October 22, 2009
(Ed. Note: 'Bizonkers' of course being a slang term popularized by NHL Commissioner and cunning linguist Gary Bettman.)
Now that we're seeing which teenage phenoms will be staying up in the big leagues and which ones are shipping off to juniors, it's become fairly obvious that the race for the Calder Trophy is going to be extraordinarily competitive -- depending, of course, on the fates and fortunes of some teams defying expectations right now.
First, let's take a gander at some early returns for the kiddie corps, via NHL.com:
Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto(notes) wasn't even mentioned in the 2009-10 Hockey's Future Calder watch, which should tell you everything you need to know about how ahead of schedule he's been for New York. He's playing fewer minutes on average than fellow Rangers rookie D-man Matt Gilroy(notes) (19:04), but he's third in the League in average power-play ice time (4:14) behind John Tavares(notes) (4:44) and Victor Hedman(notes) (5:23, which is currently ninth most in the NHL).
Tavares is right on schedule: Point-per-game pace, balanced stats, a ton of ice time for a rookie forward. He's playing on a line with New York Islanders young standout Kyle Okposo(notes), and he's turning Matt Moulson(notes) into his own private Rob Brown.
Hedman's about where he should be, too: Plenty of ice time for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a few points and a few penalty minutes.
But it's the players between Tavares and Hedman on this chart that have made the race immediately compelling. Evander Kane(notes) has likely played his way onto the Atlanta Thrashers for the season, and hulking defenseman Tyler Myers(notes) did the same for the Buffalo Sabres. Jason Demers(notes) has been a sleeper for the San Jose Sharks, playing with Kent Huskins(notes) at even strength and manning a power-play point with Dan Boyle(notes) on the first unit. Jamie Benn(notes) has found a home with Dallas Stars standouts Brenden Morrow(notes) and Mike Ribeiro(notes).
In the case of Duchene, much, much better than anticipated. We'd venture to say he's the most exciting rookie we've seen this season, despite the four points in nine games. As Coach Joe Sacco -- and really, when does the lovefest start for him? -- told the media this week about Duchene and O'Reilly:
Matt is probably one of our leading chance getters right now. He's creating lots of chances not only for himself, but for his teammates. It was good to see him get that first goal. I know that he's been pressing a little bit, but he's gonna provide us probably with some more offense. A guy, again, that has a lot of speed and pushes the opposition's defenseman back.
We're not putting a lot of pressure on these guys. They don't have to feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. We also have them surrounded by some good players where they can just kind of come in and do their thing.
Indeed ... although one wonders how those pressures would change if the Avs' fortunes did.
Again, this is just a focus on the top 10 in scoring. It's not taking into account the progress of James Van Riemsdyk(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers; Ville Leino(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings; Davis Drewiske(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings; or Dmitry Kulikov(notes) of the Florida Panthers.
It's a fantastic rookie class and a fascinating race already; no telling how more fascinating it gets if either Semyon Varlamov(notes) or Jonas Gustavsson(notes) decide to get all Steve Mason(notes)-ish on the skaters and push for the prize.
Defensemen have a large hill to climb to win the Calder, as Drew Doughty(notes) showed last season. Goalies have an easier path. If a guy like Del Zotto is going to take home the trophy, it's going to be with an impressive offensive body of work; which will depend greatly on whether the Rangers' offense continues to excel.