NHL

Netcrashing: Which rookie's had the most impact for his team?

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
3/28/2011 4:58:24 PM
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Every year, the NHL landscape is altered at least a little bit by the season's incoming rookie class.

This year is no different, with a number of first-year players having made positive impacts for their teams.

Three rookie goalies are standing tall between the pipes for their teams: Corey Crawford, charged with backstopping the defending Stanley Cup champions back into the post-season, James Reimer, giving hope to a desperate fan base in a hockey hotbed by leading a late-season playoff push, and Sergei Bobrovsky, who has helped backstop his team to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Two first-year defencemen have played their way into key roles on playoff bound teams: P.K. Subban, whose impact was evident going back to last year's playoffs, and John Carlson, who is helping his team transition into a more defensively responsible one.

And four forwards, two of which are 30-goal scorers and a third, Carolina's Jeff Skinner, not far behind with 26. If Skinner were to notch four more goals before season's end, it would mark only the second time three or more rookies scored 30 plus goals since the lockout, and first time since the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin were rookies.

While the Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall also had a strong season, and an outside shot at 30 goals if not for an injury cutting his season short, his impact on the last-place Oilers may be stronger felt next season.

Our question for you is: 'Which rookie has been the most valuable to his team over the course of the season?'

Let your opinions be known in our 'Your Call' feature below!

Corey Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks

After last year's starter Antti Niemi was released following his arbitration ruling as part of the Blackhawks' post-Stanley Cup salary purge to get under the cap, Chicago was looking for a cheap alternative that would lead them back to the playoffs this season. And while it looked for a while that that job would go to veteran free agent Marty Turco, Crawford was the one who seized the job and skated with it.

Crawford has started the majority of games this season for Chicago and has amassed an impressive 29-15-5 record with a 2.28 GAA and a .918 save percentage. The 26-year-old former second-rounder leads all rookie netminders (25+ games started) in wins and GAA and is second only to Reimer in save percentage.

James Reimer - Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs, seven points behind eighth-place Buffalo who has a game in hand, likely won't sneak into the post-season this year. But if it wasn't for Reimer, they probably wouldn't have even been close.

Reimer's excellent play sparked the Leafs' late-season push for a playoff spot, and while the Buds seem to make a late run almost annually, this year's seems to give hope for the future.

The 23-year-old former fourth-round draft pick has compiled an impressive 17-8-4 record for the Leafs thus far and will play the majority of Toronto's remaining six games. He leads all rookie goalies (with 25+ games started) with a .923 save percentage and is third amongst rookies with three shutouts.

While Reimer may not have arrived in time to lead the Leafs to the playoffs this year, he offers hope for next year to a fan base that hasn't seen their team make the playoffs since 2004.

Sergei Bobrovsky - Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers, who always seem to get by without a name goaltender, are doing it again this year with Bobrovsky. The 22-year-old free agent from Russia has split time with veteran Brian Boucher throughout the year, and his strong play is a big reason why last year's playoff hero Michael Leighton is riding the bus in the AHL.

Bobrovsky is second in wins among rookie goalies with 27 and third in save percentage (among rookies with 25+ games started).

While he certainly wasn't a household name coming into the season, the goalie they call 'SpongeBob' is quickly becoming one. 

P.K. Subban - Montreal Canadiens

Subban's impact on the Canadiens was first felt during a post-season call-up last year. And while he hasn't quite been the influential player he was during Montreal's impressive run to the Eastern Conference finals, he has been a steady defenceman with offensive upside who has made his mark on this year's team.

The 21-year-old former second-round pick leads all rookie d-men with 11 goals and 35 points. Those numbers also lead all Habs defencemen and his 35 points are fifth on the team overall.

With Montreal potentially slotted for another low playoff seed in the East, the Habs hope Subban saves his best for the playoffs again this year, as it'll be needed for Montreal to make another run.

John Carlson - Washington Capitals

After years of falling short of expectations in the playoffs, the Capitals made an effort to change their team philosophy and become more defensive-minded this season. While they haven't enjoyed quite the same offensive performance as years past, the Caps have become more responsible in their own end, and a big part of that success is due to Carlson.

Carlson leads all rookies, and is third on his team, in average ice time with over 22 minutes per game. The 21-year-old former first-rounder is fourth among rookie defencemen with 32 points, and tied for second with a plus-18 rating.

It has yet to be seen whether Washington's change in philosophy will translate to post-season success, but Carlson has had a big impact for a Caps team destined for their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title during the regular season.

Michael Grabner - New York Islanders

Plucked off the waiver wire after a disappointing camp with the Panthers, Grabner turned it around with the Islanders and leads all rookies with 31 goals scored through 72 games. The 23-year-old former first-rounder is on pace to end up with 33 goals on the season, which would tie him with Evgeni Malkin for third most goals scored by a rookie since the lockout, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

Grabner gained a lot of confidence hanging out with the league's best players when he was invited to participate in All-Star Weekend festivities, where he won the fastest skater competition. A more confident Grabner has been a big reason for the Isles' improved play in the second half of the season. Since the All-Star break, the Islanders have gone 14-8-5.

Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks

For a Sharks team preparing to wrap up another successful regular season, rookie Logan Couture has been a steady presence and another offensive weapon to add along with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley.

Couture is sixth among Sharks scorers with 53 points but is second in goals with 30 and leads the team with a plus-19 rating. The 21-year-old former first-rounder is second only to Skinner in rookie scoring and third in plus/minus rating.

Jeff Skinner - Carolina Hurricanes

Skinner has had a very strong year for the Hurricanes after jumping straight to the NHL the year he was drafted. The 18-year-old first-rounder is second only to Eric Staal on the Canes in scoring with 54 points – a number which leads all rookies – and was named to play in the NHL All-Star Game in front of the hometown fans.

With Carolina still fighting for a playoff spot in the East, Skinner has become an integral part to their offense and has an outside shot to join fellow rookies Couture and Grabner as 30-goal scorers.

Tyler Ennis - Buffalo Sabres

While he doesn't have a shot at 30 goals like the other three forwards on the list, Ennis will likely hit 20 and has put up a very respectable 47 points through 75 games, fourth among all rookies.

Perhaps more impressive is that the 21-year-old former first-rounder is second only to veteran Thomas Vanek in team scoring on a Sabres team that appears locked into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Honourable Mentions: Derek Stepan - New York Rangers, Jordan Eberle - Edmonton Oilers, Brad Marchand - Boston Bruins, Cory Schneider - Vancouver Canucks

Logan Couture (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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