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Rookie watch: Makar, Samsonov among best from Canada, Russia

Avalanche defenseman, Capitals goalie natives of countries who played in finals of 2020 World Juniors

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, as a tribute to the countries who played in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship final Sunday, here are the top NHL rookies from Canada and Russia:

1. Cale Makar (Canada), D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar leads NHL rookie defensemen in goals (nine) and points (32) and is a proven staple on the power play with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 34 games. The versatile right-hand shot ranks third among rookies in average ice time (20:28) and second in average ice time on the power play (3:41) while working the point as the only defenseman on the top unit. He is the eighth defenseman in NHL history to get his first 
30 regular-season points in 33 games or fewer.

"He's been doing a really good job at selecting his shots and knowing when he can get into the middle of the ice and into a scoring position (on the power play) and if we have traffic in front of the net, he's getting them down there," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "He's got great deception on the blue line and he's a threat to score at any time."

Video: STL@COL: Makar wrists home power-play goal

2. Ilya Samsonov (Russia), G, Washington Capitals: The No. 22 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft is having a breakout season in a backup role to Braden Holtby, who could be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Samsonov is the top rookie goalie in the NHL this season. He has not only won his past six starts, he is the second goalie in NHL history (Brent Johnson, 11-0-0 from Feb. 26, 1999 to Jan. 13, 2001) to win the first eight road starts of his career (8-0-0, 2.19 goals-against average, .919 save percentage). For the season, Samsonov is 11-2-1 with a 2.33 GAA and .918 save percentage in 15 games (13 starts). 

"I think he has surpassed all expectations you think of as a young rookie goaltender, and it's not easy," Capitals forward Lars Eller told The Washington Post. "Sometimes you don't play for two weeks, and he comes in and delivers. I can't think of a game that he didn't play well. It's a luxury to have two goalies like we have."

3. Nick Suzuki (Canada), F, Montreal Canadiens: Selected by the Vegas Golden Knights with the No. 13 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and sent to the Canadiens as part of the Max Pacioretty trade Sept. 10, 2018, Suzuki is fourth among NHL rookies with 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) while averaging 15:23 of ice time in 42 games. The Canadiens control 51.9 percent of all shots attempted with Suzuki on the ice at 5-on-5. 

4. Ilya Mikheyev (Russia), F, Toronto Maple Leafs: Expected to be out at least three months after having surgery to repair an artery and tendons in his right wrist that were severed in the game at the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 27, Mikheyev leads all undrafted rookies with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 39 games. Mikheyev, who signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs on May 6, leads NHL rookies in even-strength points (22) and ranks second in shots on goal (98).

Video: TOR@NJD: Mikheyev deflects home Tavares' shot

5. Ethan Bear (Canada), D, Edmonton Oilers: A fifth-round pick (No. 124) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Bear ranks second among NHL rookies in average ice time (21:03) and has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and 56 shots on goal in 44 games. The 22-year-old is second among rookies and fourth on the Oilers with 61 blocked shots.

6. Mackenzie Blackwood (Canada), G, New Jersey Devils: The 23-year-old is 4-1-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .914 save percentage in his past six starts. He is first among NHL rookies in wins (14), games played (32), shots against (931), saves (845) and minutes played (1,821:45), and is second among rookies with at least seven games played in GAA (2.83) and save percentage (.908). Blackwood could become the first rookie goalie to play in at least 50 NHL games since Mike Condon (55 with the Canadiens) in 2015-16.


Head-to-head comparison

(Games through Jan. 5)

Kakko needs one goal to tie Manny Malhotra for most goals by an 18-year-old in Rangers history (eight). He already has equaled Malhotra's record for points (16) by an 18-year-old (1998-99). Hughes has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury.


Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 36

G-A-Pts: 6-10-16

Shots on goal: 77

Avg. ice time: 15:58

Telling stat: He is tied for fifth among NHL rookie forwards with Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights) in power-play points (six).


Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 37

G-A-Pts: 7-9-16

Shots on goal: 62

Avg. ice time: 15:05

Telling stat: He leads all NHL rookie forwards in power-play assists (eight).


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar, with nine goals, is one shy of tying the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques season record by a rookie defenseman held by John-Michael Liles (2003-04). He leads all NHL rookies in points per game (0.94).

2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Ranks third among rookies with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists), is first in average ice time (21:19) and leads all rookies with 16 power-play points (three goals, 13 assists) in 41 games.

3. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalo Sabres: The 24-year-old left wing, who is out the next 5-6 weeks because of a lower-body injury, leads all rookies with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) and nine power-play goals in 42 games.

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