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Rookie Watch: Blue Jackets using most first-year players in NHL

Merzlikins, Gavrikov among 11 to play for Columbus this season

by Mike. G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The play of several high-profile rookies, including forwards Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and Kaapo Kakko of the New York Rangers, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, respectively, is one of the major storylines of the 2019-20 season. Each Monday, will examine topics related to this season's class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, a look at the top five NHL clubs with the most games played by rookies (thru Feb. 8):


1-Columbus Blue Jackets 

Total games played by rookies (11 players): 240 games

Players: Forwards Alexander Texier, Emil Bemstrom, Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund, Ryan MacInnis, Kole Sherwood; defensemen Vladislav Gavrikov, Gabriel Carlsson; goalies Elvis Merzlikins, Matiss Kivlenieks

Best rookie: Merzlikins was denied a ninth straight win and third shutout in a row when the Blue Jackets lost to the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 at Nationwide Arena on Saturday, but there's no denying the impact he's made since the knee injury sustained by Joonas Korpisalo, who has missed the past 17 games. Merzlikins ranks second among NHL rookie goalies in games played (25), third in wins (12) and has the highest save percentage (.930) and is tied with Washington Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov for the lowest goals-against average (2.19) among rookie goalies having played at least 10 games. He leads the NHL with five shutouts.

Video: Merzlinkins stops all 32 Panthers shots in 1-0 OT win


2-Chicago Blackhawks 

Total games played by rookies (6): 220

Players: Forwards Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach, Matthew Highmore; defensemen Dennis Gilbert, Adam Boqvist.

Best rookie: Kubalik is first among NHL rookies with 21 goals and 19 even-strength goals, and fifth with 32 points in 52 games. He had at least one point in eight of 10 matches in January, led all rookies with 10 goals and 14 points in 10 January games and was named NHL Rookie of the Month.

Video: CHI@TOR: Toews, Kubalik connect for sweet goal 

3-Philadelphia Flyers

Total games played by rookies (11): 186

Players: Forwards Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mikhail Vorobyev, Connor Bunnaman, Carsen Twarynski, David Kase, German Rubtsov; defensemen Samuel Morin, Mark Friedman, Philippe Myers

Best rookie: Farabee leads all Flyers rookies with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists), 16 even-strength points, and 67 shots on goal while averaging 14:08 in ice time in 43 games. The 19-year-old, who also plays a key role on the penalty kill, has 2.56 hits per 60 minutes in a top-6 role. He was on a line with center Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek but has missed the past two games with an illness.

Video: MTL@PHI: Farabee buries opening goal from the slot 

4-New York Rangers

Total games played by rookies (6): 180

Players: Forwards Kaapo Kakko, Tim Gettinger; defensemen Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek; goalie Igor Shesterkin

Best rookie: Fox has seven points (one goal, six assists) in his past 12 games and ranks third among NHL rookie defensemen with 29 points (six goals, 23 assists) this season. The 21-year-old has 13 power-play points (one goal, 12 assists), and leads all NHL rookie defensemen with 43 takeaways and is sixth with 63 blocked shots. He's one of only two Rangers rookie defensemen to score at least 29 points in the first 53 games of a season since 1979-80, joining Brian Leetch in 1988-89.

Video: NYI@NYR: Fox sneaks goal through from tough angle


5-Toronto Maple Leafs  

Total games played by rookies (9): 167

Players: Forwards Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, Dmytro Timashov, Trevor Moore (traded to Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 5), Adam Brooks, Mason Marchment; defensemen Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren; goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

Best rookie: Mikheyev (eight goals, 15 assists in 39 games) might have been the choice if not for the fact he had surgery to repair an artery and tendons in his right wrist on Dec. 28 and is expected to be out at least two more months. Sandin selected with the No. 29 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has impressed with seven points (one goal, six assists), and the 19-year-old leads Maple Leafs rookies with 15 blocked shots and is fourth with 18 hits while averaging 13:40 in ice time in 16 games. The Maple Leafs control 54.8 percent of all shots attempted with Sandin on the ice.

 Video: TOR@NYR: Mikheyev picks the corner on Georgiev


Head to Head comparison
(Games through Feb. 8)

This season marks the first time in NHL history that two defensemen, Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks, are the first to reach 40-plus points to lead the rookie scoring race. 


Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks

Games: 55

G-A-Pts: 8-33-41

Shots on goal: 104

Avg. ice time: 21:41

Telling stat: He has 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) and nine primary assists on the power play.

Video: VAN@NYI: Hughes wins it in overtime for Canucks


Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

Games: 45

G-A-Pts: 12-29-41

Shots on goal: 94

Avg. ice time: 20:39

Telling stat: He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and seven primary assists on the power play.

Video: COL@OTT: Makar cranks home heavy one-timer for PPG 


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1 - Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar leads all NHL rookies in points-per game (0.91) and is tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes with 41 points in 45 games. He has established the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise record for most points in a season by a rookie defenseman.

2 - Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Hughes is tied with Makar among NHL rookies with 41 points and leads all rookies with 19 power-play points and in average ice time (21:41) in 55 games.

3 - Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets: The 25-year-old has earned a spot on this list. He has five shutouts and can become the third rookie goaltender in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68) to lead the League in that category during the regular season, joining Tony Esposito, who had 15 shutouts with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70, and Steve Mason, who had 10 with the Blue Jackets in 2008-09.

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