Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be overmatched physically at the NHL level due to his size.

“I don’t think he’s NHL-ready,” independent hockey scout Shane Malloy said. “It’s a big jump from playing with boys to playing with men. I think pushing him through will be extremely risky, based on his size and lack of strength. And that’s nothing disparaging about him. That’s just where he currently is with his physical development. It doesn’t mean it’s going to hinder what he’s going to do later in his career.”

That’s taken from a National Post story by Michael Traikos the day after the Edmonton Oilers made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins their #1 pick. Malloy, the author of The Art of Scouting, predicted that playing Nugent-Hopkins for a full year as an 18-year old would be risky for the Oilers, and he appears to be right in retrospect.

Oddly enough, a lanky 18-year old, listed at a generous 175 on the official Oilers’ website, didn’t have the physical tools to succeed in the NHL at such a young age. No knock against the kid, he had an impressive campaign as a rookie, putting up 35 points (mostly of the powerplay variety) in 40 games. However, with two injuries to the same shoulder this season, it may be time to shut Nugent-Hopkins down for the season and preserve him for future campaigns.

Nick Kypreos was the first major media persona to suggest it, and I’m thinking the same way. Who knows about the Oilers, but after missing 13 games in January and re-injuring the same shoulder against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week in a collision with Mike Brown, it may be time for the Oilers to cut their losses. They won’t make the playoffs this season and are hard-pressed to fight their way out of a lottery spot. Risking a third injury to Nugent-Hopkins this early in his career doesn’t help the Oilers out in the long run, which, from what I hear, is a future full of kittens parading around with the Stanley Cup while dancing on rainbows.

Which, of course, raises a whole bunch of interesting questions. The pertinent one being, if Nugent-Hopkins is indeed out for any length of time, who becomes the front-runner in the Calder Trophy race? The early betting favourite would obviously go to Adam Henrique in New Jersey, tied in the rookie points race, who is putting up a stellar season on the Devils’ top line with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Henrique sees good competition and starts more often than not in the defensive zone, making him a worthy two-way candidate, however the quality of his linemates can almost take away from the kind of player he is. We don’t exceptionally have a good read on him, but the team doesn’t give up much defensively with Henrique on the ice.

Of all the things Gabriel Landeskog can do, pretending to be happy whilst wearing this jersey is one of them.

That said, while Henrique and Vancouver’s Cody Hodgson will get consideration in the Calder Trophy race due to their scoring proficiency, there are two more who will hopefully have a case for themselves thanks to stellar defensive work: Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog.

Couturier, who doesn’t quite have the numbers as the other rookies on the list, with just 10 goals and 10 assists, makes up for it by being a go-to defensive centreman for the club. Only Maxime Talbot takes more defensive zone draws than Couturier does for the Flyers, and Couturier has shown an ability to push the puck forward, generate shots, and avoid taking penalties, pretty much what you want out of a third line role player. He’s also second on the team, and second amongst league rookies, in penalty killing time among forwards, averaging 2:51 per game with a PK unit that allows just 40.8 shots against per 60 minutes (3rd in the NHL). Matt Read has done a similar job with slightly easier minutes on that team.

For Colorado, Landeskog would be my pick as Calder front-runner even with a healthy Nugent-Hopkins; the young Avalanche centre has lead the team in Corsi and quality of competition and has become an offensive force ever since Colorado head coach Joe Sacco started playing him more in the offensive end starting in around early December, playing at a 20-goal, 49-point per 82 game pace since December 1.

These factors aside, Landeskog also leads all rookies in shots (we all know how much I like looking at that statistic) and is probably the one who is the best at moving the puck forward into those shooting positions.

So even while Nugent-Hopkins waits on the sideline for medical clearance, I’m not sold he ought to be back in an Edmonton sweater for the remainder of the season. In the meantime, there is still an impressive crop of rookies to follow who have exceeded their expectations at the early stage of their National Hockey League careers.

Comments (7)

  1. I’d say Landeskog wins with RNH & Henrique as the other finalists, Landeskog has but together not just numbers but the solid D play you’ve talked about. Couturier is going to be a solid player in the league for a long time but I don’t think he will ever get to the top line. That’s a reason he dropped that far in the draft. He’ll be a great 2nd line center but his upside is kinda capped.

  2. They need to add a defensemen rookie of the year alongside the calder…

    You may disagree, but let’s look at something. Each team ices 20 players: 12 forwards (60%), 6 defensemen (30%) and 2 goalies (10%), although the current Habs lineup of 11/7 does remind us that it’s a little flexible.
    So one would imagine that the calder trophy would go to forwards 60% of the time, dmen 30% and goalies 10%, right? Seems logical.

    last 10: 3 goalies, 5 forwards, 2 dmen (20%)
    last 20: 5 goalies, 12 forwards, 3 dmen (15%)
    last 30: 6 goalies, 19 forwards, 5 dmen (16.7%)

    The farther back we go, the fewer Dmen won the award (it was introduced in 1932-33, the first defenseman to win was Toronto’s Kent Douglas in 1962-63). In fact, in the 48 seasons since Douglas won (including his year), only 10 defensemen have won the award (~20%, instead of 30% as it “should” be).

    And here’s the other thing…look at the names of those 10:
    Kent Douglas
    Jacques Laperriere
    Bobby Orr
    Denis Potvin
    Ray Bourque
    Gary Suter
    Brian Leetch
    Bryan Berard
    Barret Jackman
    Tyler Myers

    Three of those are in the top 6 of all time (Orr, Bourque and Potvin alongside Harvey, Lidstrom and someone I haven’t thought of yet). 5 of 8 retired are in the Hall of Fame, and it’s not like one can say Gary Suter had a bad career, while Berard put up very impressive numbers until his eye injury. I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Kent Douglas before this, but he did win a Stanley Cup at least.

    Point is, goalies and forwards contributions are overblown compared to defensemen, and I think it’s worth seperating them. All the guys you name are forwards, but what about Jared Cowen, Justin Faulk, Adam Larsson and so on.
    Cowen has played more than any rookie this season (over 1000min) and averages more than 3min per game on the PK. Faulk has only played 40 games, but averages 22min per game, with 2:55 on the PP – more than any forward except RNH – while also playing 1:25 on the PK.

    …yes, I’m a bitter defensive defenseman. Picture a shorter and thinner version of Hal Gill.

    • I do see your argument, but I just don’t think we need 2 Rookie of the Year Awards. I think they need an Assist Leader trophy first, to go along with the Maurice Richard and Art Ross before they get a Rookie D Man of the Year.

      • Actually I’d argue the most pressing need for an award is one for a defensive defenseman. There’s 42 awards for forwards and goalies, and one for the defenseman who gets the most points, essentially. Did you know that only 1 defenseman has won the Hart trophy since Bobby Orr’s last back in ’72? Or that only 6 defensemen have won the Conn Smythe in that same time frame (~16% of winners)? Or that, in 40 years of the Lester B. Pearson award, Bobby Orr is the only defenseman to win it – and he only won it once? Or how about the Lady Byng? It’s been given out 86 times; 3 times to Red Kelly, once to Bill Quackenbush (all between 48 and 54) and no defensemen since.

        The point is that there are awards that forwards win (art ross*, selke, rocket*), awards that goalies win (vezina, jennings), and then there is just the norris for defensemen. That wouldn’t be too bad on its own, but the awards for all players rarely go to Dmen. As mentioned, Calder, Hart, Conn Smythe, Pearson/Lindsay, and Lady Byng all regularly go to forwards.

        *Okay, technically the Art Ross and Rocket aren’t forwards only, but I rather doubt a Dman has ever scored the most goals and only Orr was able to get the Art Ross. Frankly I don’t even think Orr counts as a Dman, more of a 4th forward who happened to be really fast and thus able to backcheck.

  3. Landeskog (who is a Left Wing, not a Center) doesn’t only play good defensively, he does so against the best lines other teams can throw at him WHILE making his teammates better on the other end of the ice. Case in point: he has played all but two games this year with center Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly played 74 games last season and was 13G-13A-26P, but in 56 games this year has already gone 15G-26A-41P and is leading the team in scoring. A large part of this increase is due to O’Reilly’s legendary work ethic, but there’s no denying that his chemistry with Landeskog has pushed his game to the next level.

    But Landeskog’s not just getting even strength or PP minutes – he plays in all situations, including high-pressure ones like penalty kills and in the final minutes of games – and does so with a poise and consistency that most players don’t develop until much later in their careers. In a recent interview, Joe Sakic was quoted as saying “This is a kid who does not play like an 18-19 year old, and you’d think he’d been around for 5-6 years. So mature out there, he does everything well for his teammates and himself.”

    Simply put, Landeskog DOES NOT play like a rookie. I’ve watched RNH, Henrique, and Couturier play quite a few times this season, and there’s no denying they’re all really solid players. But if you’re talking about the rookie with the most complete game, none of them can even come close to Landeskog.

  4. I’ve said it before n I’ll say it again, if Hopkins doesn’t win, the award should never be given out for points ever again, it should be given out for +/-, defensive play, and physical readiness. Because those are the only things that Landeskog has over RNH. The award should never be given out for points anymore. Like in 2008 when the Calder was given to Patrick Kane over Nick Backstrom STRICTLY because of points alone, 
    Kane 21G-51A-72P  -5, Backstrom 14G-55A-69P  +13
    Yes Backstroms +/- was better because he was on a better team, but so is Landeskog.
    If the Calder is given to the rookie for the best +/-, sure give it to Landeskog. but if it is awarded for points, you HAVE to give it to Hopkins, even though they both had 52P Hopkins PPG was much higher.

  5. Calder’s have NEVER been awarded for +/-, EVER!!!!! Landeskog has the benefit of being on a better team, that’s your only arguement? Lol that’s why his +/- was better, and I’ll say it again and again , Calder’s aren’t awarded for +/-, 90% of the time it’s awarded for points DUMMIES! So get over it!!!! And like i said before, yes they both have 52P, but Hopkins PPG is much much higher… If Hopkins doesn’t win it that’s the biggest joke in the history of the award.

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