Commentary

Rookies to watch in 2010-11

Updated: September 29, 2010, 3:55 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

Taylor Hall's preseason goal celebration in a win against Tampa Bay last week must have produced goose bumps in more than a few Edmonton households.

Surely you know what we're talking about. The Wayne Gretzky arm pump, circa 1984?

We're comparing arm pumps, folks, not players. So everyone calm down.

Still, the first overall pick in June's NHL draft certainly has the City of Champions buzzing. The Oilers are likely headed for another season when they'll live near the basement of the standings, but fans should have fun watching Hall take the big stage.

But will he win the Calder Trophy? It's not an easy task for an 18-year-old, even one of Hall's caliber. Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick in 2008, struggled in the first half of his rookie season at 18 before taking off and never looking back. But it cost the Tampa Bay forward the award that season. John Tavares, the 2009 first overall pick, was pretty good last season, but wasn't among the three Calder nominees.

The award goes to the top rookie, not the top 18-year-old, so Hall will have some serious competition, starting on his own team. Here's a look at other rookie NHLers to keep an eye on this season:

John Carlson, 20, Washington Capitals: The world junior hero for Team USA looked right at home after the Caps called him up last season, collecting six points (1-5) and a plus-11 rating in 22 regular-season games. The defenseman has the potential to be this season's Tyler Myers, a complete player at both ends of the ice.

P.K. Subban, 21, Montreal Canadiens: If there's an award for exuberance, then it's not even close. Subban would win in a landslide. The infectious young blueliner won over Habs fans last spring by stepping into the frying pan and putting up eight points (1-7) in 14 postseason games following his late-season call-up. He didn't fold at all under the immense pressure. He'll see serious power-play time this season and could rack up the points.

Jonathan Bernier, 22, Los Angeles Kings: It's hard to believe Bernier could contend for the Calder three years after his NHL debut in London, England. But the goalie's short, four-game stint in October 2007 was followed up by more time in junior and then the AHL as he developed his craft. He went 3-0-0 in a late-season call-up last season, sending a message to the Kings that he is ready. Jonathan Quick, look over your shoulder; you've got serious company in the Kings' net.

Jordan Eberle, 20, Edmonton Oilers: The Canadian world junior phenom got a taste of AHL postseason hockey two seasons in a row and in between dominated the Western Hockey League. He's ready. The forward may also rack up the most points of any first-year NHL player.


Magnus Paajarvi, 19, Edmonton Oilers: This kid won't be intimidated, having played pro hockey in his native Sweden for three years before coming over. The forward has serious offensive skill, and it will be fun to watch him compete with teammates Hall and Eberle. The only concern is whether Paajarvi will hit the wall since the NHL season is longer compared to what he is used to in Sweden.

Tyler Seguin, 18, Boston Bruins: The alter ego to Hall from the June draft, Seguin may begin the season playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. Talk about two linemates a rookie forward can learn from. The Bruins have no reason to rush Seguin along, so they won't put too much on his plate.


Tyler Ennis, 20 (turns 21 on Oct. 6), Buffalo Sabres: You might be looking at a dark-horse candidate here. The forward put up nine points (3-6) in 10 NHL games with the Sabres last season. Dynamite skills. Could put up some real nice numbers this season.


Mikael Backlund, 21, Calgary Flames: With the injuries to centers Matt Stajan and Daymond Langkow, the Swedish prospect has a real chance to establish himself early this fall. He put up 10 points (1-9) in 22 games in a late-season look in 2009-10.


Jamie McBain, 22, Carolina Hurricanes: Subban and Carlson are getting most of the hype among rookie blueliners, but this kid put up 10 points (3-7) in 14 games with the Hurricanes last season and 40 points (7-33) in 68 AHL contests. That's 50 points at the AHL/NHL level combined. Remember the name.


Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 19, Phoenix Coyotes: There are two jobs available on the Coyotes' blue line, and the Swedish prospect is trying to nail one down. He's going to be a big-time offensive blueliner for the Coyotes, no one's denying that, but the question is whether it happens this season or next. He had 33 points (11-22) in 52 games for his Swedish second-division club Leksands last season.

Jeff Skinner, 18, Carolina Hurricanes: Last June's seventh overall pick has turned heads in the preseason and it's no wonder why. He scored 20 goals in 20 playoff games last spring in the Ontario Hockey League, giving him 70 in 74 games combined. He's only 18, but he could be a keeper this year.

There are three more goalies we want to leave you with:

Michal Neuvirth, 22, Washington Capitals: The Czech product put up some dazzling performances in the last two AHL playoff runs for Hershey. It's telling that the Caps aren't just handing over the No. 1 job to Semyon Varlamov. They are seriously high on Neuvirth.


Robin Lehner, 19, Ottawa Senators: The Swedish goalie is destined to begin the season in the AHL, but don't forget his name. The Sens' front office is drooling over this kid, and if Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott falters at the NHL level, you could see Lehner back in Canada's capital before the season is over.


Jacob Markstrom, 20, Florida Panthers: Like Lehner, it would appear the Swedish netminder will begin the season in the AHL since star Tomas Vokoun and veteran backup Scott Clemmensen are ahead of him. But Vokoun will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and you can bet if the Panthers fall out of it, they'll look to move him before the trade deadline to get assets in return. Once Vokoun is gone, this is Markstrom's team.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.