Rookie Stock Watch Early in 2013-14 NHL Season
Tomas Hertl's four-goal game certainly stands out as the most spectacular single performance by a rookie in the early season, but the young San Jose Shark is far from the only first-year player turning heads in the NHL.
In fact, there is a long list of rookies making a splash with their new teams. We'll take a look at some of those players, as well as a few highly touted prospects struggling to keep their heads above water in the world's best hockey league.
Mark Arcobello, Edmonton Oilers
Key Indicator: Eight points in eight games.
Profile: Arcobello has a fantastic story. The undrafted 25-year-old was playing in the ECHL just three seasons ago. He worked his way up the pro hockey ranks, establishing himself first as a useful player in the AHL and then as a near point-per-game scorer at that level. The diminutive forward (listed at 5'8", 166 pounds) has been filling in for injured centre Sam Gagner as the Oilers' No. 2 pivot.
Other Analysis: From David Staples of the Edmonton Journal:
Mark Arcobello continues to shine, most recently playing sound hockey against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, centering a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Hall and Eberle had two of their best games of the year teamed up with Arcobello, who is that kind of smart and skilled player who can help a team win. Arcobello’s scoring chances plus-minus is +2.1 per game, not quite as good as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ +2.5 last season, but in that territory. Arcobello is making the most of his shot at an NHL job, though consistency is what he’ll need to hang on once Sam Gagner returns to the line-up.
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Key Indicator: Five points in eight games.
Profile: Barkov was something of a surprise selection at second overall in last summer's draft, but perhaps he should not have been: as a huge (6'3", 209 pounds) centre with great scoring numbers playing against men, it's easy to see why the Panthers were willing to invest such a high pick in him. Primarily playing on a line with Brad Boyes and Tomas Fleischmann, he's been an important part of Florida's offence.
Other Analysis: From Kevin Kraczkowski of SBNation blog Litter Box Cats:
His surprisingly strong play is evidenced by his 14:40 average time on ice, ranking fifth amongst Panthers forwards. This has resulted in him being elevated to the first line and hopefully even more scoring opportunities. At only 18 years of age, he still has a few pounds to pack on his 6'3", 209 pound frame, but he has already shown that he can handle the speed and pressure of the NHL game (and NHL defensemen). In a recent gamethread, I heard a comparison to Evgeni Malkin, and I know that he is by no means on that level, yet, I do believe that it's possible just from what I've seen.
Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars
Key Indicator: Six points in six games.
Profile: The 2009 second-round draft pick combines size (6'4", 205 pounds) and scoring, a mix that every NHL team loves in its wingers. Chiasson impressed in a late-season audition with the Stars last year (7GP, 6G-1A-7PTS, plus-3) and has shown no sign of slowing down.
Other Analysis: From Taylor Baird of SBNation blog Defending Big D:
I often wonder if Alex Chiasson walks around with the song "All I Do Is Win" in his head…except all he seems to do is score goals. Eight goals in nine NHL games and a point per game pace. It's not sustainable, and his stats will come back down to earth eventually, but what a ride so far for the young rookie.
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
Key Indicator: Nine points in seven games.
Profile: The San Jose Sharks drafted Hertl 17th overall in 2012—a place where the team could fully expect to land a competent player—but nobody thought he would be this good, this fast. The 6'2", 210-pound centre/left wing attained national attention when he scored four goals in one game against the Rangers, but perhaps most remarkable of all is the fact that even discounting that contest he's scoring at nearly a point-per-game rate.
Other Analysis: From Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, as quoted by NHL.com's Mike Morreale:
How he sees and plays the game is much like [Logan] Couture and [Joe] Pavelski. He just thinks the game at a higher level. He’s a pretty well-rounded player. He plays in all three zones. He’s defensively aware, he’s got the sense to play with some high-end players.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
Key Indicator: 23:46 average ice time.
Profile: The 2013 draft's presumptive first-overall pick for much of 2012-13, Jones fell to the Nashville Predators at fourth overall. It's all but certain they could not be happier about how things worked out, because Jones has a well-rounded skill set and the potential to develop into a franchise defenceman.
Other Analysis: From Dirk Hoag of the SBNation blog On the Forecheck:
Jones looks remarkably calm when he has the puck on his stick, he doesn't rush his decision-making and has the sense to use his 6'4" frame to protect the puck and look for the best option. He sets up in good shooting position on the power play, and actually has more shots on goal to this point (14) than Shea Weber (8). About the only downside is that he is understandably vulnerable to whiffing in the defensive zone, and that he's not physically aggressive at all. That's just quibbling, though, considering his age and the deep water he's been thrown into right away. Jones is playing on the top pair alongside Shea Weber, so he's battling the best opponents while playing more than 23 minutes a night. That's astounding, especially for a Predators organization which usually brings prospects along very slowly.
Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks
Key Indicator: 32 saves on 36 shots.
Profile: Vancouver's undrafted Eddie Lack has been quietly biding his time in the minors, waiting for either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider to be moved so he could take over the backup role. Lack's results at the Triple-A level were phenomenal up until 2012-13, when he played in only 13 games due to hip surgery. Despite his age (25), the 6'4" goaltender is a highly regarded prospect.
Other Analysis: From goalie analyst Kevin Woodley, as quoted by Canucks Army's Dimitri Filipovic:
We have seen this in other ‘late-blooming’ Scandinavian goalies. He didn’t have the skill and instinct coached out of him, becoming too reliant on his size. Now that he’s learning how to use that size and technique more efficiently and effectively, it should improve his consistency. Most importantly, he has maintained that extra layer of skill, especially with the hands, and the willingness to throw technique to the wind and scramble if necessary. That’s needed to succeed long-term in the NHL.
Elias Lindholm, Carolina Hurricanes
Key Indicator: Two shots in five games.
Profile: The fifth-overall pick in 2013 has had an indifferent start to the NHL season, thanks in no small part to injuries which cost him time during training camp and in the early going this season. Lindholm is generally touted as a skilled scorer with high levels of hockey intelligence and an extremely strong defensive game for his age.
Other Analysis: From Cory Lavalette of the SBNation blog Canes Country:
It's getting close to decision time on rookie Elias Lindholm. If the Hurricanes had to decide whether or not to burn Lindholm’s first year of his entry level deal based on play alone, the choice would be slam dunk yes. But Lindholm’s recurring "upper-body" problems makes one wonder if taking a step back and really considering sending Lindholm back to Sweden for the year is the prudent train of thought.
Stock: Down slightly
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Key Indicator: Seven points in seven games.
Profile: MacKinnon was billed as an elite offensive talent, and while the goals have taken some time to come (he has just one on 17 shots; that will change), he is still managing to score at a point-per-game rate despite playing less than 14:00 per game.
Other Analysis: From Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, as quoted by Chuck Pleiness for Heritage.com:
The kid there looks like he’s going to be a star very quickly. They’ve got a good looking team.
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
Key Indicator: Six points in six games.
Profile: Monahan's maturity and his well-rounded game were well-documented in the lead-up to the 2013 draft. The questions about him had more to do with whether or not he was going to score at the level expected of a top-10 draft pick. It's only been six games, but so far so good.
Other Analysis: From Steve MacFarlane of Flames Nation:
There’s no reason to look at Monahan as anything but a future cornerstone for the franchise. If the team keeps him and has to shell out big money three years from now instead of four, five, or six, they’ll do it happily—the same way they’ll gladly pay top dollar for T.J. Brodie’s services in two years after inking him to a more affordable bridge deal this offseason.
Ryan Murphy, Carolina Hurricanes
Key Indicator: 17:49 average ice time.
Profile: Over his time in junior, Ryan Murphy established a reputation as a 'chaos' defenceman: a player more than capable of providing offensive punch from the blue line but one also prone to defensive miscues. There's no doubt that the 2011 12th-overall selection can add some pop to Carolina's defence (he has four points through seven contests); the only real question is whether he'll do more harm than good.
Other Analysis: From Corey Sznajder of the Bloguin blog Shutdown Line:
Murphy has looked impressive by the eye-test, but the underlying numbers tell a different story. The coaches kept him away from tough situations at all costs and the Canes are still getting outshot when he is on the ice. Although, I have to think that [Jay] Harrison is part of the reason for this. Seeing how the two have been attached at the hip at even strength and Harrison looks like he is skating through mud this season. Harrison has also struggled mightily at breakouts, as he has advanced the puck on less than 7% of his zone exit attempts during five-on-five play. With the depth the Hurricanes have on defense, they can't afford to have their third pairing get beaten this badly every night.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
Key Indicator: Two shots in five games.
Profile: Like teammate and fellow rookie Alex Chiasson, 2013 10th-overall draft pick Valeri Nichushkin is an intriguing combination of size and scoring on the wing. The trouble is that there is no sign of that scoring at the NHL level just yet; through four games Nichushkin has no points, two minor penalties and just a single shot to his name. Stars head coach Lindy Ruff opted to make Nichushkin a healthy scratch for the Stars' game against Colorado on Tuesday.
Other Analysis: From Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff, as quoted by the Dallas Morning News:
There’s probably some frustration there. He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to score goals, and he needs to just relax and play his game. He’s a young player, and he’s just going through the adjustments that any young player will go through.
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Profile: Perhaps the best indication of where Rielly is in his development is the fact that it's still anybody's guess whether he stays in Toronto all season. Because of Rielly's ability to provide offence from the blue line (not to mention his low cap hit) it's safe to say that in a perfect world the Leafs would love Rielly to be NHL-ready this season. Based on his play so far (which includes four assists and a minus-two rating) the call could go either way.
Other Analysis: From Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star:
As good as Morgan Rielly can be—and he got two assists on Tuesday night—coach Randy Carlyle uncharacteristically went out of his way to point out some flaws in Rielly’s game. Rielly had a rough game—by his own measure—on Saturday. On Tuesday, he played 17 minutes 57 seconds, fewest among the six defencemen. His three giveaways tied him for the lead in that category … This may be a natural way for the team to get out there the idea that they may send Rielly back to junior, especially so that he can play for Team Canada in the world junior tournament.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
Key Indicator: 36.4 Corsi percentage.
Profile: Ristolainen was a somewhat surprising addition to the Sabres, as despite his draft pedigree (eighth overall in 2013) it's a rare thing for an 18-year-old defenceman to look at home in the major leagues. Ristolainen hasn't been an exception to the rule, either; he's arguably been the worst defenceman on the worst team in the NHL.
Other Analysis: From Buffalo Sabres head coach Ron Rolston, as quoted by Paul Hamilton of WGR 550 Sports Radio:
It’s a learning process for him, he’s only 18 and he’s playing in the best league in the world against some of the top teams in the league. It’s given him some experience, but being out gives him some perspective on things he needs to get better at and I know he’ll make improvements because that’s the type of person he is.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Key Indicator: 44.6 Corsi percentage.
Profile: Scheifele was a controversial pick when the Jets chose him seventh overall in 2011, because in so doing they bypassed players like Sean Couturier and Dougie Hamilton. So far there has been little evidence to suggest that they made the right decision, but it's early. It was hoped that Scheifele would establish himself on a scoring line, but so far he's looked more like a guy who could use seasoning at a lower level.
Other Analysis: From Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel, as quoted by Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun:
He’s a conscientious player who wants to do well. He managed to do the things we were trying to help him with and it helped him. He needs to play with the puck. He’s trying to be defensively responsible but he needs to play with the puck as well and sometimes it’s harder to get when you are always playing down low, always defending and you have to work hard to get it back. I thought he was good in that area Tuesday night [against Montreal].
Stock: Down slightly
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
Key Indicator: 23:25 average ice time.
Profile: Winnipeg's first-round pick in 2012 is projected as a well-rounded defender, combining size and defensive presence (not to mention a nasty physical game) with puck-moving prowess. In keeping with that he has played in all situations so far this season.
Other Analysis: From Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel, as quoted by Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun:
He's a very good player right now for us. What can you say? He played with a lot of poise, he shakes off mistakes. He plays with a large amount of confidence. Watch him play, watch the details in his game. He skates, he manages the net real well, makes smart decisions. He's just playing very well.