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Rookie watch: Samsonov earns top honor among first-year goalies

22-year-old projected to eventually take over starter's role for Capitals

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com 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, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season's class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, our second of four installments of the top five NHL rookie goalies (minimum nine games played):

 

1. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals: The No. 22 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft earned top honors on NHL.com's list in October. Samsonov, who turns 23 on Feb. 22, leads all rookie goalies in wins (15), and goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.927) among those with at least 10 games played. He's projected to be the Capitals' No. 1 goalie with Braden Holtby, 30, potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Samsonov is 10-0-0 with a 1.60 GAA, .941 save percentage and one shutout in his past 10 games. Two rookie goalies have put together longer streaks in NHL history: Ross Brooks won 14 in a row as a 36-year-old for the Boston Bruins in 1973-74 and George Hainsworth won 11 straight at age 31 for the Montreal Canadiens in 1926-27.

Video: NJD@WSH: Samsonov moves across to deny Severson

 

2. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets: The 6-foot-3, 181-pound goalie has been tremendous for the resurgent Blue Jackets with Joonas Korpisalo missing the past 12 games with a knee injury. Merzlikins is 9-6-0 with a 2.39 GAA, .926 save percentage and three shutouts in 21 games (19 starts), including 8-2-0 with a 1.72 GAA, .948 save percentage and three shutouts in January (10 games). The Latvia-born goalie, selected in the third round (No. 76) of the 2014 NHL Draft, made 41 saves in a 5-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 18 to join Steve Mason (45 saves Jan. 9, 2009) as the second rookie goalie in Blue Jackets history with at least 40 saves in a shutout performance. The 25-year-old became the seventh rookie goalie in the modern era of the NHL (since 1943-44) to have three shutouts in four starts.

Video: WPG@CBJ: Merzlikins sprawls for scorpion-style stop

 

3. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils: He's 14-12-6 with a 2.96 GAA, .905 save percentage and one shutout in 35 games (31 starts). The 23-year-old, chosen in the second round (No. 42) of the 2015 NHL Draft, went 6-1-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .920 save percentage during an eight-game stretch from Dec. 14 to Jan. 2. Barring a trade, it would appear Blackwood has earned the right to be the Devils starter moving forward. 

 

4. Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks: The 24-year-old, selected in the second round (No. 36) of the 2014 draft, is the backup to Jacob Markstrom and 9-5-1 with a 3.06 GAA and .904 save percentage in 16 games (15 starts). Demko went 3-0-0 with a 2.95 GAA and .905 save percentage from Dec. 3-29.

Video: BUF@VAN: Demko lays out to shut down Skinner

 

5. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers: The 25-year-old, currently out with a lower-body injury, took advantage of his opportunity after being recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Nov. 25. Driedger was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round (No. 76) of the 2012 NHL Draft and signed with the Panthers as a free agent Feb. 24, 2019. He is 5-2-0 with a 2.35 GAA and .932 save percentage with one shutout in nine games. There is no timetable for his return.

 

Head to Head comparison
(Games through Jan. 26
)

Defensemen Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche rank first and second, respectively, in power-play points and average ice time on the power play among NHL rookies. Hughes has 18 power-play points (three goals, 15 assists) while averaging 3:59. Makar has 15 power-play points (three goals, 12 assists) and averages 3:40.

 

Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks

Games: 48

G-A-Pts: 5-29-34

Shots on goal: 89

Avg. ice time: 21:36

Telling stat: The Canucks control 53.6 percent of all shots attempted with Hughes on the ice at 5-on-5.

 

Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

Games: 41

G-A-Pts: 11-26-37

Shots on goal: 86

Avg. ice time: 20:37

Telling stat: The Avalanche control 51.4 percent of all shots attempted with Makar on the ice at 5-on-5.

 

Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: He has seven multipoint games and equaled the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques record for most points in one season by a rookie defenseman, also held by Quebec's Bruce Bell in 1984-85 (37 points; six goals, 31 assists in 75 games).

2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: He had four points (one goal, three assists) for the Pacific Division in the semifinal of the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis on Jan. 25 to become the second rookie defenseman to score in an NHL All-Star Game (Denis Potvin, New York Islanders, 1974). He had two assists in the final and his five assists led all skaters. Hughes is third among NHL rookies with 34 points (five goals, 29 assists), first in power-play points (18) and first in average ice time (21:36) in 48 games. 

3. Dominik Kubalik, F, Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old is fourth among NHL rookies with 32 points (21 goals, 11 assists) and first with 19 even-strength goals in 49 games. He's the sixth to score 20 goals prior to his 50th NHL game and first since Eric Daze of the Blackhawks in his 43rd game Jan. 4, 1996.

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