NHL

NHL Rookies with the Highest Hockey IQs

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2013

NHL Rookies with the Highest Hockey IQs

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    There is little doubt that this is one of the deepest and most talented rookie classes in several years.

    Players like Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan and Tomas Hertl give the 2013-14 rookies a certain sense of excitement because they are game-changing players who bring talent, athleticism and intelligence to their teams.

    That last factor is often what separates good players from great ones. MacKinnon was the top pick in the draft last June because he knows what to do to take advantage of his overwhelming skill set.

    Here's a look at the 2013-14 rookies with the most hockey intelligence.

C Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

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    2013-14 stats: 10 games; one goal, six assists, plus-three.

    Analysis: Nathan MacKinnon looks the part of an NHL superstar at first glimpse.

    His remarkable skating speed is notable in a league filled with excellent skaters. MacKinnon often appears to be the fastest skater on the ice. But skating speed alone is not going to help him become a productive and dominant player. 

    MacKinnon, 18, has a full understanding of the game that most players don't acquire until they have years of experience at the top level. MacKinnon has an understanding of where to go on the ice so he can make the next play; he does not chase the puck.

    If that sounds reminiscent of Sidney Crosby, there's good reason. Both players grew up in Cole Harbour in Nova Scotia, and it's no surprise that MacKinnon grew up idolizing Crosby. Both players have a hatred of losing that helps them make the best possible decisions when they are on the ice. 

    Avalanche coach Patrick Roy says that MacKinnon has an understanding of what to do on the ice when he doesn't have the puck, and that part of his game continues to improve. 

    "I think he's starting to understand how important it is to play well without the puck," Roy told Rick Sadowski of NHL.com. "He's starting to do better and better. What I like is he's receptive to what we have to say, to the teaching that we're trying to do with him."

D Seth Jones, Nashville Predators

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    2013-14 stats: 11 games; two goals, three assists, plus-one.

    Analysis: Seth Jones was the fourth selection in the 2013 NHL draft, and the Nashville Predators were pleasantly surprised that Jones fell into their lap.

    Jones appeared to have the inside track on the No. 1 spot for most of the winter, but he slipped a bit in the days leading up to the draft.

    If he was disappointed that he wasn't the top pick, it has not shown as a result of his play on the ice. From the day he reported to Nashville's training camp, he has been all business and making significant progress in learning how to play at the NHL level.

    It's gone quite well for him, as he is playing with Shea Weber on the Predators' first defensive pair and averaging 24:43 of ice time per game.

    Defenseman have to think the game well in order to be successful, and Jones is in the right place at the right time. That enables him to take advantage of his physical gifts.

    Jones is playing so well that this 19-year-old rookie is receiving consideration to play on the U.S Olympic team in Sochi next year.

    It's a long shot that he will make it, but Jones seems to make a positive statement with every game that he plays.

C Mark Arcobello, Edmonton Oilers

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    2013-14 stats: 11 games; zero goals, 10 assists, plus-five, 54.2 face-off percentage

    Analysis: Mark Arcobello does not have much of an NHL pedigree. 

    He was not drafted because he does not have standout physical gifts. Arcobello played his college hockey at Yale, and that alone gives an excellent indication that he plays the game with intelligence.

    That's just part of the story with Arcobello. He was signed by the Oilers and given a chance to play in Stockton (Calif.) of the East Coast Hockey League. He spent a year there before playing the last two years with Oklahoma City in the American Hockey League.

    Arcobello, 25, is a a 5'8", 165-pound playmaker. He made the Oilers in training camp because he picked up head coach Dallas Eakins' system and has been playing 17:13 of ice time per game. 

    Todd Nelson, Arcobello's former coach with Oklahoma City, said Arcobello is the perfect example of a player who can work his way up with just the slightest opportunity. 

    “He's kind of the poster boy for developing an NHL player from not being drafted, from starting in the ECHL to the AHL to being an All-Star in the AHL to getting a chance and making the most of it,” Nelson told the Edmonton Sun.

    “He's not very big, but he plays the game hard. He's not intimidated. He's defensively responsible. I think the two stats that say it about him are his plus-minus and his face-off percentage.”

D Danny DeKeyser, Detroit Red Wings

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    2013-14 stats: 11 games; zero goals, one assist, plus-three 

    Analysis: Danny DeKeyser is not off to the hottest start with the Detroit Red Wings, but he is still playing a key role for head coach Mike Babcock.

    DeKeyser is averaging 19:58 of ice time per game, and Babcock has not been hesitant to use him in crucial situations. Babcock liked what he saw from DeKeyser last year after a brilliant career at Western Michigan University.

    DeKeyser had worked his way into the rotation for the Red Wings a year ago and was expected to be a key performer in the playoffs until his season ended when he suffered a broken thumb in the second game of the Red Wings' first-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks.

    Babcock would like to see the 6'3", 197-pound DeKeyser add weight and strength, but he knows that he's got a talented prospect on his hands.

    “He just skates so good and he’s so smart," Babcock told Ansar Khan of MLive.com. "One day he might be 210 (pounds), but right now it’s still a great advancement for him.''

     

C Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

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    2013-14 stats: 10 games; six goals, three assists, minus-three.

    Analysis: The Calgary Flames had the option of returning rookie Sean Monahan to junior hockey until he played his 10th game of his rookie season.

    That was the route the rebuilding Flames were expected to take at the start of training camp. However, Monahan showed that he belonged at the NHL level during the preseason and has proved it even further since the regular season started.

    His numbers are excellent, but it's not just the production that has impressed general manager Jay Feaster. Monahan seems to have a much greater understanding of what it takes to win and be successful than most 19-year-old players have. 

    He is not the fastest skater and may not be as athletic as players like MacKinnon, Jones or DeKeyser, but he knows how to get in the proper position to score goals and create scoring opportunities. 

    "We believe his development is best served with us," Feaster said in a statement released by the team (through USA Today). "We feel good about him. We feel good about the decision. … He's a 19-year-old going on 29 years old."

RW Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 stats: Nine games; five goals, four assists, minus-two.

    Analysis: Alex Chiasson is smart enough to make the most of his opportunity with the Dallas Stars. The former Boston University star did not light it up in his minor league hockey career.

    However, when Chiasson was called up late in the 2012-13 season by the Stars, he scored six goals and one assist in seven games. He has continued his point-a-game pace this year and has given head coach Lindy Ruff a true sniper on the Stars' second line.

    Chiasson's intelligence often shows when the Stars have the puck in the offensive zone. He understands that goals are created when a shooter has time and space, and Chiasson goes to the areas of the ice that gives him a chance to exploit those two factors.

    He has scored more than a handful of goals and does not show any signs of being in over his head in the NHL.

    Look for Chiasson to become an offensive mainstay for the Stars this season.

D Torey Krug, Boston Bruins

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    2013-14 stats: Eight games; three goals, two assists, plus-three; 17:53 of ice time per game.

    Analysis: Like Marc Arcobello of the Edmonton Oilers, Torey Krug was not even drafted by an NHL team.

    Nevertheless, he is getting a chance to play an important role for the Boston Bruins as a rookie.

    That's no surprise to anyone who saw Krug play for the Bruins in last year's playoffs. When they suffered injuries on the blue line, general manager Peter Chiarelli brought Krug up from Providence of the American Hockey League as the Bruins prepared to play the New York Rangers in the conference semifinal round. All Krug did was score four goals in five games against Henrik Lundqvist as the Bruins cruised to victory.

    Krug, 22, remained in the lineup through the Stanley Cup Final defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks. He earned a spot on the Bruins in training camp and has played a vital role early in the season.

    Krug plays the game with aggressiveness and intelligence. He can create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates with his speed, puck-handling ability and crisp playmaking.

    Krug has also given the team's much-maligned power play a boost with his crisp play.

    David Krejci, perhaps the Bruins' best playmaker, has taken notice of Krug's ability.

    “He looks like he’s been in the league a long time,” Krejci told Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe. “It’s his first season, you know, so he looks pretty good. Every decision is the right decision. He shoots the puck when he has to. He passes the puck when he has to. So it’s just fun to play with him.” 

LW Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

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    2013-14 stats: 10 games; seven goals, three assists, plus-seven.

    Analysis: Tomas Hertl has not come into the NHL with baby steps. Instead, he came charging in with a dramatic four-goal game against the New York Rangers Oct. 8 in a 9-2 San Jose victory.

    He has been playing with veteran Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Hertl, 6'2" and 200 pounds, is not afraid to go to the dirty areas and absorb a hit to make plays.

    He has impressed San Jose head coach Todd McLellan with his attitude and drive. 

    "He just comes in and plays," McLellan told Steve Hunt of NHL.com. "It's perhaps been a real positive thing for him. Then his size and strength, his ability to play with the puck, instincts are very good, and of course he's got two very good linemates that have helped him and are willing to play the type of game that makes Tomas successful."

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