Injuries to top rookies like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Adam Henrique have served to tighten a rookie of the year race that early on looked to be a runaway for Nugent-Hopkins. Now, the field has closed considerably with strong performances from first-year players in Philadelphia, Carolina and New Jersey; all of which will make for some interesting storylines as the NHL heads into its final 2½ months.
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
The surprising Adam Henrique has hit a bit of a wall as he’s been held without a point in four straight games and has been bothered by a nagging groin problem. Henrique remains second among all rookie scorers, one point behind Nugent-Hopkins, but he missed the Devils’ first post-All-Star break game against the New York Rangers and is considered day-to-day. But Henrique’s play through the first half of the season was crucial to the Devils' assuming a place in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. He leads all first-year forwards in average ice time per game, an indication of the level of trust head coach Pete DeBoer has in him.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
It is a measure of the superlative season being enjoyed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that the first overall pick from last June’s draft remains the leading rookie scorer in the NHL in spite of not playing for a month with a shoulder injury. It would be a shame if a top Edmonton rookie was denied a shot at the Calder for the second year in a row because of injury, but that’s a very real possibility. Last season, Taylor Hall missed the last part of the season with an ankle injury. But Nugent-Hopkins is listed as day-to-day, so his return could make the Calder discussion a lot more interesting in the coming days.
The path to NHL success hasn’t always been easy for Cody Hodgson, the 10th overall pick in 2008, but he has seen his stock rise dramatically in the past couple of months. The talented center has recorded points in 12 of his past 18 games and his five power-play goals are second only to Nashville’s Craig Smith among first-year players.
With the Flyers dealing with injuries to key forwards Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr (Jagr did return to action Tuesday night), more is being asked of the Flyers’ collection of top-end rookie performers such as Matt Read. Although he’s gone three games without a point, Read has moved into third overall in rookie scoring and is fourth among all first-year players with a plus-11. His three game-winning goals have him tied for the league lead among rookies with three others.
Although New Jersey’s Adam Larsson has received most of the ink this season when it comes to first-year defensemen -- and with good reason -- it would be unwise to ignore the impact Justin Faulk has had on the Carolina Hurricanes. Faulk leads all first-year players in average ice time per game at 22:32, and GM Jim Rutherford pointed out to ESPN.com Wednesday that Faulk is logging those minutes against other teams’ best players. The 37th overall pick in 2010 has 11 points, and Rutherford noted that his minus-10 can be explained in large part by being paired with Tomas Kaberle earlier in the season. He has been an even or plus player in seven of his past eight games.