(Continued from Part I)
The NHL’s rookies have had a few more days to impress before this top five list was written and boy was it tough to rank them. But here is the top five most surprising NHL rookies:
(5) Oscar Lindberg (New York Rangers) ~ 24-years-old ~ Drafted 57th overall in 2010
Lindberg is a classic product of the Swedish hockey factory that NHL fans have become so accustomed to knowing. He’s strong on his skates, has dazzling puck work and is constantly producing offensive chances. He’s not going to get out there and rough up the other team all that much but that’s a good thing.
In 29 games for the Rangers so far this year Lindberg has ten goals (good for second in team scoring) and 17 points (good for fourth in overall points on the team). Not to mention his ten goals rank him second in goal scoring among NHL rookies.
For being a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft Lindberg has slowly and properly developed into what could be a long term scoring threat for the New York Rangers.
(4) Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) ~ 19-years-old ~ Drafted 15th overall in 2014
The list of impressive feats that Larkin has accomplished already – both statistically and professionally – goes on and on. At 15th overall in the 2014 draft Larkin was fully expected to develop into a top-six impact player for the Red Wings organization. The only thing is it wasn’t supposed to happen this fast.
Detroit is notorious for taking their sweet time with prospects. Giving them adequate time to find themselves in the junior or college game, play at least a handful of years for their top notch American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids and then begin to take on bigger and bigger roles with the big club. Then came Dylan Larkin the 19-year-old man.
In 28 games with the Red Wings this season Larkin has recorded a team leading eleven goals. Even scarier is the fact that Larkin is currently tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the most points with 22. But wait there’s more. Larkin is a whopping plus-20. That’s right, you read that correctly. Plus-20. He has three game winning goals which is more than anyone else on the team. He leads all NHL rookies in goals and is third in total points. The kid went from being a prospect to an NHL talent in less than thirty games.
Once again Detroit benefits from their magical scouting staff.
(3) Ben Hutton (Vancouver Canucks) ~ 22-years-old ~ Drafted 147th overall in 2012
On paper Ben Hutton doesn’t strike anyone as being a rookie sensation. He’s minus-8 and hasn’t scored on 34 shots on goal. But watch the kid play and all of sudden it’s like you’re watching a seasoned NHL veteran.
At this time last season Hutton was on the University of Maine NCAA roster. Just one year removed from that moment and Hutton has 23 games with the Canucks and nine assists. But it’s not Hutton’s stats that have him turning so many people’s heads. It’s his poise with the puck, immensely gifted positioning and offensive awareness (that will surely begin to lead to more points if the Canucks can continue climbing out of their hole).
For whatever reason the Canucks have done some pretty good scouting of relatively unknown defensemen coming out of American college hockey. First it was Chris Tanev – who now plays a first pairing role for the team – now it’s Ben Hutton.
With a little more polishing and 20-30 more games under his belt Hutton could easily find his way into a much larger role with the team.
(2) Mike Condon (Montreal Canadiens) ~ 25-years-old ~ Undrafted
In the absence of Carey Price there was a gaping hole that needed to be filled in the Canadiens lineup. Enter Mike Condon. Kind of…
Just two years ago Condon was playing in the East Coast Hockey League where he posted impressive numbers. That got Condon a promotion to the American Hockey League last year. He won 23 games out of 48 for the Hamilton Bulldogs. He wasn’t anything spectacular but he gave the Canadiens some depth in their organization. Carey Price goes down long term and the Canadiens struggle to answer the call. 25-year-old NCAA product Condon comes to Montreal on a call up and earns himself a spot.
Although Condon has struggled in his last three starts he was stellar before that. He won nine of his first thirteen and was posting ridiculous save percentages (In his first seven starts his lowest save percentage was .926 while the highest was a whopping .952). Condon will more than likely never win a Vezina. He might not even become a starting goalie in the NHL but among NHL rookies this year Condon has achieved something more symbolic than statistical.
(1) Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks) ~ 24-years-old ~ Undrafted
We would be remiss if we put Artemi Panarin anywhere other than number one on this list. Panarin has dismantled his competition in not only the NHL rookies list but also the league as a whole. He has 28 points in 28 games. As a rookie. What?
Before making the move to North America Panarin spent four seasons peppering the Kontinental Hockey League with his dazzling moves but after ten points in ten games at the 2015 World Championship tournament he caught the attention of the NHL. He landed a contract with the Blackhawks and hasn’t looked back since.
Playing with linemates Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov definitely plays a role in Panarin’s stats but so does Panarin’s presence play a role in things like Kane’s monster point streak. Panarin leads all NHL rookies in points with 28 and assists with 19. The closest follower in either category is Max Domi with 23 points and 13 assists.
Can we get a round of applause for Stan Bowman?