The battle for the Calder trophy is shaping up to be a good one: Cory Conacher’s 18 points in 21 games has him as the favourite, but Jonathan Huberdeau’s 10 goals is tops among rookies and Justin Schultz is playing nearly 23 minutes a night for the Oilers. A strong push from Brendan Gallagher, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Dougie Hamilton, or one of half-a-dozen other rookies could see them in the running by the end of the season.
But what about last year’s rookies? Early last season, it looked like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was going to run away with the Calder, but an injury and strong all-around play from Gabriel Landeskog saw him lose out in the end. Meanwhile, Adam Henrique and Matt Read made a case for themselves with their two-way play and solid offensive numbers.
How are this season’s second-year players handling the dreaded sophomore slump and who is making a case for being the best sophomore this season? So far, Cody Hodgson is leading the way thanks to a great offensive start to the season and the struggles of last season’s Calder candidates.
Hodgson is centring Buffalo’s top line, home to one of the NHL’s top scorers, Thomas Vanek. Hodgson is clearly benefiting from playing with Vanek, but you can also argue that the reverse is true, as Vanek certainly appreciates Hodgson’s vision and playmaking ability. Hodgson currently leads all sophomores in goals with 8 and is tied for the lead in points with 19.
While it will take some time before Hodgson can shake the label of being trouble in the defensive end of the rink, he is seeing time on the Buffalo penalty kill and is providing enough offensively to override any other concerns.
Brayden Schenn is tied with Hodgson for the sophomore lead in points, putting up 19 in 22 games. That’s a sizeable improvement from his rookie year, when he finished with just 18 points in 54 games. Schenn is third on the Flyers in points and is second behind his brother, Luke, in plus/minus.
Schenn’s teammate, Matt Read, has picked up where he left off last season, with 7 goals and 13 points through 18 games after leading all rookies in goalscoring last season. Raphael Diaz is currently leading all sophomore defencemen with 13 points
and has stepped up for the Kings in the absence of Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene, (I need to stop writing in the middle of the night, apparently), playing over 20 minutes per night. Tied with Read and Diaz with 13 points is Cody Eakin, who only managed 8 points in 30 games as a rookie.
Last year’s three finalists for the Calder, however, are well back in points as we approach the midway mark of the season. For Gabriel Landeskog, it’s through no fault of his own. Landeskog was playing well to start the season, but was crushed by Brad Stuart and missed about a month with a concussion. Since returning, he has managed a 3-point game against the Flames, but has been mostly kept off the scoresheet.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins put up 52 points in 62 games as a rookie, including 18 goals. This season, he has just 1 goal through 20 games and just 7 points. The Oilers were clearly expecting more out of Nugent-Hopkins in his second season and he hasn’t delivered yet. On the plus side, he has still been a positive possession player for the Oilers and will eventually see some better results for his efforts.
Adam Henrique has taken a small step backwards, scoring just 8 points in 16 games after a 51-point rookie season, but he continues to play an important role defensively for the Devils. He starts the bulk of his shifts in the defensive zone, boasting the lowest offensive zone start percentage among Devils’ forwards. His fellow sophomore, defenceman Adam Larsson, has the lowest on the team.
Jake Gardiner led all rookie defencemen in scoring last season, but has only played 2 games for the Leafs this year after suffering a concussion during the lockout. He probably should be in the Leafs lineup, but the team is reticent to waive one of their current blueliners to make room for him. Meanwhile, Mike Komisarek has requested a trade…
Other sophomores to keep an eye on are Andrei Loktionov, Carl Hagelin, and Matt Frattin. Loktionov started the season in the AHL, but has scored 5 points in 6 games for the Devils since being called up. He’s playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk, which is a pretty nice situation to be in, so he could keep that pace going.
Frattin, on the other hand, isn’t likely to keep his scoring pace going, but still has an impressive 10 points in 10 games, including 7 goals. The Leafs have a shooting percentage of 20% when he is on the ice, which is absurdly high, and actually leads the league. Frattin managed 15 points in 56 games in his rookie season.
Hagelin is currently tied with Marian Gaborik for the Rangers’ team-lead in goals with 7 and he leads all sophomores in shots with 66. At the pace he’s shooting, he could definitely break 30 goals despite the shortened season, and is likely to lead all sophomores in goalscoring.