Editor, White Cover Magazine
So, you have to pick a rookie, eh?
The best drafts make that a clause. Reserve one Utility spot for a rookie, your anal-ized league moderator says. It’s enough to get you excited and then ripe to make you panic. How early do you take a rookie?!? What if he doesn’t play?!? Goddamit, why hasn’t the team said if he’ll play or not?!? What’s happening with training camp?!? Who went Number One?!? Will he make the roster?!? Will he play?!? Who’s injured?!? Who’s too young?!? Who has a fu*king a*shole for a coach?!?
The advantage of the last NHL lockout was that it allowed youngsters and 18-year-olds a shot at the Bigs. Just-drafted players like Patrick Kane, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jeff Skinner have more recently won the Calder Trophy, while the return of hockey in the fall of 2005 saw two first-year players — Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby — finish in the top four in scoring that season.
The burned of this lockout, however, is that it actually ended.
There was no full year off to contemplate what might have been. There was no real AHL schedule or championship. Players who were bubble cuts last season — like Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele or Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau — have not had that long to change their status, which remains the same: Up in the Air.
Suddenly, drafting a rookie is the equivalent of drafting one of Mike Shanahan’s running backs.
Even last year’s Number One pick, Nail Yakupov, is no sure thing with the Edmonton Oilers. With the amount of pre-pubescent talent they have on that roster, the Oilers could sit Yakupov just for sh*ts and giggs, even if that would fly directly in the face of the logic and creativity that got them to where they are in the first place.
(*NOTE: For sake of full disclosure, I drafted Yakupov and I was the first guy in my draft to take a rookie. My mind of course wandered to guys like Scheifele and Schultz, who are think are the best suited for a long year in the NHL right now. But, with Yakupov, you’ve got to figure he’ll slam home pucks if given the opportunity.)
The safest picks — really — are defencemen like Justin Schultz or Morgan Rielly, but you’re still feeling a little squeamish about wasting your rookie pick on a blueliner, aren’t you?
Mike Zibanejad is always out there with Ottawa, but injuries in 2012 have potentially derailed his hopes of getting the start on time.
My bet would be on Calgary’s Sven Baertschi. After leading the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks with two points a game last season (seriously, it’s true), Baertschi then notched three goals in three straight contests in a five-game stint with the Calgary Flames. He’s about as sure a guy as you can find, as long as he gets the ice time. Or, makes the team.
Again, this is really hard.
And then, maybe, there’s the most obvious choice below all our noses in Detroit’s Damien Brunner. Is it because he’s the best guy out there? Is it because you have to trust Kenny Holland’s always-faithful instincts? Hell no. It’s because he’ll start the year on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
The tricky part of all this, obviously, is just to pick the right guy. They always come out from under your noses, but trying to find the perfect time to take him is never an option. You either lunge early and whiff, or you wait too long and the other guy who just started watching hockey because he heard a lot about he was supposed to miss it the last four months takes him because he read about in the last edition of The Sporting News.
I’ve accurately predicted breakout years for rookies before, some of whom I called early on to win the Calder Trophy. And, by early on, I mean the midway point of their junior season the year before.
Examples: Patrick Kane in 2008 and Gabriel Landeskog in 2012.
I was far from the only guy who could have called that — they went No. 1 and No. 2 in their draft years, respectively — but I still saw something in them that not many others did. I’d been pumping Landeskog’s tires since he joined the Kitchener Rangers.
Of course, I’ve destroyed my credibility and my Fantasy teams with others who either didn’t pan out or just blew chunks.
Kyle Turris was one. A big one. The most frustrating part about Turris, however, was knowing that he could have done so much more if his coach — the once great Wayne Gretzky — gave him a shot. Turris finally found some success with Ottawa last season after he was released from Phoenix (aka Fulsom Prison), but his once-raved about colour wheel is now simply a blurry, four-year-old career.
That’s the big problem with picking rookies: you’re at the mercy of a coach. You’re at the mercy of one man’s personal preference.
Do you really think Cody Hodgson played himself out of Vancouver, or did Alain Vigneault’s wife say, “He’s handsome” and it just really ticked him off?
Most highly sought-after rookies make it someday. We’re just not sure when that day is.
It would be realistic to expect Yakupov, Scheifele, Schultz, or Rielly win the Calder and pick up some points this year. Same goes for Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk, St. Louis’s Vladimir Tarasenko, or Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund.
We don’t think the Maple Leafs will be a powerhouse, but it’s not new for goalies to outshine a weak group of first-year forwards and take home the Calder.
The NHL’s Rookie of the Year is often a Bermuda Triangle of a human being. Just look at past winners like Andrew Raycroft or Jim Carrey. They each won the hardware at the end of their first year — and Carrey won the Vezina in his second — and now they’re the kinds of guys who leave their gum on the bottom of restaurant tables.