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Rookie watch: Lafferty providing physical presence

Making most of opportunity with Penguins after injuries to key forwards

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, a look at some top rookies capable of playing physical while generating offense:

1. Sam Lafferty, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Injuries to forwards Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Nick Bjugstad (lower body), Bryan Rust (upper body) and Alex Galchenyuk (lower body), have given the 24-year-old a chance to prove his ability. Lafferty, who was selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round (No. 113) of the 2014 NHL Draft, has five points (three goals, two assists), 13 shots and 14 hits in seven games. He is also tied for third among rookies to play at least five games in face-offs at 50 percent (30-for-60).

Video: PIT@WPG: Lafferty finds twine for second of the night

2. Alexandre Texier, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: The second-round pick (No. 45) in the 2017 NHL Draft has two points (one goal, one assist), 13 shots and eight hits in eight games playing in a top-six role with center Alexander Wennberg and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. The Blue Jackets control 56.73 percent of all shots attempted with the 20-year-old left wing on the ice. 

Video: BUF@CBJ: Texier snaps shot past Ullmark for OT winner

3. Ilya Mikheyev, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 25-year-old left wing, who signed a one-year, entry-level contract May 6, has seven points (three goals, four assists), seven hits and leads all rookies with 23 shots in nine games. Mikheyev averages 15:42 of ice time alongside center Alexander Kerfoot and right wing Mitchell Marner.

Video: TOR@WSH: Mikheyev beats Samsonov on breakaway

4. Dominik Kubalik, F, Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old right wing, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 24, has two points (one goal, one assist), 15 shots and 15 hits in five games on a line with center David Kampf and left wing Brandon Saad

Video: SJS@CHI: Kubalik scores his first NHL goal on rebound

5. Trevor Moore, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 24-year-old, who is currently playing with center Jason Spezza and right wing Kasperi Kapanen, has five points (three goals, two assists), 17 shots and ranks second among rookies with 20 hits in nine games. Moore signed a two-year contract extension with Toronto on Jan. 13.

Head-to-head comparison

(Games through Oct. 20)

Hughes (18 years, 158 days) scored his first NHL goal in a 1-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, becoming the second-youngest player in Devils history to score his first goal behind Craig Wolanin (18 years, 135 days in 1985-86). Kakko doesn't have a point and is minus-5 in his past three games after scoring his first NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 12. 

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 8

G-A-Pts: 1-1-2

Shots on goal: 15

Average ice time: 15:15

Telling stat: 36.73 SAT% in first three games; 48.33 SAT% past five games

Quote: "Jack has grown over the first few games and it's been cool to watch a guy make an impact that quickly because for most players, it takes 20-to-30 games in this League to get acclimated to how fast and strong it is, but he's making the transitions pretty quickly." -- Devils forward Kevin Rooney

Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 6

G-A-Pts: 1-0-1

Shots on goal: 11

Average ice time: 15:21

Telling stat: 6 takeaways this season

Quote: "There's just so many things at this level that an 18-year-old's never been asked to do, and he's never even thought about doing it. When you have that talent, he's going to learn because he wants to learn and he's committed to being a great player. There's absolutely zero reservations what we have with him. It's just going to be a process and take some time." -- Rangers coach David Quinn

Morreale's Calder Trophy front-runners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: The 20-year-old continues to impress alongside partner Nikita Zadorov, getting seven assists while averaging 18:39 of ice time in eight games for the Avalanche (7-0-1). Makar became the fifth defenseman in NHL history to begin his career in the regular season with a five-game point streak (six assists).

2. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalo Sabres: The 24-year-old forward leads all rookies with six goals and eight points while averaging 17:37 of ice time for the Sabres (7-1-1). He's the first player to score each of his first six NHL goals on the power play since 1933-34, when goals by type became an official NHL statistic.

3. Cody Glass, F, Vegas Golden Knights: The 20-year-old forward ranks fourth among rookies with six points (two goals, four assists) in nine games. He also has 17 shots while averaging 14:54 of ice time for the Golden Knights (6-3-0). 

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