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Rookie Watch: Devils, Blackhawks, Kings relying on youth

Senators, Canucks, Rangers also among NHL teams with most games by first-year players

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2020-21 season. Every two weeks, will examine topics related to first-year players this season in the Rookie Watch.

This week, a look at the top six NHL clubs with most games played by rookies:

1. Chicago Blackhawks

Total games played by rookies: 127

Players: Forwards Brandon Hagel, Reese Johnson, Philipp Kurashev, Pius Suter; defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Ian Mitchell; goalie Kevin Lankinen.

Rookie on the rise: The Blackhawks have plenty to be excited about when it comes to their rookie class, but the first-year player who could have the greatest impact and future is Lankinen. The 25-year-old, who signed as an undrafted free agent May 21, 2018, is 9-3-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and one shutout in 15 games, and leads NHL rookie goalies with a .924 save percentage (minimum five games played). He entered training camp third on the depth chart behind Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia but has earned the No. 1 role with his confident, consistent performances.

Video: CHI@CBJ: Lankinen shuts the door on Bjorkstrand in OT

2. New Jersey Devils

Total games played by rookies: 73

Players: Forwards Nathan Bastian, Janne Kuokkanen, Mikhail Maltsev, Nicholas Merkley, Yegor Sharangovich; defenseman Ty Smith; goalie Eric Comrie.

Rookie on the rise: Smith looks like he could become a foundational piece for the Devils. The 20-year-old, who was chosen in the first round (No. 17) of the 2018 NHL Draft, leads NHL rookie defensemen with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) and eight even-strength points while averaging 19:18 in ice time in 17 games. He quarterbacks the No. 1 power play and the Devils have a 54.8 percent shot attempt percentage (SAT%) at 5-on-5 with Smith on the ice. He also has improved his defensive-zone coverage playing on the top defense pair with Damon Severson.

3. Los Angeles Kings

Total games played by rookies: 71

Players: Forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Arthur Kaliyev, Gabriel Vilardi; defensemen Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague, Austin Strand.

Rookie on the rise: Vilardi (five goals, four assists) and Anderson-Dolan (three goals, two assists) have had strong starts to the season, but it's hard to ignore the impact Anderson has had as a defense partner for Drew Doughty. Chosen in the fourth round (No. 103) of the 2017 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old is second in average ice time (21:37) and blocked shots (25), third in hits (24) and first in takeaways (five) among Kings defensemen. He has four assists in 18 games and is a key part of the penalty kill.

Video: LAK@ARI: Vilardi buries goal for 3-2 lead in the 3rd

3. Ottawa Senators

Total games played by rookies: 71

Players: Forwards Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle; defenseman Artem Zub; goalies Joey Daccord, Marcus Hogberg.

Rookie on the rise: Stutzle is living up to the hype that comes with being the No. 3 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. He's second among NHL rookies with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) and tied for first with two power-play goals, and is fourth among rookie forwards with an average ice time of 15:40. The 19-year-old, who had two assists in the Senators' 5-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Monday, is one of two players chosen in the 2020 draft playing in the NHL, along with New York Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 selection.

5. Vancouver Canucks

Total games played by rookies: 64

Players: Forwards Nils Hoglander, Zack MacEwen; defensemen Jalen Chatfield, Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty.

Rookie on the rise: Hoglander, selected in the second round (No. 40) of the 2019 NHL Draft, has scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 25 games. He leads NHL rookies in takeaways (20) and is averaging 15:08 of ice time. Hoglander is a left-handed shot but has played left and right wing this season. He began the season at right wing on a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson and recently has filled in at left wing on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. The Canucks have a 52.4 SAT% at 5-on-5 when Hoglander has been on the ice.

Video: VAN@WPG: Hoglander flashes hand-eye skill with tap-in

6. New York Rangers

Total games played by rookies: 61

Players: Forwards Julien Gauthier, Alexis Lafreniere; defenseman K'Andre Miller; goalie Igor Shesterkin

Rookie on the rise: Lafreniere has scored four points (two goals, two assists) in 19 games, but that could have something to do with the Rangers' struggles on offense; New York is 25th in the NHL at 2.58 goals per game, down from an average of 3.33 per game last season. Their most impressive rookie this season has been Miller. The 21-year-old, selected in the first round (No. 22) of the 2018 NHL Draft, has scored five points (one goal, four assists) and is plus-3 in 16 games. He's played on one of the top two defense pairs, most recently with Brendan Smith, and is averaging 19:47 in ice time. Miller has contributed on the penalty kill and power play, and ranks among the top five on the Rangers in blocked shots (24, third) and takeaways (13, tied for second).

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