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Despite injury, Nugent-Hopkins is Calder frontrunner

by Brian Compton
The 2011-12 season reaches its mid-point upon the completion of Monday night's game between the Washington Capitals and the Los Angeles Kings. But, is going to take all week to look at the significant stories as the League makes the turn and heads toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We'll look at the races for the League's individual awards, while profiling some of the most surprising players and teams as we look ahead to the final three months of the season.

A shoulder injury may hinder Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' chances of taking home the Calder Memorial Trophy, but at the midway point of the season, the Edmonton Oilers' center has proven himself to be the League's top first-year player.

The 18-year-old was expected to make noise this season after being selected first by the Oilers last June. Four months into his first NHL season, Nugent-Hopkins ranks second on the team in scoring, behind only Jordan Eberle, scoring 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in just 38 games. The 35 points is tops among all NHL rookies.

However, the Oilers and Nugent-Hopkins suffered a huge blow when the rookie suffered a separated left shoulder during the first period of a game against Buffalo on Jan. 3. Expected to miss at least three weeks, it will be interesting to see if Nugent-Hopkins can provide the offense necessary when he returns in order to be labeled the League's best rookie at season's end.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Center - EDM
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 35
SOG: 80 | +/-: 0
"What will I miss most about not having him? Everything," Oilers coach Tom Renney told the Edmonton Journal. "He's a great player, his style of playing is infectious. He runs our power play."

Here are our picks at the midway point of the season:


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers --
Injured or not, he still leads all rookies in scoring and has been everything Edmonton could have hoped for and more. What his injured shoulder does to his chances of winning the Calder remains to be seen; for now, though, he's still our pick. There's little doubt he will be a star in the League for years to come.


Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils -- Henrique is all the proof you need as to the importance of the NHL Draft. A third-round selection (No. 82) in 2008, the 21-year-old did a remarkable job of filling the void left by Travis Zajac's early-season injury. In 38 NHL games, Henrique has 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), and his team-best plus-9 rating has helped keep the Devils in the heat of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Three of Henrique's tallies are shorthanded, good for second in the League.

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks -- He may have a better taste of the NHL than his competition after skating in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season, but Hodgson still classifies as a rookie and is performing at a high level for one of the League's top teams. Vancouver's first-round pick (No. 10) in 2008, Hodgson has 10 goals, 14 assists and a plus-7 rating in 42 games this season. Four of his 10 goals have come on the power play.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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