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The Opening Faceoff: Stunning debuts

by Shawn P. Roarke

Sitting round singing songs 'til the night turns into day
Used to sing on the mountains but the mountains washed away
Now I'm singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart
She is only three years old and it's a real fine way to start.
-- The Ocean, Led Zeppelin

This week's Crashing the Net is dedicated to the girl that has won CTN's heart, little baby CTN, who entered the world Wednesday as a healthy 9.2-pound bundle of beauty and joy and joins her older brother as part of the CTN family. She only is eight hours old or so as of this writing, and she has already won CTN's heart -- just as her older brother and mother already have done.

The Opening Faceoff

Carrying on the theme of stunning debuts and the winning of hearts, CTN thought this week's Opening Faceoff would focus on some of the newer faces who have stolen a few hearts in the first month of play this season.

CTN is not necessarily talking about fresh-faced rookies here, although more than a few first-year players will make the cut. This list also is about those players who may have been around for a little while but are now playing better than anyone had the right to expect. Simply put, they are unknown or little-known players who have struck CTN's fancy in these first few weeks of the season.

As such, CTN is ready to sing their songs of praise 'til the night turns into day. Consider the CTN Baker's Dozen. And remember, some expected names -- Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner to name two -- are not on the list because big things already were expected from them.

Nik Antropov, Toronto -- Just when some people were ready to write the big man off, Antropov has the kind of start that has been predicted for him for the past several years. A first-round pick back in 1998, Antropov never has scored more than 18 goals. He has nine in his first 16 games this year, a pace that could result in 30-plus goals for the season. Now the big Kazak just needs to stay healthy.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago -- While all the early season attention has been on No. 1 pick Kane in Chicago, all Toews has done is score a point in 11 of his first 12 games and 10 straight. Also a first-round pick, Toews has shown uncanny poise on the ice, proving that his performance for Canada in last year's World Championships was no fluke.

Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton -- The rookie got off to a torrid start for the Oilers, holding pace with fellow rookie Ganger, a first-round pick this year out of junior hockey. But Cogliano has more than held his own since leaving the University of Michigan this spring. He sits third on the team's scoring chart and already has established himself as a threat on the penalty kill, bagging his team's only two short-handed goals.

Daniel Carcillo, Phoenix -- Most people said "Dan who?" when Carcillo was part of the late-season trade that landed Pittsburgh tough-guy Georges Laraque. But nobody is saying that now. The rugged Carcillo, 22, has four goals and four assists in 13 games this year and has eight goals in his first 31 games as a Coyote. He makes his own room around the net, carving out 75 PIM this year and 149 for his short NHL career.


David Clarkson, New Jersey -- He already has run afoul of Rangers agitator Sean Avery, so he has that going for him. But in reality, the 23-year-old power forward has much more going for him. He is a classic north-south winger in the mold of a Randy McKay. Clarkson already has a goal and three assists and has been featured some on the Devs' power play. He also has a team-high 47 penalty minutes, providing toughness and accountability on a team that is sorely short in that department at the moment.

Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta -- Center Bryan Little was supposed to be the prize rookie for the Thrashers this year. And he has been good, scoring seven points in 15 games. Guess who has been even better? That's right, the unheralded 23-year-old Enstrom, an eighth-round choice in 2003. Enstrom has six points, as well, but he leads the team's defensemen in time on ice, averaging more than 22 minutes per game.

Steve Wagner, St. Louis -- Only four St. Louis Blues get more ice time than this 23-year-old rookie defensemen, who has burst unto the scene as a virtual unknown. Wagner is not flashy, but he is fundamentally sound and defensively responsible -- two keys to earning the trust of coach Andy Murray. He has a little offensive pop though with four points already. He also has been a minus player in just two games so far this season.

Kris Russell, Columbus --There's a reason Kris Russell was the highest-scoring defenseman in the Western Hockey League last season and also a point-per-game player for Team Canada at the 2007 WJC. Actually, several reasons. And they are all on display in his rookie season with the Blue Jackets. Despite the fact that he has just three assists, Russell has shown signs of being a dominant offensive defenseman. At just 20, he already shows poise on the puck, usually makes the proper play, has uncanny vision of the attacking zone and has a true shot.

Marc Staal, New York Rangers -- The third of the Staal brothers to make the show, Marc Staal gets better on a nightly basis for the Rangers. After earning a spot out of camp as expected, he has gained more and more trust from the coaching staff with his solid own-zone play. Staal has yet to show the offensive chops that made him an elite junior defenseman in the OHL, but he has shown his flat-out skating skills and recovery speed clearly has translated to the next level.


Matt Niskanen, Dallas -- Off to a bit of a slow start offensively, there is little doubt Niskanen is among the most talented young offensive defensemen in the League. He has the past performances -- high school and college -- to back that statement up. More importantly, he has the puck skills to make that boast a reality. His ability to move the puck, handle it under pressure and transition from defense to offense will be invaluable for a Stars team that has trouble sustaining offensive pressure.

Carey Price, Montreal -- So, Price wins the backup job with the Canadiens out of camp and then goes on to win the team's Molson Cup in October. Not too bad a start for a youngster with impeccable credentials. He is 2-1-1 in four starts and has a save percentage above 90 percent. Those thinking of chalking those accomplishments up to beginner's luck better go look at his numbers in the AHL playoffs.

Pascal Leclaire, Columbus -- To think, there were people that already had given up on the 25-year-old goaltender after injuries and ineffective play cost him the No. 1 job with the Blue Jackets. But nobody is ready to part ways with the 2001 first-round pick now, that's for sure. Leclaire is 7-2 with five shutouts and a minuscule 1.12 GAA, serving as the anchor for Columbus' unexpected fast start.

Martin Gerber, Ottawa -- Speaking of goalies destined for the trash heap, here is Gerber reclaiming a career that seemed in jeopardy last spring after he lost the starting job to Ray Emery in Ottawa. But Emery, the hero of the Senators' run to the Stanley Cup Final, was injured when camp opened this fall and Gerber worked his way back into the coaching staff's good graces. A month later, Gerber is 10-1 with a 1.80 GAA and .941 save percentage for a Sens squad that leads the League's standings.

The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box


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