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Hradek: A look at the NHL's most impactful rookies


Guest Irishjim
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More than half way through the 2011-12 campaign, we've seen newcomers making important conversations to teams all over the circuit. In Philadelphia, for example, 11 different rookies have played at least one game for the Flyers, who came into Tuesday's action as the fourth seed in the East.

In this week's edition of the Tuesday 10, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on some of the most impactful freshmen in the Calder Trophy chase.

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SEAN COUTURIER

CENTER - PHI

GOALS: 10 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 20

SOG: 81 | +/-: 12

Sean Couturier, C, Flyers

Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgrenused the Blue Jackets' first-round pick (No. 8, acquired in the Jeff Carter deal) to grab the lanky 6-foot-4, 190-pound center from Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Couturier didn't take very long to impress Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who was quick to use him in different game situations. In 48 games, the 19-year-old Couturier has contributed 10 goals and 20 points while playing to an impressive plus-12 rating. On a stacked roster, he's still getting third-line minutes (13:28 per game). Couturier's hockey sense and versatility make him the kind of player than can help you win.

Jared Cowen, D, Senators

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound defender from Saskatoon, who was part of a Memorial Cup winning Spokane Chiefs club in 2007-08, was a first-round pick in 2009 (No. 9).

A knee injury suffered during his junior days slowed his development, but he's found a spot on the Senators' defense, earning more than 20 minutes per game (20:14). Playing in all of the club’s 55 games, Cowen has scored 4 goals and dished out 10 assists, but his value is more of his ability to play in important game situations.

In the big picture, the 21-year-old Cowen appears to be a nice defensive foil to young teammateErik Karlsson, who can focus on moving the puck and attacking opponents with his speed off the rush.

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CARL HAGELIN

LEFT WING - NYR

GOALS: 8 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 19

SOG: 71 | +/-: 15

Carl Hagelin, F, Rangers

A later-round pick (No. 168 in 2007) that went the college route (University of Michigan) before finding his way to the NHL, Hagelin made an impression by winning the fastest skater competition during the All-Star skills competition in Ottawa.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Hagelin is an elusive and versatile player. After completing his four years at Michigan, the Swedish-born winger started the season with the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford. He was called-up to New York on Thanksgiving and he's become an important role player on Broadway.

In 32 games, Hagelin has scored 8 goals and collected 11 assists while playing to an eye-opening, plus-15 rating. Rangers coach John Tortorella has been able to move Hagelin around his lineup, using him with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik as well as on some of his third- and fourth-line combinations.

Adam Henrique, C, Devils

The former Windsor Spitfire star had moved into Calder Trophy contention in early January – totaling 34 points in his first 39 games, moving within a point of the rookie scoring lead – before suffering a groin injury that has forced him to miss five of eight games. In his last five games, as he has dealt with the injury, he hasn't posted a single point.

The 22-year-old, selected with the 82nd pick in 2008, distinguished himself with his play in all three zones. Devils coach Peter Deboer hasn't been afraid to use him in all different game situations. In fact, he leads all rookies with four shorthanded goals (tied for the League lead with Minnesota'sCal Clutterbuck), three shorthanded assists and seven shorthanded points (tied with star teammate Zach Parise for the NHL lead). That’s pretty impressive stuff.

In total, he has 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points, working 18:20 minutes per night. He still stands just a point behind Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the freshman scoring race.

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CODY HODGSON

CENTER - VAN

GOALS: 14 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 30

SOG: 94 | +/-: 7

Cody Hodgson, C, Canucks

The 10th pick in the 2008 draft, Hodgson has overcome some significant back issues and seems ready to make a serious Calder push during the stretch run.

The 6-foot, 185-pounder earned the League’s Rookie of the Month honor in January, notching 6 goals and 10 points in 11 games.

On the season, in 52 games, Hodgson has 14 goals and 30 points. Those numbers are more impressive when you consider he's averaging just 12:45 minutes per night with a star-studded cast in Vancouver.

Most recently, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been using Hodgson in a third-line role, normally alongside RW Jannik Hansen. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hodgson's minutes increase if continues to perform at his current level.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Oilers

The top pick in last June's draft class looked ready to lap the rookie field in the first two months of the season, putting up 27 points in his first 25 games.

In December, Nugent-Hopkins' production fell off a bit, collecting 8 points in 12 games. Then, on Jan. 2, he suffered a shoulder injury in a 4-3 win at Chicago. He missed the rest of the month, returning in the club's 5-4 shootout win against Detroit last Saturday.

Unfortunately, the 18-year-old re-aggravated the injury in the third period of Monday night's 6-3 loss in Toronto. The club says he'll miss seven to 10 days. The Oilers would be wise to err on the side of caution in terms of his injury. Edmonton isn't making the playoffs and there’s no sense rushing him back into the lineup and risking further problems to the shoulder.

Despite missing 13 games, Nugent-Hopkins still leads all rookies in both assists (22) and points (35). He has been particularly proficient on the power play, handing out 15 PP helpers.

In the big picture, the British Columbia native figures to be a franchise center that will be a huge part of the Oilers' future. RNH is the real deal.

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GABRIEL LANDESKOG

LEFT WING - COL

GOALS: 12 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 28

SOG: 164 | +/-: 14

Gabriel Landeskog, F, Avalanche

Quietly, Landeskog, the second pick behind Nugent-Hopkins, is having a very strong freshman campaign. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound winger leads all rookies (and ranks 27th League-wide) with 161 shots. That tells me he's getting his hands on the puck – a good sign for any player.

Most recently, Landeskog has been working effectively on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and veteran Milan Hejduk. Those three players, along with veteran Paul Stastny, are the team's top scorers.

In 54 games, he has 11 goals and 27 points, working 18:15 minutes per evening. And, Landeskog is the only Avs forward who has played more than a handful of games to have a plus-rating (plus-13). While plus-minus isn't the end-all, be-all statistical number, that does say something on a team that has given up 16 more goals than it has scored.

Adam Larsson, D, Devils

The fourth pick in last June's draft, Larsson has been sidelined since taking a nasty hit from Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on Feb. 2. According to the team, he has a sore lower back and he's not ready to resume skating.

In his first 48 games prior to the injury, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Swedish-born blueliner was averaging 21:48 minutes per night, second among all rookies (behind only Carolina's Justin Faulk's 22:34). Larsson added a pair of goals and 14 assists while making the transition under the tutelage of assistant coach Larry Robinson.

While there have been some bumps along the way – there usually are with teen-aged defensemen – the 19-year-old Larsson has shown nothing to think he won't be big part of the Devils' blue line for many years to come.

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MATT READ

RIGHT WING - PHI

GOALS: 16 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 32

SOG: 112 | +/-: 11

Matt Read, C, Flyers

The Flyers tried to get the undrafted free agent to leave Bemidji State University after his junior season, but Read decided to complete his college career before finally turning pro last spring.

In his first season, the versatile 5-foot-11, 190-pound pivot is showing just why Philly was so anxious to get him into the Orange and Black.

In his first 49 NHL games, Read leads all rookies with 16 goals and he stands third in the freshman scoring race with 32 points. He's also been a clutch performer with a rookie-high four game-winning goals.

The Flyers' coaching staff has shown complete confidence in the 25-year-old, giving an average of 17:26 minutes of ice time per game. Like his rookie teammate Sean Couturier, Read is one of those players who finds different ways to help his team win.

Craig Smith, F, Predators

The 98th pick in the 2009 draft, the 22-year-old Smith decided to turn pro after completing his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin.

To this point, that seems to have been a good decision.

In his first 51 games, the Madison, Wisc., native has scored 11 goals and contributed 20 assists for 31 points, working just under 15 minutes per contest. He has a nice nose for the net and his goal output should continue to grow with experience.

Come playoff time, I could see Smith becoming an important of an interesting playoff run in Nashville.

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@KingSkaggz24

Looks like he is getting pretty big minutes. Looking from afar, I guess the one thing is that he has played in only about half the games (a bit over). Looks like recently he has really been cut back on his minutes (ie instead of top 4 pairing, he is playing 5/6 pairing minutes). That would signal a drop of on "impactful". You get to watch him, so you would know best.

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