As mentioned Monday, we're trying something new three times a week on the Globe on Hockey blog, sending our roster of puck writers a question to debate throughout the day.
We invite you to give us your opinion via the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's query: Which National Hockey League rookie will have the biggest impact this season?
Washington Capitals' goaltender Michal Neuvirth qualifies for Calder Trophy on a technicality: Even though he played five NHL games for the Caps two years ago and 17 more last year, he meets the eligibility criteria for the award, which states (and I quote): "A player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons." It is the same sort of language that made Detroit Red Wings' goaltender Jimmy Howard eligible for the award last year at the age of 25 after a long college and minor-league apprenticeship. Howard was competing against Tyler Myers plus a couple of fresh faces from the 2009 draft, Matt Duchene and John Tavares, and came out of nowhere to contend.
The similarities don't end there for Neuvirth in 2010. The Czech-born goalie is 22, he led AHL Hershey to back-to-back AHL championships and was playoff MVP in '09. This year, after the Caps put Jose Theodore out to pasture, Neuvirth - like Howard last year - will also get a chance to play goal for one of the NHL's elite teams, the Washington Capitals. At the moment, he is jockeying for playing time with fellow youngster but often injured Semyon Varlamov.
There's no way of accurately predicting if one or the other actually seizes the job, or if coach Bruce Boudreau alternates between the two, riding whoever has the hot hand at any given moment (usually, that's the way the Gabby one coaches). Either way, Neuvirth should get lots of playing time on a Capitals' team that has the scoring punch to make the transition for any young goaltender easier. Unlike some teams, where goals are hard to come by, Neuvirth can theoretically have a bad night between the pipes and the Capitals have enough firepower to extract him from any hole. All that money Washington is spending to keep Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom happy means they had to cut back elsewhere - and they decided it would be in goal. It gives Neuvirth a chance to be this year's Antti Niemi - and based on his winning minor-league bonafides, you would think that he would seize the opportunity. A former Calder Cup (AHL) champion winning the Calder Trophy? The only thing better would have been if Kyle Calder had somehow managed the trick.
The Western Conference sure hopes it's not Jonathan Bernier.
Bernier is Los Angeles's goalie-of-the-future, and if he culls Calder consideration in 2010-11, it means the Kings' bright future has commenced.
The Laval, Que. native is a former first-rounder (11th overall in 2006), who was dominant at the AHL level last year (30 wins, 2.03 goals against average, .936 save percentage). The 21-year-old beat out Erik Ersberg for the No. 2 job in camp, and now sets his sights on Jonathan Quick, who struggled in a first-round playoff defeat to Vancouver last spring. With blossoming core players such as Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and good young talent on the cusp of contributing, L.A.'s stage is set for success.
Neuvirth, eh? A very interesting opening gambit, Mr. Duhatschek.
Last year in the playoffs, I was shooting the breeze with a couple of the Washington writers, they were talking about how detested the kid is in the Caps locker room (a few of the players later corroborated this).
All of which is completely irrelevant to the discussion - being unloved is no barrier to success - but it's my only anecdote about Neuvirth.
I'm inclined to follow in the same vein as Eric and go with a guy who got his NHL feet wet last year, and showed his stuff in the playoffs.
That would be a certain Pernell Karl Subban.
Yes, this is the homer choice for the guy based in Montreal, but Subban's got all the tools. He'll see plenty of ice, loads of power-play time (especially in the absence of Andrei Markov), and after having dominated the AHL last year, has the ebullience and moxie to step up, and the skills to flirt with 50 points.
Sure, he's a swashbuckler and sometimes makes goofy decisions in his own end, but he's got the royal jelly; Subban could be this year's Tyler Myers.
Unless John Carlson of the Caps is. Come to think of it, I should make Carlson my 1A.
If Subban were to fall flat (he won't), I'd be tempted to go with one of his Junior Team Canada teammates from 2009 - Edmonton's Jordan Eberle.
Wish we could put Cody Hodgson's name in there too (as Sekeres and MacGregor will agree, he was the best player at that tournament), but he appears to be stuck in neutral.
Eberle has none of the obvious gifts of the dominant offensive player, except he just puts the puck in the net. No reason to think he won't be able to post Tavares/Duchene/Stamkos-like rookie numbers.
I'd conclude in saying it's hard to imagine that the Taylor Halls and Tyler Seguins (or even the players mentioned above) will have the impact of an Evgeni Malkin - he's the last rookie to score more than 80 points in his first year.
Take a pen. Jot down this name: Oliver Ekman-Larsson. When your buddies ask you which NHL rookie is going to have a whiz-bang season, tell them it'll be the Phoenix Coyotes' first-year defenceman Ekman-Larsson.
Yes, there are more celebrated rookies out there (Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin), but at 19 Ekman-Larsson comes with size (6 foot 2, 176 pounds) and a polished game. Late last month, he and the Coyotes played an exhibition game in Edmonton against the Oilers. The kid logged a little more than 23 minutes of ice time and was never once caught out of position. He had three shots on goal and finished plus one in a 4-3 loss. He just looked like a veteran.
The Coyotes are hoping to match last season's success but understand they aren't going to sneak up on their foes any more. Everyone knows Phoenix is a well-coached club with enough talent and grit to make the playoffs. What will surprise is how well Ekman-Larsson fits in, how quickly he learns and how much the Coyotes come to rely on him.
The kid's got whiz bang written all over him.
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