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Super 16: Young defensemen playing key roles

by Corey Masisak /

There have been several NHL drafts in the past decade that featured strong crops of defensemen, and the two most recent classes stack up favorably against the best ever.

The 2012 and 2013 drafts are responsible for what could be one of the best collections of rookie defensemen in recent League history. The surprise is that those two draft classes are responsible for NHL-ready players at the position so soon.

Chris Johnston of wrote this week about the collection of teenage defensemen around the NHL at the start of the 2013-14 season.

From 2005 to 2013, there were 17 defensemen who did not turn 20 years old by Jan. 15 of their first NHL season and played at least 41 games as a rookie. The most in one season was 2009-10, when there were five teenage rookie defensemen who spent the entire season in the NHL.

Currently there are nine on NHL rosters (the New York Islanders returned Griffin Reinhart to his junior team Wednesday), and eight have made their NHL debut (Buffalo's Nikita Zadorov is injured).

Here is a look at the top eight teenage rookie defensemen by average ice time from 2005-13 and the current class of 2013-14:

Top Rookie Defensemen 2005-06

(Click image to enlarge)

Top Rookie Defensemen 2013-14

(Click image to enlarge)

Of the 17 from 2005-13, the player with the lowest average ice time was the Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson at 15:02. Let's assume the Minnesota Wild's Mathew Dumba and Connor Carrick of the Washington Capitals will be returned to their junior teams unless they earn more minutes in the next few games.

That still leaves six players who are playing enough to prove they belong, and Zadorov could make it seven. That would represent the deepest group of rookie teenage defensemen since there were nine during the 1984-85 season.

This exercise doesn't include Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who was the No. 2 pick in 2012 but already has turned 20. It has a chance to be a special rookie class.

Here is Week 2 of the Super 16, where another member of the 2013 rookie class already has helped force a change at the top.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, statistics are through the games on Wednesday night.

1. San Jose Sharks (4-0-0) Last Week: 6

Before Wednesday, Tomas Hertl was the nice prospect in San Jose who was getting to play with Joe Thornton and recreated one of the best hockey magazine covers of all time with a photo that involved a pitchfork, chickens and his girlfriend sporting his sweater.

Super16 4 Goal Games

*since 1987-88

Name, team Date TOI
Alex Selivanov, EDM 11/14/99 13:56
Eric Staal, CAR 3/7/09 13:55
Viktor Kozlov, NYI 12/3/06 13:49
Jan Bulis, MTL 1/25/06 12:09
TOMAS HERTL, SJS 10/8/13 11:12
Jussi Jokinen, DAL 11/16/07 11:04
Michael Nylander, CHI 12/4/99 10:41
Mark Parrish, FLA 10/30/98 *0:00
*No TOI data for this game

Now he's the early breakout star of the 2013-14 NHL season and an Internet sensation. Scoring four goals in your third NHL game, including a sensational trick shot, will do that. Lost in the euphoria of Hertl's stick-between-the-legs move, his second goal of the night also was very slick.

The most remarkable part of Hertl's night was not his age (he can be Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl for another month), but how efficient he was with his ice time in the 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers.

Hertl played only 11:12 in the contest, but also managed seven shots on goal. Here's a look at the players who have scored at least four goals in a game in the least amount of ice time since the 1987-88 season:

San Jose did not move to the top spot just because of Hertl's heroics. The Sharks have hammered three teams who made the preseason Super 16, and are averaging a League-high 44.3 shots on goal per game.

MUST SEE: What a night [VIDEO ] for #HertlPower.

MUST READ: More on the rise of #HertlPower, from Daniel Brown and David Pollak of the San-Jose Mercury News.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (1-1-1) LW: 1

The Blackhawks have blown a two-goal lead in a third period and yielded a goal in the final minute of a tie game. This is at least seven days away from being anything resembling a "Stanley Cup hangover" and at least seven weeks away from being cause for true concern.

MUST READ: Brian Hedger on Corey Crawford, who has a new goaltending coach, a new contract and a chance to play in the Olympics.

3. St. Louis Blues (3-0-0) LW: 4

Beating the Blackhawks, even by one goal at home in a game that meant much more to the Blues, is a nice accomplishment. The play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak to this point (stopped 73 of 77 shots in three games) is a better reason to be excited.

MUST READ: The Blues' lineup is incredibly deep, to the point where a player like Jaden Schwartz likely is to be underrated; but Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about how that might change soon.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-0) LW: 5

Speaking of goalies off to a great start, there are no faults to be found in Marc-Andre Fleury to this point. The Penguins are having little trouble scoring goals, even without forward James Neal and defenseman Kris Letang.

MUST READ: The Penguins have about 10 players who could be regular NHL defensemen, and about eight who could be solid or better NHL defensemen. Do they have six who are better than Olli Maatta? Josh Yohe of the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review writes about the pending dilemma.

MUST SEE: Maatta played a prominent role in this amazing shift by the Penguins' top line Tuesday, which led to a goal from an unexpected source [VIDEO ].

5. Boston Bruins (2-1-0) LW: 7

It was a strong effort against Detroit on Saturday, but the Bruins also were well-rested, while the Red Wings were in the second half of a back-to-back set after going to overtime the night before. Loui Eriksson has fit nicely with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. All three forwards are sporting a Corsi-for percentage (CF%) of at least 66.7 percent, which means that line is attempting two-thirds of the shots that happen while they're on the ice at even strength. That's really good.

MUST READ: Jesse Connolly of New England Hockey Journal traces the winding path Bergeron had to take to stardom, and what his legacy could be in Boston.

6. Detroit Red Wings (2-2-0) LW: 3

The Red Wings have not scored so far quite like they will be expected to, but did enough in spurts of two of their three games. Following up on last week, Stephen Weiss is off to a strong start (57.1 CF%). They're fine.

MUST SEE: This power play did not lead to a goal, or any grade-A scoring chances, but just watch the mesmerizing puck movement here [VIDEO ]. Pavel Datsyuk is the one hockey player who could probably fit in FC Barcelona's starting XI.

MUST READ: This is cheating a little bit, as it only indirectly involves the Wings, but Corey Sznajder of Shutdown Line used screenshots to show how the Carolina Hurricanes improved against the Philadelphia Flyers after blowing a lead against Detroit.

7. Los Angeles Kings (2-2-0) LW: 2

The Kings have no regulation wins and blew a three-goal lead before winning at home Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators. If it wasn't for Jonathan Quick's Vesa Toskala impersonation, his effort against the New York Rangers would have been feted in defeat. Not to get too repetitive, but they're fine.

MUST READ: Jesse Cohen of The Royal Half looks back at a Kings' trade from 35 years ago that altered the course of hockey history.

8. Ottawa Senators (1-0-2) LW: 9

If this list was done in tiers, the Senators would be either the end of the first group or the start of the second group, and might go back and forth. This week Paul MacLean, while being one of the best hockey coaches on the planet, revealed he also could be the man to go to for tips on reeling in a prized speckled trout.

MUST READ: Adding Bobby Ryan could give Ottawa one of the most potent lines in the League, but Darren McLeod of Silver Seven wrote about the second trio being off to a great start.

9. Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0) LW: 11

John Tortorella has defeated his two new geographical rivals in Western Canada, Roberto Luongo beat Cory Schneider and the penalty killers are 15-for-15 to start the season. The loss to San Jose in the season opener was the eighth straight against the Sharks, including four in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

MUST READ: Kevin Woodley wrote about the first showdown between the old pals in net.

10. Colorado Avalanche (4-0-0) LW: NR

Coach Patrick Roy has earned more attention, but Nathan MacKinnon has had a strong debut. MacKinnon, the first pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, is centering the third line, but that could change quickly -- either the trio of MacKinnon, PA Parenteau and Jamie McGinn (four points each) gets more ice time, or the rookie earns a promotion.

MUST READ: Chris Johnston of wrote about the star-studded offseason workouts for MacKinnon and getting advice from a couple of other hockey prodigies.

11 Washington Capitals (1-3-0) LW: 10

The Capitals had a few days to stew after losing in Dallas, and to work out some issues at even strength. Alex Ovechkin has shown no ill effects from his quick trip at the end of the preseason to Greece to carry the Olympic torch. If only the torch could say the same since the two parted ways.

MUST SEE: Rob Parker of Japers' Rink addresses (with the help of some next-level GIFs) the critical breakdown in Washington's loss at Dallas on Saturday.

12. New York Islanders (2-0-1) LW: T-16th

After splitting a couple of shootouts, the Islanders drilled the Coyotes. They need to possess the puck more, but they have goals from nine different players, and a few players not named John Tavares are off to hot starts.

MUST READ: Dan Rosen got some quality insight from Tavares about the process of choosing a captain in his weekly Over the Boards feature.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs (4-1-0) LW: NR

Toronto recalled David Broll and Josh Leivo on Wednesday, which gave them the chance to be the first players from the team's 2011 draft class to play in the NHL. By adding those two (while subtracting 2009 pick Jamie Devane), the Maple Leafs increased the number of homegrown (that is players drafted by Toronto) members of the roster to eight.

The Maple Leafs have not exactly been one of the top NHL franchises when it comes to producing homegrown players. As Michael Grange of pointed out recently, the last player who was drafted by the Maple Leafs to become a star in Toronto was Wendell Clark, and he was picked 28 years ago.

Other Maple Leafs picks have become stars, but not in Toronto. In the past 15 years, the best player Toronto drafted is either Alexander Steen or Tuukka Rask, but both have done their best NHL work elsewhere. While a general manager can trade for star players (Mats Sundin and Phil Kessel are fine examples), this remains a draft-and-develop League, and not producing lots of role players via the draft makes it nearly impossible to build a consistent winner.

Here is a look at the past 15 years of Toronto draft picks, with both the number of games played and points scored by those players in a Maple Leafs uniform:

15 Years of Toronto Maple Leafs Drafts

The most productive homegrown player of the past 15 years in Toronto is Matt Stajan. There have been seasons that produced nearly nothing, and mining nothing from the fertile Class of 2003 and then again the following year was particularly damaging as the salary cap era began.

Players from these 15 drafts have produced a total of 1,078 points for Toronto (and goaltender James Reimer). Fifteen years ago the Vancouver Canucks picked a couple of brothers who have more than 1,800 games played and more than 1,500 points between them.

While the Maple Leafs were always adverse to a rebuilding project, every draft has gems beyond the top 10 picks. The Boston Bruins landed Bergeron, Marchand, David Krejci and Milan Lucic with picks outside the first round. And don't forget the Canucks only got one Sedin for being a bad team. Brian Burke had to make three trades to seal the package deal.

The moral of the story is Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly are important players for the sustainability of success in Toronto, but the Maple Leafs also need to do a better job of finding and developing players who aren't top-10 picks.

MUST READ: Said story by Grange on said next great hope in Toronto, Morgan Rielly.

14. Anaheim Ducks (3-1-0) LW: 14

The Ducks have a weird schedule to start the season, with 11 of 16 on the road sandwiched around a five-game homestand. Mathieu Perreault is getting a look at the No. 2 center spot and has played well. Teemu Selanne's last trip to Winnipeg was a success on and off the ice.

MUST READ: Selanne sees great things in the future for summer workout partner Mikael Granlund, writes Michael Russo of the [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune.

15. Montreal Canadiens (2-2-0) LW: 13

The Canadiens do not have any wins against teams that still have the coach they began the season with, but they do have the EGG line. Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have combined for six of the team's nine goals, and also have 14 points. Eller and Gallagher have said they don't like the nickname, so what about the Maslany line? See, there's this show called Orphan Black and one girl plays all the parts because they're clones and … yeah, never mind. Let's move on.

MUST READ: Arik Parnass of Eyes On The Prize broke down the Canadiens' power play and made the argument that Montreal has the personnel to switch to Washington's 1-3-1 setup.

16. New York Rangers (1-3-0) LW: 8

What transpired at the Shark Tank was embarrassing, but the Rangers are one of two non-top seven teams to have beaten a top-seven team to this point and they did it on the road. That said, losing Rick Nash for an extended period could make this season-opening nine-game stretch away from home a disaster.

MUST READ: Before the stomping in San Jose, Blue Seat Blogs wrote about some glimpses of the system coach Alain Vigneault is trying to implement.

JUST MISSED: Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets

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