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Northwest: Charting impact players among the rookie crop

by Roger Phillips /

Oilers' rookie center Andrew Cogliano
scored his first NHL goal against Detroit.
Last season’s Calder Trophy went to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, but the Northwest Division was also the home address for two of the NHL’s other top rookies, Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, both of the Colorado Avalanche.

The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, got huge contributions from a first-year player of their own – albeit an older one in goalie Niklas Backstrom, who was 29 by the end of the 2006-07 season.

This season, the Northwest Division has a bumper crop of rookies, many of whom were in opening-night lineups last week when the regular season began. Here’s a look (in alphabetical order) at some of the top first-year players in the Northwest Division this season:

Andrew Cogliano, Oilers, 20, C -- The 2005 first-rounder picked up an assist in the opener. Cogliano played one season at Michigan. In his NHL debut, he mainly played on the fourth line. He scored his first NHL goal Monday.

Kyle Brodziak, Oilers, 23, C -- He appeared in 10 games two years ago and in six last season. Despite the prior experience, he’s hardly a grizzled veteran and is a part of the Oilers’ youth movement. Brodziak was a seventh-rounder in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Sam Gagner, Oilers, 18, C -- The sixth choice in this year's draft picked up an assist in his NHL debut. The son of former NHLer Dave Gagner, Sam is hoping to show in a nine-game audition that the Oilers should keep him around rather than sending him back to junior for further seasoning.


Tom Gilbert, Oilers, 24, D -- Originally drafted by Colorado in the fourth round in 2002, Gilbert scored a goal in the season opener. Just as significantly, he played 19 shifts and was on the ice for nearly 15 minutes. Gilbert had a goal and five assists for the Oilers in his first 12 NHL games last season. He played college hockey at Wisconsin.

Jaroslav Hlinka, Avalanche, 30, C -- More a newcomer than a rookie, Hlinka turns 31 next month. He shared the Czech League scoring title last season with 57 points in 46 games, and played with Colorado teammate Milan Hejduk at the 2003 World Championships. Hlinka had two assists in the first three games.


Mason Raymond, Canucks, 22, LW -- The 22-year-old Raymond, a second-round draft choice in 2005, possesses outstanding speed. The Calgary native played the last two years at Minnesota-Duluth, then played for Manitoba of the AHL at the end of last season. Raymond had an assist in his first NHL game but otherwise struggled, and was scratched for the second game of the season.

Tyler Weiman, Avalanche, 23, G -- Colorado's fifth-round pick in 2002 started the season as the backup to starter Peter Budaj. He got his first NHL experience last week in a mop-up role in a 4-0 loss to the Predators, and performed well, stopping all 10 shots he faced in a 15-minute stint. Weiman is getting the chance because Jose Theodore is recovering from a knee injury.

Who’s hot -- Paul Stastny of the Avalanche picked up right where he left off as a rookie last season. In fact, he’s even better. Stastny opened his second NHL season with a hat trick in a 4-3 victory against Dallas. He topped that in Colorado’s third game of the season, producing five points, including his fourth goal, in a 6-2 rout of the Sharks. Not surprisingly, Stastny was the NHL’s Player of the Week for the first week of the season. … Last season, Niklas Backstrom took the Minnesota starting goaltending job away from Manny Fernandez. This season, Backstrom posted a 27-save shutout in a 1-0 season-opening defeat of the Blackhawks. … All four rookies in the Oilers’ opening-night lineup had a point in a 3-2 shootout win against the Sharks. Three of the four had at least a point two nights later as the Oilers improved to 2-0 by beating the Flyers. The Oilers had not won two straight games since last February. … The Flames dropped their opener to Philadelphia by a 3-2 margin, but did get two goals from Daymond Langkow and two assists from Dion Phaneuf. The Flames killed six of seven power plays in the game and scored both their goals with the man advantage. Langkow had another two-goal effort in the Flames' second game of the season, a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver. ... The Canucks scored four power-play goals in that same game, including the winning goal by Daniel Sedin with five seconds left in overtime.

Shootout summary -- The Oilers were the first Northwest team to go to the shootout this season, and they came away with a 3-2 season-opening victory against the visiting Sharks. Edmonton was 3-3 in the shootout in 2006-07. Dwayne Roloson stopped three of the Sharks’ four shots in the shootout. The Oilers got shootout goals from youngster Robert Nilsson and the sudden-death winner from Jarret Stoll. Ales Hemsky and Marty Reasoner missed.

Rumor mill -- Not exactly a rumor, but former Flyer Eric Desjardins is no great fan of former Philadelphia teammate Joni Pitkanen, who is now with Edmonton. Desjardins writes a column for La Presse in Montreal and recently wrote of Pitkanen, “He has all the talent in the world, he’s strong as a horse and he’s as powerful a skater as Al Iafrate was, but he is also very immature. … The guys couldn’t put up with Pitkanen anymore. They tried to give him support, but the youngster can’t accept criticism and is very hard-headed. Even his (Finnish) compatriot Sami Kapanen had trouble with him and asked me to deal with it because he couldn’t do it anymore.” Pitkanen responded by scoring a goal in a plus-3 performance as the Oilers beat the Flyers last weekend. He was second to Sheldon Souray among Oilers defensemen in ice time, playing more than 21 minutes. … The Canucks-Sharks game Oct. 5 reportedly attracted scouts from eight teams. This sort of thing always leads to speculation that something might be in the works, especially when you consider that four of the teams represented – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Boston -- were from the Eastern Conference. For the record, the Sharks play Boston this month, but don’t face any of those other teams until February. The Canucks play the Flyers next week, don’t face the Bruins, and don’t play the Penguins or Devils for two months.

The week ahead -- The Oilers and Canucks will get a good early look at each other when they meet on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, first in Edmonton, then in Vancouver.

The Flames are in the midst of a challenging trip that began Wednesday at Detroit. They are at Dallas on Friday, visit Nashville the following night, and are in Colorado on Tuesday. The Flames were one of the NHL’s worst road teams last season, so their performance on this trip bears watching.

Like the Flames, the Wild are preparing to test their roadworthiness. Saturday and Sunday, they’re at Phoenix and Anaheim. The trip continues up the freeway in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and Minnesota will then be on hiatus until an Oct. 20 game in St. Louis.

The Avalanche has a light schedule to open the season. Colorado hosted the Sharks on Sunday night, and don’t return to the ice until Friday, when coach Joel Quenneville visits St. Louis, where he coached from 1996-2004.

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