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Rookie Watch: Sabres' Olofsson best in Atlantic Division

Forward tied for second among all first-year players with 20 goals

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.

With the NHL pausing the 2019-20 regular season on March 12 due to concerns about the coronavirus, we continue our look at the top NHL rookies in each division. This week, the top six in the Atlantic Division (player ranking on Nov. 18 in parentheses after team):


1. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalo Sabres (1): In 54 games, the 24-year-old leads Atlantic Division rookies in goals (20), points (42), and power-play goals (11), and ranks first in average ice time (18:23) among rookie forwards in the division. Olofsson is second among all NHL rookies in goals and tied for fourth in points, while playing left wing in a top-six role. He had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 13 games before the pause.

"He's such an underrated passer," Sabres center Jack Eichel said. "He sees the game very well and understands hockey. Everybody talks about his shot, but he can make a lot of really good plays with the puck. The more he gets in the corners and battles and learns the grind, he's going to be an unstoppable force." 

Video: WSH@BUF: Olofsson roofs wrister home from the circle


2. Nick Suzuki, F, Montreal Canadiens (3): The 20-year-old center ranks sixth among NHL rookies with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists), second with 138 shots on goal and ninth with 31 takeaways while averaging 15:59 in ice time in 71 games. Chosen No. 13 in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, Suzuki was traded to the Canadiens as part of the Max Pacioretty deal Sept. 10, 2018.

"He's a smart player, he figures it out, but at the end of the day it's having been through that grind before," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. "He played in the Memorial Cup, he played at the world juniors, he's been through the grind of a schedule. Once the guys go through it once they're a lot better the second time around. To me, he had it before he got here and that's why he's doing well."

Video: MTL@BOS: Scandella's shot goes in off Suzuki


3. Ilya Mikheyev, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (2): Mikheyev was having a productive first season in North America before needing surgery to repair an artery and tendons in his right wrist Dec. 28. He was back practicing before the NHL pause. The 25-year-old is third among rookies in the Atlantic Division with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) and 98 shots on goal in 39 games. He averages 15:35 in ice time and ranks second in the division with 22 even-strength points (seven goals, 15 assists).

"He looks like he's shooting the puck well and is feeling good and confident, so once we get to that point, we'll see where it goes from there," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

Video: TOR@NYR: Mikheyev picks the corner on Georgiev


4. Chris Driedger, G, Florida Panthers (NR): A third-round pick (No. 76) by the Ottawa Senators in the 2012 NHL Draft who was signed as a free agent by the Panthers on Feb. 24, 2019, Driedger is 7-2-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games (11 starts). The 25-year-old was 2-0-1 in three games since returning from a lower-body injury March 5, allowing four goals on 89 shots.

"He is very calm and cool in the net, how he approaches these different challenges, different teams, big games; he doesn't flinch," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "We like that composure he brings, the consistency he brings. He is even-keel back there and stabilizes things in our own zone."

Video: FLA@STL: Driedger stretches to deny Steen


5. Pierre Engvall, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (NR): The 6-foot-5, 214-pound versatile forward, who is capable of playing wing or center, is finally earning his opportunity after being selected in the seventh round (No. 188) of the 2014 NHL Draft. Engvall, contributing in a bottom-six role, has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), three game-winning goals and 72 shots on goal in 48 games.   

"He can play with anybody and skate with anybody in the NHL, and he has a skillset, too, that goes with that," Keefe said. "He's confident when he has the puck because he believes he can outskate people and he can hang onto the puck."

Video: EDM@TOR: Engvall nets tip-in goal in front


6. Dmytro Timashov, F, Detroit Red Wings (NR): The 23-year-old, claimed off waivers by the Red Wings from the Maple Leafs on Feb. 24, has shown upside, exhibiting confidence and physicality. Timashov ranks sixth among NHL rookies with 93 hits and has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 44 games. 

Video: WPG@TOR: Timashov puts in Brooks' feed from in close


March 16: Top rookies in the Central Division


Head to Head comparison

It's been quite a season for NHL rookie goalies. Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals each continue to play for teams in the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff race and could earn even bigger roles in the future. 

Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets

Games (Starts): 33 (31)

Record: 13-9-8

GAA: 2.35

Save percentage: .923

Shutouts: 5

Telling stat: Merzlikins is 12-5-4 with a 2.02 GAA, .933 save percentage and five shutouts in 22 games (all starts) since Jan. 1.


Ilya Samsonov, G, Washington Capitals

Games (Starts): 26 (22)

Record: 16-6-2

GAA: 2.55

Save percentage: .913

Shutouts: 1

Telling stat: Samsonov is 6-4-1 with a 2.92 GAA, .907 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games (10 starts) since Jan. 1.


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1- Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar leads all NHL rookies in points per game (0.88) with at least five games played, and all rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (four) and even-strength goals (eight). 

2- Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Hughes is first among all NHL rookies with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) and 25 power-play points (three goals, 22 assists) in 68 games.

3- Dominik Kubalik, F, Chicago Blackhawks: Kubalik is first among NHL rookies with 30 goals, 38 even-strength points and 157 shots on goal and is third with 46 points in 68 games.

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