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Top rookies: Strong class even beyond top three

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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The battle for the Calder Trophy as top rookie has been a two-horse race much of the season between Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.

Skinner, the league's youngest player, has become something of a rock star in Raleigh with a spectacular season that has him leading all rookie scorers. Couture has been hot on his heels in total points, and his 30 goals, including eight game-winners, are both second best on the Pacific Division-leading Sharks, making him an immediate impact player on a team that could win the Stanley Cup.

Brad Marchand has made much more of an impact than No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin in Boston. (Getty Images)  
Brad Marchand has made much more of an impact than No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin in Boston. (Getty Images)  
Lately Michael Grabner has inserted himself into the conversation. A preseason waiver-wire pickup by the New York Islanders, Grabner gained attention by winning the fastest skater competition at the All-Star weekend and then exploding offensively to become the first freshman to hit the 30-goal plateau.

One from this trio of young stars will likely walk away with the award in June. In the meantime though, several others have put together fine first NHL seasons that merit honorable mention, if not a trophy.

1. Corey Crawford: Although Chicago was expecting veteran Marty Turco to handle most of its goaltending chores, Crawford became the Blackhawks go-to guy early and has kept the reigning Cup champs in the hunt for a playoff spot. Chicago's struggles to overcome the major roster changes that followed its title have been well documented, but Crawford's sparkling numbers allowed the Blackhawks to hang around long enough for the remaining core group to get its act together.

2. Brad Marchand: The rookie who had folks in Boston excited at the outset was second overall pick Tyler Seguin, but instead Marchand has stolen the spotlight. Playing mainly on a line with Mark Recchi, someone old enough to be his father, Marchand has produced offense with 20 goals, four shorthanded, and played well enough defensively to garner a plus-25 rating.

3. John Carlson: Washington is hitting its stride as the playoffs approach in large part because the Capitals are playing much better defense. Funny thing is Washington's blue line has been hit with key injuries all season, but Carlson, the hero of Team USA's 2010 World Junior Championship, has filled a big void. On both sides of the puck too, because he is eating up big minutes and putting up points.

4. Taylor Hall: The legacy of his first season will be a questionable decision that ended it prematurely, rather than the Calder he might have won. Hall struggled under the glare of being drafted first overall at the outset of the season with Edmonton, but came on strong for the Oilers after Thanksgiving and rushed into contention for the rookie scoring title. Those chances ended when he broke his hand in a fight during an early March game against Columbus.

5. Tyler Ennis: Without any real big-time snipers, the Buffalo Sabres rely generally on scoring by committee, and the 21-year-old Ennis has fit in nicely. Ennis isn't very big and doesn't get as much ice time as many other Sabres forwards, but he has made his presence felt as the team's second-leading scorer with 19 goals and 47 points.

6. Cam Fowler: Fowler was supposed to go a lot higher than 12th overall last June and he has shown why with the Anaheim Ducks. The 19-year-old is the top scorer among rookie defensemen, plays more than 22 minutes and looks like he will fill the role Scott Niedermayer manned for this franchise before he retired this season.

7. Derek Stepan: Debuting with an opening night hat trick wasn't exactly an omen of things to come because he needed nearly six weeks to score again. Still a 20-goal rookie campaign is nothing to sneeze at. Stepan has eased into his role as a versatile center by coach John Tortorella, spending most of his time on second or third lines, but playing comfortably on the top unit when injuries or circumstances have dictated.

8. Cory Schneider: He probably could be the No. 1 guy for many teams right now. One day he may fill that role for another club because Vancouver has veteran Roberto Luongo locked up for the next decade. In the meantime, Schneider has made the most of his opportunities to spell the Canucks starter and has outplayed Luongo statistically.

9. P.K. Subban: Subban, the most outsized personality among the rookie crop, has gained notoriety because of it. The Montreal Canadiens defenseman has been a hit with locals since being called up for last season's playoffs even if the Habs scratched him a couple of times in midseason. Around the league though, Subban has been called out by opponents for being too cocky too soon. Still, Subban has more goals than any other rookie defenseman and is second among them in total points.

10. Sergei Bobrovsky: He may or may not be the starting goalie come playoff time because the struggling Flyers have been rotating Bobrovsky with veteran Brian Boucher lately. Even so, Bobrovsky still is putting up very good numbers. He's played the majority of games and the Flyers have been leading the Eastern Conference most of the season, so Philadelphia should be less concerned about the goaltending questions that have perpetually haunted them. Then again, the playoffs are approaching.

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