.
All stats via NHL.com as of Nov. 10, 2015.