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Rookie Watch: Mikheyev, Myers among best of those undrafted

Maple Leafs forward, Flyers defenseman top list of first-year players that includes Lizotte

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 five rookies in the NHL who were not drafted but signed as free agents:


1. Ilya Mikheyev, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 25-year-old went undrafted in 2013 and spent the next six seasons in Russia before signing a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs in May. He leads all undrafted rookies with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 31 games while averaging 16:03 in ice time but hasn't scored a goal since Oct. 25 and has eight assists in his past 19 games. He leads undrafted rookies in even-strength goals (four) and even-strength points (17), and shots on goal (73) and takeaways (18) in a top-six role.

"[Mikheyev] has so much potential and is just scratching the surface," Maple Leafs captain John Tavares told the Toronto Sun.

Video: TOR@WSH: Mikheyev beats Samsonov on breakaway


2. Philippe Myers, D, Philadelphia Flyers: The 22-year-old, signed to an entry-level contract on Sept. 21, 2015, has nine points (three goals, six assists) while averaging 16:34 of ice time alongside partner Shayne Gostisbehere in 17 games. Myers ranks first among undrafted defenseman in scoring and with 22 shots on goal, 29 hits, 14 blocked shots and a plus-14 rating.

"There's a lot of things to like about his game," Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. "His size, his reach, that skill level, his skating ability, the fact that he likes to jump up in the attack. There's a lot to like but there's also some other areas ... decisions with the puck, areas that he needs to improve. Sometimes a little tighter gap on the opposition. He's a young player going through the process, trying to figure it out. We feel we have a good one there."

Video: PHI@BOS: Myers rips puck in off the post


3. Blake Lizotte, F, Los Angeles Kings: The 21-year-old center signed a three-year, entry-level contract on April 2 after two seasons at St. Cloud State University of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. He has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 31 games while averaging 13:53 in ice time. The native of Lindstrom, Minnesota, has also averaged 1:07 on the power play, and 1:08 on the penalty kill.

"What have I liked about him? That engine. The tenacity that he brings on a shift to shift basis, never mind a nightly basis, has been really appreciated by us and his teammates," Kings coach Todd McLellan said. "He's taking more on, power play, penalty kill. Creating a lot. There's opportunities for him to finish, and he hasn't quite done that yet, so there's another area where he can polish things up a bit, but we're talking about a 30-game NHLer right now and still needs to experience a lot."


4. Taro Hirose, F, Detroit Red Wings: Hirose ranks fourth among undrafted rookies with seven points (two goals, five assists) and averages 12:17 in ice time in 23 games. The 23-year-old is tied with Mikheyev and Maple Leafs forward Trevor Moore for third among undrafted rookies with 12 blocked shots and ranks fifth with five takeaways. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Calgary, Hirose spent the past three seasons at Michigan State University, leading NCAA Division I players in points (50), points-per game (1.47) and assists (35) in 36 games on the way to being named Big Ten player of the year last season.

Video: DET@NJD: Hirose scores in 2nd period


5. Trevor Moore, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 24-year-old has missed the past 10 games because of a shoulder injury sustained on Nov. 15 but ranks fifth among undrafted rookies with five points (three goals, two assists) and third with 36 shots on goal. Moore is first among undrafted rookies in hits (46), and third in takeaways (10) and blocked shots (12) in 21 games.


Head to Head comparison

(Games through Dec. 7)

Hughes and Kakko are tied for most points by 18-year-old players in the NHL with 12. Hughes has one assist and five shots on goal while averaging 17:46 of ice time in his past two games since returning to the lineup on Friday after missing three games because of a lower-body injury.


Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 26

G-A-Pts: 4-8-12

Shots on goal: 50

Avg. ice time: 16:10

Telling stat: He has a 25 percent shooting percentage on the power play (three goals on 12 shots).

Quotable: "What's impressive about Jack is he wants the puck on his stick all the time. He wants to be a difference-maker. It can be overwhelming for an 18-year-old to make the jump in the NHL, but it doesn't faze Jack. He wants to help the team win, wants to be the guy and that's what makes him, him. That's what makes him special. He's still 18 but progressing very well." -- Devils coach Alain Nasreddine


Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 26

G-A-Pts: 6-6-12

Shots on goal: 43

Avg. ice time: 15:24

Telling stat: He's tied with teammate Adam Fox for fourth among all NHL rookies with seven power-play points (two goals, five assists). 

Quotable: "Our power play hasn't been good enough but with Mika [Zibanejad] coming back and some more moving parts, we're just better off having that lefty up on that half wall and Kaapo, in the last few games, has earned that opportunity [to play on the top power-play unit]." -- Rangers coach David Quinn


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1- Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar, named NHL Rookie of the Month for November, leads all first-year players in scoring with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists), 0.97 points-per game and three game-winning goals in 29 games. He's tied for second in takeaways (20) with Fox.

2- Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Ranks third among rookies with 24 points (two goals, 22 assists) and first with 14 power-play points (one goal, 13 assists) while averaging 20:35 of ice time in 29 games.

3- Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalos Sabres: Olofsson is first among rookies with 12 goals, seven power-play goals and 75 shots on goal and first among rookie forwards in average ice time (18:13).

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