NHL

KELLEY: Twelve rookies who could shine this year

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
It's always risky business projecting kids in their first year in the National Hockey League. For starters, most of them don't stick. They either play a few games out of training camp and then head back to their respective junior or minor league teams or they start there and then get the call-up after some proper "seasoning" in the lower echelons. Even the ones that do stick around for a full season tend to often get limited ice time or substitute work (filling in for an injured player or getting some time on the big line so as to know what awaits providing you put in the requisite amount of work in practice or on a third or fourth unit). Occasionally, you do get a "blue chip," the kind of player — like an or — who can step right in and play at a very high level. The two were impact players the moment they stepped onto the ice for the Atlanta last season, but their kind don't come along all that often. This season we don't see a Kovalchuk or Heatley-type out there, but that's not to say there aren't good quality young players coming into the NHL this season. What follows is a dozen — in no particular order — good young players to watch and a capsule synopsis as to what they do best.

, defense, Florida

Big, fairly strong for a teenager who hasn't quite filled out his form yet, and he's smart. Bouwmeester can skate, shoot, score and, most importantly, move the puck smartly out of his own end via the pass or the rush. took him No. 3 overall in this year's entry draft, and he could have — some say should have — gone No. 1. He's in tough with a demanding coach like Keenan, but that's a good thing. Keenan knows the value of a blue-line stud, and he's had one, developed one or traded for one on all six of his previous teams. Bouwmeester will be force-fed a steady dose of NHL responsibility, but he would appear to have both the talents and the smarts to handle the load.

, left wing, Columbus

Like Bouwmeester, Nash would be back in junior hockey were he not playing for a team just entering its third season ever, but it's not just that the need the potential offense he represents, Nash has the tools and the physical strength to make a contribution. General Manager Doug MacLean moved up in the 2002 draft (swapping top picks with Florida) to get this kid. He wanted him because he can skate, shoot and score, AND he can bang around big time in the corners and in front of the net. That physical presence is something the lacked last season, especially up front. Nash will be their first power forward.

, left wing, Detroit

Lots of people have this kid tagged as the front runner for the Calder Cup (NHL rookie of the year). It's not that we disagree with his potential, it's just that on a team as talented and as deep as the , there's a double-edged sword for rookies. Sure, you get to play with great players and in circumstances where you don't have to shoulder a hero's load, but you also tend to play behind most of those great players, which severely limits your ice time and your media "face" time. Zetterberg has been called everything from superbly talented to the next , but Detroit has a reputation for going slow with rookies whenever possible. Part of it is to ease the pressure and part of it is to reward the players who brought you a championship with the kind of ice time they both expect and deserve. We like this kid, but he's going to have to fight for real playing time.

, forward, Los Angeles

Here's a kid who might come up and surprise a lot of people. He's talented, a superb puckhandler and has good-to-great speed. He also has an ability to find the net. That's no small skill, but the fit is good too. Los Angeles is very much trying to develop a second scoring line and putting Frolov alongside center Brian Smolinski means Frolov will get loads of ice time (coach Andy Murray is also trying to get Smolinski back to form) and a goodly amount of time on the second (and occasionally the first) power play units. Given the had the league's best power play unit last season and that, in the early going at least, there should be oodles and oodles of penalties called as the NHL cracks down on obstruction fouls, Frolov has Calder possibilities.

, forward, Colorado

Bonus pick for the Avs, this skilled center had 12 goals, 22 assists and 34 points in 49 games with Hershey last season and was thought to be going to Calgary along with , but the opted for the more experienced mostly because they need to win now. Nedorost has real talent, but he might not get the ice time unless the Avs have one of their big-name centers go down. When you dress , history shows that's a possibility.

, center, Chicago

Until went south to rehab again, Arnason was looking like a bonafide Calder candidate. He's smart and slick with the puck, and he played 21 games in the NHL last season (just under the limit for not losing rookie status the following season) and did not look out of place. He was the AHL rookie of the year last season in Norfolk, scoring 56 points in 60 games nicely balanced between 26 goals and 30 assists. There was talk that Arnason was going to get some ice time with Fleury at times this season, but that's not likely now. Still, this kid is a tad more experienced than most young players, and if he gets the wingers, he'll make the plays.

Hendrik Tallinder, defense, Buffalo

Not likely a Calder finalist because the have a lot of defensemen playing ahead of him, but Tallinder was a standout performer in Europe for several seasons before the finally convinced him to cross the ocean. He got a year of seasoning in Rochester in the AHL and earned a spot on the out of training camp this season. That's not all that unusual, but Tallinder got a starting nod over a veteran — Dimitri Kalinin — in the home opener against the New York . Kalinin wasn't just a young veteran, he was one of Buffalo's top-four defensemen last season. That says a lot about Tallinder's training camp.

, right wing, Carolina

Another player that management showed patience with last season. Svoboda had 12 goals and 30 points in a not-quite full season in the AHL last year. He's got speed and great hands, and though it appears he'll need a solid playmaker to get him the puck, that's not a problem on a roster that features , and 1-2-3 down the middle. Svoboda first impressed during Carolina's stunning run to the Stanley Cup finals last spring. It might take a little time to get out of the gate now that teams know what he can do, but he's definitely a player worth watching.

Stanislav Chistov, left wing, Anaheim

He's just 19 and making his first-ever appearance in the NHL, but this kid was the talk of all of hockey regarding talent not yet arrived. He helped Russia capture the World Junior Championship title last spring with eight points in seven games (four goals, four assists) and he lifts people out of their seats with his speed, style and puck-handling ability.

, LW/RW, New York

The have been patient (at least as patient as a big market, big money club can be in developing youth) in waiting for this kid to come along. This just might be his year. He's got a lot of tools, not the least of which is a rock-solid shot. It's taken him awhile to put it all together, but the have been weak on the wing and with maturity and players like , and (assuming any of them stay healthy) at center, he'll get a lot of pucks coming his way.

, RW, Calgary

Just 20, but the like a lot of what their 2001 first-round pick (14th overall) has to offer. He scored 62 points off 41 goals and 21 assists with Kelowna in the Western Hockey League last season. During the 2001-02 campaign with Boston College, Kobasew was named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team and was the Tournament MVP. College kids don't often transfer well in their first year in the NHL, but the year with Kelowna adds some seasoning which could make the transition easier.

Mikka Kiprusoff, G, San Jose

Something of an unknown East of San Francisco, this kid posted impressive numbers last season with a 7-6-3 record and a 2.49 goals-against average in spot duty with San Jose last season. With starter Egenvi Nabokov missing all of training camp in a contract dispute, Kiprusoff gets a chance to impress early. He had a .915 save percentage over his 20 games last season and that's not shabby.

Five more names to keep an eye on

  • , center, Ottawa. It's going to take a little longer for this kid to get to the bigs, but when he does, he's got all the tools and size to use them.
  • , RW, New Jersey, another in the long line of feeder talents in the New Jersey system. His time might be now if he can find regular ice on the right side.
  • , left wing, Los Angeles. This kid is getting more notice than Frolov in some circles. He was one of the better players in the NCAA last season, leading Michigan in goals and playing for Canada in the World Junior Championships where he earned honors as top forwards.
  • , goalie, Buffalo. Twice the AHL top pro prospect award winner, he comes to the to back up Marty Biron, but if Biron stumbles, he'll get his chance. Has great physical tools.
  • Alexander Sitov, center, Tampa Bay. Another who impressed outside of North America. He's raw as raw could be, but has talent and should get plenty of ice time with the Bolts. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address, jkelley@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Hurricanes, Kings, Devils, Rangers, Senators, Avalanche, Panthers, Jets, Blue Jackets, Josef Vasicek, Petr Nedved, Chris Drury, Stephane Yelle, Peter Forsberg, Dany Heatley

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