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Rookie watch: Makar, Nylander among top six in Central Division

Avalanche defenseman leads first-year players in points; Blackhawks forward showing consistency

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, the top six rookies in the Central Division:

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: The 21-year-old leads NHL rookies with 13 assists and 17 points in 17 games, all first-year players in the Central Division with eight power-play points and average ice time (19:07) and is second with 17 blocked shots. He has six points (three goals, three assists) in a three-game point streak.

"[Makar's] physicality and urgency to defend down low has been much better over the last couple games," coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. "I feel really comfortable with where his game is at and he's just going to continue to build on that."

Video: CBJ@COL: Makar slips shot five-hole for second goal

2. Alex Nylander, F, Chicago Blackhawks: Nylander, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Henri Jokiharju on July 9, has become one of Chicago's most consistent forwards in a top-six role. The 21-year-old has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 17 games, tied for second in the division with teammate Dominik Kubalik.

"First couple of games of the year weren't as good, but he's a young player," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton told the Chicago-Sun Times. "There's always going to be hiccups here and there, but his work ethic away from the puck is fantastic."

3. Dante Fabbro, D, Nashville Predators: The No. 17 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft has four points (two goals, two assists) and is plus-6 in 17 games. He's first in blocked shots (28) and minor penalties drawn (six), and second in average ice time (18:56) among division rookies in a top-four role.

4. Dominik Kubalik, F, Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old, acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 24 for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft has seven points (four goals, three assists) and leads all first-year players in the division with 41 shots on goal and 32 hits in a top-9 role.

5. Denis Gurianov, F, Dallas Stars: The 22-year-old is tied for first among Central rookies with Makar and Kubalik in goals (four). The No. 12 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft scored three goals in two games for Texas of the American Hockey League this season before being recalled Oct. 15.

Video: MTL@DAL: Gurianov goes five-hole on a penalty shot

6. Kirby Dach, F, Chicago Blackhawks: General manager Stan Bowman and Colliton determined the 18-year-old would remain with Chicago after six regular-season games. The No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, who is living with Brent Seabrook and his family, has four points (two goals, two assists), 12 shots on goal and 1.62 Points Per 60 Minutes in 11 games. 

Head to Head comparison

Kaapo Kakko had a goal and an assist in 17:10 of ice time to become the third 18-year-old with a multipoint game for the New York Rangers in a 6-2 home loss to the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 4, joining Manny Malhotra (Nov. 10, 1998 and March 4, 1999) and Joe Bell (Nov. 10, 1942).

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 16

G-A-Pts: 4-5-9

Shots on goal: 32

Avg. ice time: 15:57

Telling stat: He leads the Devils with three power-play goals and averages 3:41 in ice time on the man advantage. 

Quotable: "He doesn't get discouraged, upset or rattled ... he just keeps going. He's figuring out very fast that the NHL is a giant step about becoming a pro, from off-ice stuff in the locker room to road trips. He's a smart, intelligent hockey player, knows there will be ups and downs, and that he's just got to deal with them and not allow things to linger." -- Devils captain Andy Greene

Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 15

G-A-Pts: 4-2-6

Shots on goal: 27

Avg. ice time: 15:13

Telling stat: His four goals this season are the second-most by an 18-year-old in Rangers history (Malhotra, eight, 1998-99). 

Quotable: "I see a level of confidence. I see a level of happiness. He's smiling more. I think he's getting more comfortable. I don't think it hurts to have [Filip Chytil] here. He's surrounded by a bunch of guys now that are his age or in his age bracket. That all matters." -- Rangers coach David Quinn

Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: He's the fourth defenseman in NHL history to score at least 17 points through his first 17 regular-season games. He scored twice in a 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday to become the fourth defenseman in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history to have a multigoal game before his 22nd birthday, joining Bryan Fogarty (Dec. 1, 1990), Bruce Bell (Jan. 24, 1985) and Pierre Lacroix (Nov. 20, 1979 and Jan. 27, 1980).

2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Ranks second among rookie defensemen with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and is averaging 19:49 in ice time in 17 games. 

3. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalo Sabres: The 24-year-old leads all NHL rookies with seven goals and six power-play goals while averaging the most ice time (17:36) among rookie forwards in 17 games.

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