Tag:Philadelphia Flyers
Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:26 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 10:26 am
 

How the NHL's top scorers have been used

The Kings are relying on Anze Kopitar to do it all. (Getty Images)
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at how the NHL's have top scorers have been used this season.

By: Adam Gretz


Of all the top scorers in the league this season the most overlooked and underappreciated one of them all might be Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Not only because he's their leading scorer (and one of the only players on the team that's actually having a good season offensively) but also because they are asking him to play in every possible situation against the best players on a nightly basis.

More often than not in recent years the player that finishes the regular season as the NHL's leading scorer also tends to take home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, as has happened in six of the past 10 years. In two of the four years it didn't happen, the Hart went to the player that scored the most goals. That kind of gives you an idea as to what voters are looking at, at least in part -- total production, whether it be goals and/or total points.

Of course, there is a ton of value in a player that scores enough to lead the league in any or both of those categories, and that player is obviously going to be one of the best players in the league. That is, after all, the most basic concept of the game: score goals.

But not all scorers play in situations that are created equal. Some players are put into situations where they can focus entirely on offense (like, say, Henrik and Daniel Sedin).

Others are given assignments that aren't quite as conducive to putting up points because of what might be greater defensive responsibilities, whether it be playing more minutes as a penalty killer, where offensive is nearly impossible to come by, or simply playing more even strength shifts in areas where defense has to take a priority over offense (such as a faceoff in the defensive zone).

Last week we looked at the top rookies that have been given the toughest assignments this season, and this week we're going to take a similar look at how the top-25 scorers in the league (at the start of this week) have been utilized by their teams. The chart below takes into account all five-on-five situations and locates players based on the quality of competition they face, as well as the percentage of their shifts that start in the offensive zone (both numbers via BehindTheNet).

The closer a player is to the top left, the harder the assignments. The closer to the bottom right, the "easier."

This, again, is the top-25 scorers in the NHL at the start of this week.

TopScorers

1) See those two guys way out on the right, all by themselves? Those are the Sedin twins, and it's easy to see what their role is for the Canucks. Along with their regular linemate, Alex Burrows, the Sedin's start a higher percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone than any player in the league (not just among the top scorers, but all players) and there really isn't anybody else that is even remotely close to them.

After Burrows, who again is their linemate, the only other regular player in the NHL that has a mark over 70 percent is Tampa Bay's well known defensive sieve, Marc-Andre Bergeron. And these guys are bordering on the 80 percent mark. This is not a new development for the Canucks, as head coach Alain Vigneault has pretty much always used his players this way, whether it be making sure that the Sedin's are always playing in the offensive zone, or players like Manny Malhotra are always on the ice for defensive zone draws.

Obviously, the Canucks are not the only team that operates this way and puts certain players in certain spots, as most of the top-scorers shown above are used in similar situations (favorable five-on-five roles, a lot of power play time, almost no time on the penalty kill). Though, the Canucks do seem to be the most committed to it, and as I mentioned in this week's Power Rankings, if it weren't for icing calls that forced them to stay on the ice for a faceoff in their own zone, I wonder if the Sedin's would ever be asked to start a shift in their own end of the ice.

2) The MVP campaign for Philadelphia's Claude Giroux is no joke, and if there were any doubts about his ability to take over the No. 1 center role in Philadelphia and play the tough minutes that Mike Richards previously played, well, you can forget about it. He's not only playing the key even strength minutes, he also spends two-and-a-half minutes per game on the penalty kill. And he's still the second leading scorer in the NHL, even with the fact that he's missed four games.

Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is having a similar season, but we already knew he's capable of that and he's simply continuing to do what he's always done throughout his career -- play unmatched two-way hockey and dazzle with his obscene level of skill.

3) Where would the Kings and Devils be without Kopitar and Patrik Elias this season? Not only are they the top point producers for two teams that have little offense after them, but they have also been doing it under less-than-ideal circumstances for offense, while both spend significant time every night killing penalties for two of the top penalty killing teams in the league. Kopitar, for example, logs 2:28 of shorthanded ice time per game for the Kings, while Elias checks in at just under two minutes per game. Of the 25 players on the scatterplot above, only nine of them play more than one minute of shorthanded ice-time per game. Twelve of them play less than 10 seconds per game.

Does this mean that players like Kopitar and Elias are better than players like the Sedins, or Evgeni Malkin and James Neal? Or having better seasons? Well, no, not exactly, because those guys are still scoring at pretty impressive rates and being relied on to carry their teams offensively. In the cases of Malkin and Neal, for example, they're pretty much the only guys scoring for their team right now, so that can't be underestimated.

It does, however, mean that perhaps the gap isn't quite as big as the point total or goal total would indicate.

It means that a player like Kopitar, who never seems to get much attention as being one of the best players in the league (he's not even an All-Star this season, for whatever that's worth) is probably extremely underrated and underappreciated for what he has done for his team every single night this season, and the way he's gone about doing it.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:14 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 1:17 pm
 

Hartnell named to All-Star team in place of Toews

Hartnell down? More like Hartnell up. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

We knew it was only a matter of time before some of the obvious snubs of the All-Star Game were corrected and named to the team. It comes through the guise of injury replacements, but that's just semantics. Scott Hartnell is an All-Star!

Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers' colorful scorer was named to the team on Tuesday morning, replacing the injured Jonathan Toews from the Blackhawks. In the case of Hartnell, it's no "well he doesn't really deserve it" situation (imagine the most annoying friend you have saying that, works for the effect).

"It definitely was a surprise to get the phone call late [Monday] night and be selected," Hartnell told NHL.com. "I just had a smile on my face. It's our father's trip here, so he was sitting here with me. A real special night."

Since he wasn't named an All-Star, Hartnell has been on a tear. He had a natural hat trick on Sunday against the Bruins, scoring three straight goals, all in the second period. The game before that he had two goals in a win against the Devils. That recent spurt has brought his season total to 25 goals, five behind his career high.

While he isn't replacing him, Hartnell makes a nice fill-in for Alex Ovechkin, who pulled out of the game on Tuesday. They are both power forwards who will lay some lumber and Hartnell has a big personality that helps hide the absence of one of the games better players and bigger names.

"I had something lined up to get away for a few days, get away from hockey," Hartnell said, "but in the back of my mind I had my fingers crossed, maybe I'd get a call. There's a lot of good players in the NHL these days, and if it wasn't me it could have been two or three other guys. I feel pretty fortunate and pretty lucky. Going there, I was thinking about the skills competition. Hopefully I don't get too nervous out there. I can't wait. I'm super excited."

From Toews' standpoint, don't get too concerned, Blackhawks fans. His injury isn't thought to be serious, although he will miss Tuesday's game against the Predators.

By my count that leaves the most egregious snub count at two; James Neal and Patrice Bergeron. After them it's probably Radim Vrbata.

More from Eye on Hockey

Ovechkin withdraws from All-Star Game
Toews out with upper-body injury
More All-Star Game coverage

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 21, 2012 6:46 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2012 6:51 pm
 

Danny Briere suffers concussion in win



By: Adam Gretz


It's been a couple of hours since an NHL player was announced to be out with a concussion, so we were probably due for another one, just because that's the way it seems to be going this season.

The Flyers picked up a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, but they were the latest team to lose a player with a concussion. The unlucky player this time: forward Danny Briere, as announced by general manager Paul Holmgren after the game.

Briere played just a little over 16 minutes in the win and was also on the receiving end of multiple hits throughout the game, including a couple from Anton Volchenkov (including the one shown above) and Mark Fayne, as well as a punch from forward Patrik Elias.

Concussions have been a major problem throughout the league, and few teams have dealt with as many as the Flyers. They're already playing without James van Riemsdyk and Chris Pronger, and have spent time this season without Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. Pronger's season is already considered to be over, while it's not yet known how long Briere will have to be sidelined.

After the game he sent a text message to Sarah Baicker of CSN Philly that said, "I'm not too good right now. I don't even know what happened."

He has 13 goals and 17 assists in 42 games this season.

Along with Briere, the Flyers also lost Jaromir Jagr in this game as he left early with the same groin injury that has been bothering him throughout the season.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Pronger's wife: he has good days and bad days
Pronger out for season
NHL Concussions this season
More Flyers news

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:57 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 3:50 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Rangers and Bruins finally meet

McDonagh's and Seguin's teams renew acquaintances. (Getty Images)

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

Thanks to the scheduling quirks of the NHL, it has taken us until the end of January to get a dose of some real New York-Boston feuding in hockey. No offense to the Devils and the Islanders, but the city-to-city rivalry is reserved for pretty much only the Rangers against the Bruins.

This season, though, the wait has seemed even longer than it really has been. That's because of the little fact that for the first team in a long, long time, the Bruins and Rangers are the best two teams in the Eastern Conference.

There has been some bemoaning lately of the lack of rivalries in hockey. Well this isn't on par with Yankees-Red Sox in baseball, but there's always a little extra flair when it's New York vs. Boston. This one should have a lot of extra flair.

Nobody at this point will dispute the Rangers are one of the best teams in the league this season. You'd be foolish to try. But there are people, myself included, who are still wondering exactly how good are the Rangers? Well what better way to find out than to send them to the hornets’ nest that is TD Garden in Boston to face the defending champs?

Although it’s too bad we could have had this game a week or so ago. By their standards this season, each of these teams has lost some steam going into the game. The Bruins are only 6-4-0 in their last 10 (gasp!) while the Rangers just slightly better at 7-3-0. I laugh about it a little but it was just in the last two weeks that each of these teams had won nine of 10 games.

One of the tricks for each of the coaches is to find ways to keep pushing their guys in the middle of the season, particularly when you've had as much success as these two Original Six squads have. Sometimes that can be as simple as finding a bear to poke (pun clearly intended).

Bruins coach Claude Julien took his poking stick to the midsection of Nathan Horton this week on the Bruins' recent road trip.

"Horton has got to pick up his game. No ifs or buts about it," Julien said after the shootout win at Florida. "A guy his size needs to get more physically involved. He needs to compete a lot harder. He's skating hard, you can see it on the backcheck ... but we need more from him. When he's emotionally engaged, he scores goals and he's a difference-maker. He's got to find his game. We're at the point where we're a little shorthanded and we need him to step up."

Horton responded by scoring twice in the loss to the Lightning and then one more in the win on Thursday night against the Devils. That might be mission: accomplished.

It looks like Rangers coach John Tortorella has his own target to try and prod.

Brad Richards was the star they brought to New York this summer to give Marian Gaborik that other scoring threat and finally give Henrik Lundqvist some much-deserved support. In that regard, Richards has been alright. But that's it.

In 45 games he has 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points while carrying a minus-3. That stat still means very little, plus/minus, but on a team like the Rangers, it's tough to be negative. He and Ruslan Fedotenko are the only players on the team with more than 10 games played that are in the red.

Going into the game against the Bruins, Richards hasn't tallied a single point in the last six games. Obviously that's not very good, particularly for a guy making $6.7 million per season.

While Tortorella didn't go anywhere close to the level of criticism that Julien did with Horton, he at least made it known that Richards needs to step up some. From Ranger Rants:

Coach John Tortorella said he didn’t want to analyze individual performances after the game when asked specifically about Staal and Brad Richards. But he acknowledged that Richards’ game wasn’t spot on right now (he was a minus-1 in 16:46 though he won 12 of 16 faceoffs).

If the Rangers can get a point-per-game pace out of Richards like he has been doing for most of the past few seasons, then watch out.

This will be the first of four matchups between the foes this season and each will very likely go a long way in determining who gets home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

If that leaves you wanting more ...

... Then you'll get it. There is no better way to spend Saturday if you're a hockey fan than to tune in to the NHL Network. Once that Rangers-Bruins tilt is done it's on to the next, but it takes no backseat to the first game.

The Vancouver Canucks seem to have a lot of rivalries these days. We all know about their ongoing feud with the Bruins, they have a fierce battle with the Chicago Blackhawks and pretty much any team from Canada.

But don't forget about their rivals to the south in San Jose, too. They've had some damn good playoff battles as well, including that Western Conference final matchup a season ago where Kevin Bieksa was the only person on the ice who knew what the heck was going on.

The Sharks are an interesting team to me. Perhaps it's a situation of just getting used to it, being desensitized to them, but once again they are right there in the race for the Presidents' Trophy this season. Remember, they have games in hand on every single Western Conference team.

Yet they are just quietly trudging along on the West Coast. It's expected from them now to be honest. That's a great compliment to give to the ownership and front office in San Jose.

Unlike the Eastern powers mentioned above, these Western heavies have already met three times this season, so when they dance on Saturday night in Vancouver, it's the last time they'll see each other until next season. Unless ...

Hot, hot, hot!

The Ottawa Senators are 12-2-2 since Kyle Turris came to town. They are in the midst of a very challenging road trip to the West Coast, starting it off with a win on Thursday in San Jose.

When they looked at the itinerary for the road trip, they had to look at the Saturday visit to Anaheim as a little bit of a reprieve on the tough trip. Not anymore.

It took a while, but Bruce Boudreau is seeing the Ducks play the way we all thought they would this season. All of a sudden, these are the two hottest teams in the NHL (what?!?). The Ducks are 6-0-1 in their last seven games in their own right.

It's likely well past the time for them to get back into the playoff picture. Even with these 13 points in seven games, they are still 13 points behind Colorado for the eighth spot in the West. What a really strong finish can do, though, is affect the way general manager Bob Murray views his team and thus how much of a seller the Ducks will be at the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

In the meantime, each of the Sens and Ducks gets a heat check in one of the few places in either the USA or Canada that it's actually warm right now, Southern California.

Familiar foes

Friday night will feature some old friends facing off as the Florida Blackhawks visit the Chicago Panthers. Wait ...

Since Dale Tallon took over in Florida as general manager, the Panthers have taken on quite a strong feeling of the Blackhawks. They currently carry five former players from Chicago: John Madden, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille. Of them, only Skille wasn't a contributor to the Stanley Cup a couple of seasons ago.

To make that happen obviously Tallon had to send some of his Panthers players to GM Stan Bowman in Chicago. It's not as strong the other way but the Blackhawks currently employ former Panthers Michal Frolik, Steve Montador and have Rostislav Olesz and Alexander Salak in the system.

But the player to watch in this battle? How about Andrew Shaw, who is quickly making a big name for himself in Chicago. The 20-year-old forward who was a fifth-round pick by the 'Hawks has five points in the last four games on the strength of a goal in each game. That's led to the Twitter hashtag of #ShawFacts where fans have taken their best Chuck Norris jokes and tailored them for Shaw.

Something else worth watching: With weather conditions as bad as they are in Chicago this weekend, will the Panthers have any problems getting out of town and into Winnipeg in time for their game Saturday against the Jets?

Speak of old friends ...

What would the Tampa Bay Lightning give to have the summer over and keep Mike Smith instead of Dwayne Roloson?

The Bolts will get the chance to see firsthand what has happened to Smith since he moved to the desert this offseason. For those not in the know, what has happened is that he has become a quality starting goaltender for the Coyotes.

The Lightning are giving up more goals than any team in the league. Don't you think Smith and his 2.41 goals against average would be handy in Tampa Bay this season?

Then again, it probably wouldn't be too much different if the defenders in front of Smith were playing the same/as injured as they are in front of Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Fun doesn't stop Saturday

On Sunday there is a nice pair of battles for matinee games in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins will take on another one of the I-95 corridor powers in the Philadelphia Flyers while the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Washington Capitals for their final bout this season. It might be a bit watered down without Sidney Crosby playing, but it's still worth watching.

Both games are worth it, so get ready to wear out the "last" button on your remote.

We're going streaking!

A look at the winning and losing streaks heading into the weekend.

Penguins: Remember how they just lost six in a row? This is how you rebound from that. The Pens take a four-game winning streak into Friday night's game against the Canadiens before the game against the Caps.

Detroit Red Wings: For the moment, they have taken the lead in the Central Division, which is an unbelievable race this season. Their five straight wins will be put on the line Saturday vs. the Blue Jackets.

St. Louis Blues: They are doing what they can to keep pace with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and they're doing it just fine. They ride a three-game run into a home game against the Sabres, losers of 10 straight on the road.

Buffalo Sabres: As just mentioned, 10 straight road losses, four in a row overall. Only the one chance in St. Louis to snap it this weekend.

Panthers: They haven't won a game in their last three chances but they have picked up points in two of those three. The double dip this weekend is at Chicago and at Winnipeg.

Minnesota Wild: The ship keeps on sinking. Remember when they were first in the NHL? I hardly do either. Four straight losses and Dallas on tap this weekend.

Dallas Stars: Misery loves company, I suppose. Dallas brings its own losing streak of three games into the weekend, but they get Tampa Bay before facing the Wild.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.
Posted on: January 19, 2012 5:59 pm
 

Jagr would like to re-sign with the Flyers

JagrBy: Adam Gretz

During his first 38 games with the Philadelphia Flyers this season Jaromir Jagr has shown that he's still capable of being a top-scorer in the NHL, and it sounds like he's interested in signing a new deal with team once his current one-year contract expires after the season.

“If I play good? I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because, from my side, I’m happy,” said Jagr on Thursday, via Tim Panaccio  of CSN Philadelphia. “I like this team too much. I don’t want to go anywhere.”

He also added that his priorities aren't financial, and that he simply wants to be in a situation and environment where he's happy, and that if it were about getting the biggest paycheck he would have simply stayed in Russia where he could have made "three times as much." He's probably not wrong about that, but if he doesn't sign a new deal before July 1 and hits the unrestricted free agent market (a relatively dry one as far as scorers go) does anybody really believe that he isn't going to go to the team that offers him the most money?

The free agency pursuit of Jagr this past summer, as he made his return to the NHL after a three-year stay in Russia, proved to be a small clown car short of a circus, and after Detroit and Pittsburgh, the early favorites for his services, dropped out of the running, Jagr surprisingly signed with the Flyers for $3.3 million.

It's proven to be a pretty good deal for both sides.

Jagr has played a rather large role in Philadelphia this season next to Claude Giroux, and has been nearly a point-per-game player, recording 34 points for what has been the second highest scoring team in the league

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 19, 2012 12:57 pm
 

Pronger's wife: He has his good days and bad

By Brian Stubits

Chris Pronger's season was shut down by the Philadelphia Flyers more than a month ago after it was revealed Pronger was suffering from post-concussion syndrome. It's been tough on the Flyers captain, not only dealing with the symptoms but also dealing with not playing.

With a lot of the concussed players, you hear about them having good days and bad days. It affects them so much each day is defined so starkly (and easily, unfortunately).

That's the case too for Pronger. His wife Lauren attended an event that both she and her husband were supposed to be at but Chris had to stay home as it was a bad day. Lauren talked with CSN Philadelphia about how tough it has been for her husband and family.

It's pretty tough to hear, particularly at the end of the video when you can tell that Lauren is doing her best to remain composed, saying that they would love to just have a couple of good days in a row.

Sadly, it's starting to sound similar to what Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard is going through with his post-concussion symptoms.

Tweets like the following are common for Savard to share.

There is a reason why you hear so much about concussions and all the steps to prevent them, because what these guys are going through can sometimes be the result.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 19, 2012 11:23 am
Edited on: January 19, 2012 11:29 am
 

Rangers fan talks about post-Classic assault

By Brian Stubits

Neal Auricchio, the New York Rangers fan who was assaulted and hospitalized after the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, is still recovering from his injuries. He will need surgery to repair the broken bone under his left eye and he continues to deal with the effects of a concussion.

The Iraq War veteran and police officer from northern New Jersey spoke to NBC New York about the assault and his ongoing recovery this week, mentioning his general anger toward the whole situation.

Auricchio also talked about what led to the altercation and he mentioned that some drunk Flyers fans came up them provoking the situation by taking his friend's hat to spit in it and throwing cigarette butts at them.

The news report also mentions that the man Philadelphia police arrested in connection with the assault, Dennis Veteri, was released on $400,000 bond, a price that was set so high because of his 11 previous arrests (with seven convictions) for offenses involving either assault or drugs.

Auricchio was recently given tickets to a game last this season from the Rangers at Madison Square Garden after coach John Tortorella called Auricchio himself.

This whole story has been a sad and uplifting all at the same time for me. There is nothing positive to pull from the incident itself. But the way fans have galvanized to try and bring the perpetrators to justice, in particular Philadelphia fans who had no hesitation in condemning the assault, has been great to see. In a world where fan-on-fan violence is becoming more and more common, that's refreshing.

H/t to The New York Rangers Blog

Previously at Eye on Hockey

Suspect posts bail after increase to $400K
Rangers fans assaulted after Winter Classic
Rangers give assaulted fan tickets to game

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 18, 2012 4:11 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 4:43 pm
 

Rookies facing the toughest assignments

CouturierBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at which top rookies are playing some of the toughest (and easiest) assignments in the NHL.

Most NHL teams are going to put their rookies into favorable situations on the ice.

They are usually not going to be asked to play the toughest minutes on their team, against the best opponents and in defensive situations, and instead are going to be put into low pressure situations where they have the best opportunity to succeed. There are, of course, always exceptions, and some youngsters are asked to take on larger (and more important) roles, whether it be out of necessity, or because the player has shown that he's capable of taking on such an assignment at a young age. 

This year's rookie class has had some pretty impressive performances so far, including that of top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (currently the NHL's leading rookie scorer) in Edmonton, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson with the Devils and, of course, Philadelphia's young forwards Sean Couturier (pictured) and Matt Read, who have not only flashed some offensive ability, but have also proven themselves to be more than capabale penalty killers.

But which of the NHL's top rookies are being asked to play the toughest minutes this season?

Well, that's what the scatterplot picture below helps us figure out. We're using Relative Corsi Quality of Competition (the level of competition the player is playing against -- the higher the number, the tougher the opponent, and vice versa) and Offensive Zone starts (both via Behind The Net) during 5-on-5 play to determine which rookies are being asked to play in the toughest situations by their respective teams.

The closer a player is to the top left of the chart, the harder the assignments he's being given (playing against better players and starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone), while the closer a player is to the bottom right, the easier the assignment (playing against weaker competition and starting more shifts in the offensive zone).

The players included: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Adam Henrique (Devils), Nick Johnson (Wild), Luke Adam (Sabres), Cody Hodgson (Canucks), Jared Cowen (Senators), Adam Larsson (Devils), Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche), Sean Couturier (Flyers), Matt Read (Flyers), Ryan Johansen (Blue Jackets), Raphael Diaz (Canadiens), Craig Smith (Predators), Colin Greening (Senators) and Kaspars Daugavins (Senators).

Rookie Assignments

A few thoughts:

1) When it comes to the NHL's rookie of the year debate the two most common names are, naturally, Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique. They are, after all, the top two scoring rookies in the league, and before Nugent-Hopkins went out with his injury they were neck-and-neck in that scoring race. Now that Henrique is running unopposed for the foreseeable future, he's going to take over that scoring lead (barring an injury of his own, of course) and will probably become the front-runner for the award by seasons end.

Both players have arguments working in their favor.

When we did our mid-season award picks I went with Henrique based on the fact he and Nugent-Hopkins were nearly identical offensively, while Henrique was being asked to play in tougher situations (as the chart above illustrates). Along with that, he is also one of the top penalty killing forwards on the best penalty killing team in the league, and has proven himself to be a threat offensively even when his team is down shorthanded, currently tied for the league in shorthanded points. Conversely, Nugent-Hopkins is getting some of the easiest minutes in the league among the top rookies, and has played just a total of one minute and 16 seconds of shorthanded ice time this season.

That said, it can't be ignored that Henrique is already 21 years old while Nugent-Hopkins is one of the youngest players in the league at the age of 18. Actually, he's the second-youngest player to have skated in an NHL game this season, having been born just six days after Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad, who appeared in nine games for the Senators.

He may not be asked to play in tough situations, but his performance is still darn impressive given his age.

2) Don't overlook the rookie duo in Philadelphia. The Flyers completely re-tooled their roster over the summer, and halfway through the 2011-12 season they haven't missed a beat as far as being a contender in the Eastern Conference is concerned.

 Losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter looked like it was going to be a major blow to their forward depth, and while they are definitely a different team from a year ago, they're still boasting an impressive group of forwards, including their two prized rookies Couturier (selected with the draft pick that came from Columbus in exchange for Carter) and Read. Both are among the Flyers' top penalty killing forwards, and among Flyers forwards that have played at least 20 games this season Read is currently facing the fourth-toughest competition on the team.

3) Mike Yeo, head coach of the Minnesota Wild, appears to have a lot of faith in Nick Johnson, a player the team picked up on waivers before the season. Not only is he playing, by far, the toughest minutes of any of the top rookies in the NHL (he's currently 11th among rookie scorers) his Qual Comp is the highest of any forward on the Wild roster. Perhaps that faith shouldn't be much of a surprise given the connections both have to the Pittsburgh organization (Johnson was drafted by the Penguins, while Yeo was a former assistant).

Of course, age once again needs to be taken into account. While Johnson is playing tougher minutes than all of these other rookies, he's also by far the oldest player on the chart having already turned 26 back in December. A 26-year-old rookie and an 18-year-old rookie aren't exactly the same thing.

Taking into account performance, assignments and age I'd still choose Henrique as the top rookie in the NHL this season (so far), with Nugent-Hopkins, Read and Craig Smith coming in just behind.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com