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Rookie Couture has assumed major role in San Jose

Friday, 02.25.2011 / 9:00 AM / 2011 NHL Awards

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Rookie Couture has assumed major role in San Jose
Logan Couture arguably has been the San Jose Sharks' most important player this season, which is why he's deserving of the League's top rookie honor.
There has been some clarity in the race for the Calder Trophy as a few forwards have moved ahead of a once-crowded group of contenders.

Last season Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers captured the award, but it doesn't look like any of this year's blue-line freshmen will approach Myers' production (11 goals, 48 points, 23:44 of ice time).

Detroit's Jimmy Howard was a finalist last season, but at this point in the season it looks the top rookie goaltenders -- Philadelphia's Sergei Bobrovsky, Chicago's Corey Crawford and Washington's Michal Neuvirth -- probably won't end up with enough starts to be in the mix. Crawford has the accompanying numbers (save percentage and goals-against average) to squeeze into the top three if he were to help the Blackhawks into the playoffs with a great stretch run, but for now there are four forwards who have broken clear of the pack.

Winner:

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks --
The Sharks have one of the best (and definitely the most expensive) lines in hockey in Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, but none of them are the team's leading goal-scorer and maybe the biggest reason why the Sharks are just as dangerous as they've been in previous seasons. That player is Couture, who entered the weekend with 25 goals while playing mostly on the team's second line. He also has 8 game-winning goals and leads the Sharks with a plus-16 rating. Couture also has been on the ice for fewer goals per 60 minutes played than any player on the team save for Jamal Mayers.

Runners-up:

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes --
Around this time a year ago Skinner wasn't even assured to be a first-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. Now Skinner is probably the most well-known rookie in the League after all the publicity he received at the All-Star Game -- and because he leads all first-year players in points with 46. He has proven to be a steal for Carolina to this point in his young career as the No. 7 pick in June, and he could join Eric Staal and Cam Ward as franchise building blocks in Raleigh.

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders -
- Grabner and Edmonton's Taylor Hall basically are Nos. 3 and 3A on this list. The Islanders' rookie gets the nod because his 25 goals are more impressive considering his lack of power-play time and lack of time with John Tavares, the Isles' one above-average center. Grabner is ninth in the League (and tops among rookies) in goals scored per 60 minutes.

He may lack in assists, and Hall's name recognition could end up being the difference in who goes to Las Vegas when the final votes are tallied, but Grabner has been a delightful surprise for the Islanders -- and less so for the two organizations that gave up on him (Vancouver and Florida).