Backchecking: Early returns on the rookie class

Scott Cullen
12/12/2008 4:48:34 PM
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In this week's edition of Backchecking, the Central Division dominates this look at the top rookies so far in the NHL this season:

1. Patrik Berglund, C, St. Louis (9-10-19, plus-10 in 23 GP) - Skilled Swede has the size and skill to be a prototypical No.1 centre.
2. Derick Brassard, C, Columbus (9-14-23, plus-11 in 27 GP) - Slick playmaker had a brief slump, but has still been remarkably consistent.
3. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chicago (7-15-22, plus-12 in 25 GP) - Scrappy Bruins cast-off has thrived in a scoring role with th Blackhawks.
4. Steve Mason, G, Columbus (7-4-1, 2.05 GAA, .919 SVPCT, 2 SO) - Forcing the Blue Jackets to make room for him.
5. Blake Wheeler, RW, Boston (9-6-15, plus-15 in 28 GP) - Has made a shockingly smooth transition with a rare combination of size and speed.
6. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles (3-7-10, plus-1 in 28 GP) - An 18-year-old defenceman playing workhorse minutes.
7. Mikhail Grabovski, C, Toronto (10-8-18, minus-3 in 28 GP) - Couldn't crack the Habs lineup last year, but has been one of Toronto's best this season.
8. Matt Hunwick, D, Boston (3-7-10, plus-13 in 16 GP) - Brought up to fill in for Andrew Ference, may have earned a full-time job with his production.
9. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anaheim (3-6-9, plus-8 in 12 GP) - Power forward who was unjustly demoted to AHL at start of the season due to salary cap reasons.
10. Alex Goligoski, D, Pittsburgh (4-9-13, plus-7 in 28 GP) - Parlayed superb AHL playoff last season into an NHL job on the depleted Penguins blueline.
11. Jannik Hansen, RW, Vancouver (3-11-14, plus-7 in 25) - Blue-collar winger who has been a terrific fit alongside Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows on Canucks' checking line.
12. Troy Brouwer, RW, Chicago (3-7-10, plus-7 in 20 GP) - Power forward prospect who needs to improve his skating, but has the requisite size, hands and toughness.
13. Oscar Moller, RW, Los Angeles (6-7-13, minus-2 in 27 GP) - 19-year-old has run hot and cold, but signs point to him being a solid second-line scorer.
14. Mikkel Boedker, LW, Phoenix (5-8-13, plus-4 in 29 GP) - 18-year-old Dane has played in all situations, so he can still contribute even though he hasn't scored in more than a month.
15. Nikolai Kulemin, RW, Toronto (6-6-12, minus-1 in 28 GP) - Russian winger has been a solid enough contributor, though it's been more than a month since his last assist.
16. Kevin Porter, RW, Phoenix (5-5-10, plus-1 in 25 GP) - Hobey Baker winner has proven to be a reliable pro.
17. Michael Frolik, LW, Florida (2-6-8, plus-3 in 25 GP) - Started slowly, but is really responding to increased responsibility lately.
18. Jakub Voracek, RW, Columbus (4-8-12, plus-7 in 27 GP) - Started okay, but production and ice time have declined.
19. B.J. Crombeen, RW, St. Louis (6-6-12, even in 27 GP) - Winger-starved Stars ought to be kicking themselves for letting him go on waivers.
20. James Neal, RW, Dallas (7-3-10, minus-9 in 22 GP) - Might be better served with more AHL seasoning, but Stars desperately need power forward to score.
21. Luca Sbisa, D, Philadelphia (0-7-7, minus-4 in 28 GP) - Was more productive earlier in the season, but can still handle top four minutes.
22. Luke Schenn, D, Toronto (0-2-2, minus-6 in 27 GP) - Has been playing nearly 21 minutes per game and not looked out of place.
23. Josh Bailey, C, N.Y. Islanders (0-7-7, minus-1 in 15 GP) - Injured to start the season, but has shown the playmaking skills to warrant sticking around.
24. Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville (6-1, 2.61 GAA, .902 SVPCT, 2 SO in 9 GP) - Earning more playing time as Dan Ellis hasn't lived up to last year's breakthrough campaign.
25. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay (3-9-12, minus-12 in 29 GP) - While Stamkos supporters insist Barry Melrose is wrong about the 18-year-old's NHL readiness, his team-worst and rookie-worst plus-minus at least makes it fair to question if he's ready.
26. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G, Edmonton (3-2, 2.73 GAA, .915 SVPCT in 6 GP) - Stuck in three-goaltender logjam with Oilers, but has performed well when given the chance.
27. T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis (2-2-4, plus-2 in 12 GP) - Injuries have been a problem for high-energy, hard-hitting forward.
28. Fabian Brunnstrom, RW, Dallas (8-2-10, minus-8 in 24 GP) - Went through a dry spell, as his ice time was limited because of defensive concerns, but desperation in Dallas has him back in a regular role.
29. Kevin Klein, D, Nashville (2-2-4, plus-2 in 11 GP) - Surely good enough to play regularly for many teams, yet still battling for playing time in Nashville.
30. Nathan Oystrick, D, Atlanta (2-4-6, even in 19 GP) - Starting to produce offensively after a couple of strong AHL seasons.
31. Ryan Jones, LW, Nashville (3-3-6, even in 16 GP) - Hard-working 24-year-old winger has chipped in offensively and isn't afraid to go to the net.
32. Benoit Pouliot, LW, Minnesota (5-3-8, plus-1 in 27 GP) - Surprised with his early production, but play has dropped off dramatically.
33. Kyle Okposo, RW, N.Y. Islanders (2-3-5, minus-6 in 18 GP) - Was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Islanders' rebuilding plan, yet oddly was playing fewer than 14 minutes per night before getting hurt.
34. Kyle Turris, C, Phoenix (3-6-9, minus-7 in 27 GP) - May have been rushed out of the University of Wisconsin, but has at least shown potential at times.
35. Viktor Tikhonov, RW, Phoenix (2-4-6, plus-1 in 29 GP) - Continues to earn his time with dependable play.
36. Tomas Plihal, C, San Jose (3-3-6, minus-1 in 24 GP) - Limited playing time, but gaining experience with league's best team.
37. Jesse Winchester, RW, Ottawa (2-4-6, minus-5 in 26 GP) - A solid enough player, but has been forced onto a scoring line at times.
38. Colin Fraser, C, Chicago (1-5-6, minus-2 in 26 GP) - Solid checker who has also been the Blackhawks' leading scrapper.
39. Wayne Simmonds, RW, Los Angeles (2-2-4, minus-2 in 28 GP) - Energy winger has earned a regular spot in the lineup.
40. Brandon Sutter, C, Carolina (1-3-4, even in 21 GP) - Has seen limited ice time since returning from concussion.
41. Nathan McIver, D, Anaheim (0-1-1, plus-2 in 13 GP) - Rough-and-tumble blueliner is a decent fit as a sixth or seventh defenceman.
42. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nashville (2-5-7, minus-2 in 15 GP) - Production wasn't awful, yet was still demoted to AHL.
43. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Atlanta (2-5, 3.17 GAA, .899 SVPCT in 8 GP) - Upset about demotion to AHL at season's start, he's having a difficult time on a subpar team since getting recalled.
44. Anssi Salmela, D, New Jersey (0-3-3, plus-2 in 15 GP) - Sees spot duty, but hasn't been a problem when he's played.
45. Nate Thompson, C, N.Y. Islanders (2-0-2, minus-5 in 18 GP) - Getting his shot to play under Scott Gordon, who coached him with Providence in the AHL.
46. John Mitchell, RW, Toronto (2-5-7, minus-10 in 23 GP) - Nice that he's getting a chance to play, but steady stream of minuses might indicate he's been given too much time.
47. Andreas Nodl, RW, Philadelphia (0-3-3, minus-10 in 21 GP) - Austrian winger has done very little given the ice time he's received.
48. Cal Clutterbuck, RW, Minnesota (2-0-2, minus-3 in 23 GP) - Energy winger scored two goals in one game and has zero points in the other 22.
49. Zach Bogosian, D, Atlanta (0-0-0, minus-2 in 8 GP) - Broken ankle has hindered development, but is still very promising prospect.
50. Steven Wagner, D, St. Louis (1-1-2, minus-5 in 16 GP) - Had a terrific opportunity to start the season as part of Blues depleted defence corps, but is now in the AHL.

Recent call-ups
1. Matt D'Agostini, RW, Montreal (4-1-5, plus-2 in 6 GP) - Has burst onto the scene, scoring and getting quality ice time.
2. Karl Alzner, D, Washington (1-2-3, plus-3 in 8 GP) - Top prospect has played well since getting called up to make up for Caps injuries.
3. Cory Schneider, G, Vancouver (1-2-1, 2.80 GAA, .896 SVPCT in 5 GP) - Top goaltending prospect in the game getting his feet wet while Roberto Luongo is out.
4. Rob Schremp, C, Edmonton (0-3-3, plus-2 in 4 GP) - Puck wizard finally getting a chance.
5. Sami Lepisto, D, Washington (0-4-4, minus-3 in 7 GP) - Decent puck-moving blueliner has already been returned to the AHL.
6. Paul Szczechura, C, Tampa Bay (1-1-2, even in 6 GP) - Western Michigan grad has been given decent playing time since call-up after scoring more than a point-per-game in Norfolk.
7. Boris Valabik, D, Atlanta (0-1-1, plus-2 in 9 GP) - Mammoth (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) enforcer prospect is okay in the right matchups.

- The Ottawa Sun dredges up more Ilya Kovalchuk trade rumours, which prompted an immediate and vehement denial from Thrashers GM Don Waddell.  The Edmonton Journal chimed in, though, wondering if the Oilers would give up Shawn Horcoff, Tom Gilbert, Andrew Cogliano and a first-round pick to get him.  Wouldn't the Thrashers at least consider that?

- According to the Ottawa Sun, the Maple Leafs are taking offers for D Tomas Kaberle, who has a no-trade clause.  Perhaps in the right situation, though, Kaberle would consider waiving the no-trade clause to move to a contender.  Of course, with Brian Burke's self-imposed trade deadline in place through the holidays, it will be a while before the Leafs make any moves.

- The Ottawa Sun has the Florida Panthers trying to deal Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz and Brett McLeanThe Ottawa Citizen and Miami Herald pick up the ball, too, noting that the Jay Bouwmeester rumour mill is in full effect with the Panthers in Canada.

- The Delaware County Times indicates that, if the Flyers are clearing salary in an effort to land Mats Sundin, that RW Mike Knuble could be the one sacrificed, while the Ottawa Sun says the Flyers may consider moving Joffrey Lupul.

- The Philadelphia Daily News combined the rumours to have the Flyers moving D Randy Jones and Lupul to Florida for Bouwmeester.

Notable Recent Healthy Scratches
Tom Preissing, D, Los Angeles; Sergei Kostitsyn, RW, Montreal; Guillaume Latendresse, LW, Montreal; Christian Backman, D, Columbus; Ville Koistinen, D, Nashville.

B.J. Crombeen, RW, St. Louis (5-1-6, plus-3 in last 4 GP)
Steve Reinprecht, C, Phoenix (3-4-7, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Ruslan Fedotenko, LW, Pittsburgh (3-2-5, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Ed Jovanovski, D, Phoenix (1-8-9, minus-3 in last 9 GP)
Kyle Quincey, D, Los Angeles (0-5-5, even in last 5 GP)
Scott Clemmensen, G, New Jersey (4-1, 1.75 GAA, .942 SVPCT in last 5 GP)

Markus Naslund, LW, N.Y. Rangers (1-1-2, minus-6 in last 5 GP)
Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston (0-2-2, minus-4 in last 8 GP)
Mike Knuble, RW, Philadephia (0-2-2, minus-4 in last 8 GP)
Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit (0-0-0, minus-4 in last 7 GP)
Andrej Sekera, D, Buffalo (0-0-0, minus-2 in last 8 GP)
Henrik Lundqvist, G, N.Y. Rangers (1-3, 3.80 GAA, .876 SVPCT in last 4 GP)

"I've gotten some marvellous trade offers already.  When you first take over a team, everyone throws anvils at you. It's been easy to say no." - Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke

"I see he hasn't changed his ways. He's a notorious diver, and I see that hasn't changed that much." - Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, on Buffalo C Derek Roy.  DeBoer coached Roy in junior with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.

"Steven is not ready for the NHL.  Steven is going to be a good player.right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defencemen who are 6'3" or 6'4" that can skate as good as him." - Former Lightning coach Barry Melrose, on rookie Steven Stamkos.

"Sometimes when you're skilled, you get so caught up in your skill that you forget to compete." - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

"You want to start a goaltending controversy - is that what you want? Theo will get his chance to get in again. I mean, I don't have a controversy by any stretch, but, you know, you want to ride the hot hand. Johnnie's hot right now." - Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau

Scott Cullen can be reached at

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