Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, at the start of the season, was a run away favorite for the NHL’s Calder trophy. This award is given yearly to the league’s best rookie. Hopkins posted an impressive 35 points in 36 games before a shoulder injurer he sustained early January kept him out for that month. He has since returned the last few games, but to a league where several other rookies have made a case for the award. These would include New Jersey Devil’s center Adam Henrique and Nashville Predator’s center Craig Smith.
One player who is currently under the radar in rookie discussion is Colorado Avalanche left winger Gabriel Landeskog. At only 19 years of age, Landeskog was Colorado’s 1st round pick in the 2011 entry draft, second over all just behind Nugent-Hopkins. He spent two years playing for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, where he posted 112 points in 114 career regular season games, and 23 points in 20 playoff games.
Although only he ranks only 7th in rookie scoring with 27 points, Landeskog ranks among the top 10 in nearly every rookie category, including leading in shots. He ranks second in plus/minus (he also leads the Avalanche), as well as one of only two rookie forwards in the top ten of average time on ice, along with Henrique. The Avalanche had a streak of 7 shootout wins this year, where Gabriel was 2-of-4 in his attempts, the best total percentage of rookies (though Cody Hodgson has more attempts).
The entirety of Landeskog’s game speaks for itself. Although he is off pace for the goal total many saw him recording, the defensive aspect of is game make him arguably the most complete rookie this year. Consider also Landeskog actually leads the Avalanche in several categories, including shots and hits. He also ranks second on the team in takeaways.
For a rookie to have such command over all aspects of his game is quite remarkable. Although there probably will be others with more points by the end of the season, the case can be made that Gabriel Landeskog is the league’s most outstanding rookie this year.
More so than this season, Landeskog represents a centerpiece of the Avalanche revival in the next several years. Look for the rookie, who already stands at 6′ 1” and 204 pounds to add a little weight and power in the next year or two, much like Steven Stamkos did after a somewhat disappointing season. With a little more body to throw around, Landeskog could become one of league’s elite scorers. He has already shown great instincts for playing a physical game in the front of the net; his first ever goal was a deflection.