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Rookie watch: Samsonov, Demko among top first-year goalies

Young players learning, growing while performing in backup roles for Capitals, Canucks

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 class of 2019 in the Rookie Watch.

This week, our first of four installments this season on the top rookie goalies:

1. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals: The No. 22 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has impressed in a backup role to Braden Holtby after finishing 15-3-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in his final 20 starts for Hershey of the American Hockey League last season. The 22-year-old is 4-1-0 with a 2.46 GAA and .913 save percentage in five games (four starts) this season. Samsonov could be the future No. 1 goalie in Washington with Holtby, 30, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"The goal is to continue to develop, learn and grow," Capitals goalie coach Scott Murray told The Washington Post. "Obviously, it's a different league, but he's gotten better his whole career. He's got to continue to earn his ice time, just as he's done."

Video: TOR@WSH: Samsonov uses pads to stop Matthews

2. Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks: The 23-year-old, selected in the second round (No. 36) of the 2014 NHL Draft, has been backing up Jacob Markstrom. Limited to nine NHL games and 16 AHL games last season because of a concussion, Demko is 2-1-0 with a 1.64 GAA and .943 save percentage in three games for the Canucks. 

"He's a composed guy, ultra-competitive and doesn't show it quite the way [Markstrom] might when he was younger, but I find the two are very similar with their competitive nature," Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Video: VAN@STL: Demko turns away Fabbri at the doorstep

3. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils: The 22-year-old is 2-2-2 with a 3.31 GAA, .871 save percentage and one shutout in six games, and 2-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA, .917 save percentage and one shutout in his past three. Blackwood, chosen in the second round (No. 42) of the 2015 NHL Draft, inherited the backup role behind Cory Schneider after going 6-4-0 with a 2.37 GAA, .926 save percentage and two shutouts in his first 13 NHL games last season.

"I think his ability to read pucks through traffic and rebound control have been good," Devils coach John Hynes said. "He's kind of becoming more of a pro and that helps the goaltender when they become a full-time NHL player."

Video: VAN@NJD: Blackwood robs Beagle multiple times

4. Sam Montembeault, Florida Panthers: The third-round pick (No. 77) in the 2015 draft, who turns 23 on Wednesday, earned the backup role to Sergei Bobrovsky with a strong training camp. He's 1-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .933 save percentage in three games (two starts).

"(Montembeault) came in with the chance to win the job and earned it the hard way by playing through some hard spots and some tough buildings," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville told The Athletic. "I think he's a strong complement to [Bobrovsky] and so far, they've worked well together."

Video: FLA@NSH: Montembeault stones Turris to win shootout


Head-to-Head comparison
(Games through Oct. 26)

Hughes, who has five points (two goals, three assists) in a three-game point streak, became the fifth different 18-year-old in Devils/Colorado Rockies/Kansas City Scouts history to score at least one goal in consecutive games when he scored a power-play goal in a 5-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.  

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 9

G-A-Pts: 2-3-5

Shots on goal: 19

Avg. ice time: 15:41

Telling stat: Ranks second among NHL rookies with two power-play goals

Quotable: "You can sense he wants the puck. It's going to take some time for him to figure out how he's going to play against older guys, but he's involved in a lot and wants the puck on his stick. In the third period (against Arizona) he made a couple of nice defensive plays, where he sold out to eliminate scoring chances. That's what you want to see from young players." -- Devils left wing Taylor Hall

Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 8

G-A-Pts: 1-1-2

Shots on goal: 11

Avg. ice time: 14:13

Telling stat: Ranks 10th among 21 rookies in the Metropolitan Division with 1.05 Points Per 60 Minutes

Quotable: "He does put a lot of pressure on himself and he wants to be great right now. If we all just put ourselves in his shoes, he's an 18-year-old kid, playing for the New York Rangers, put in a role where he's asked to do an awful lot. Rarely does an 18-year-old come in here and storm the League." -- Rangers coach David Quinn


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche -- He leads rookie defensemen with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) and averages 18:32 of ice time in 11 games for the Avalanche (8-2-1). He has four points (one goal, three assists) in a four-game point streak, scoring his first NHL regular-season goal in a 6-1 win at the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 25.

2. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalo Sabres -- The 24-year-old forward has 10 points and leads NHL rookies with six goals while averaging 17:26 of ice time alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for the Sabres (9-2-1).

3. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks -- The older brother of Jack Hughes is second among rookie defensemen with seven points (one goal, six assists) and first with eight takeaways in 10 games while averaging 20:38 of ice time. He has four assists in a three-game point streak for the Canucks (6-3-1).

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