Ten NHL Rookies Who Have Impressed

We're nearly a quarter of the way through the regular season meaning that it's a suitable mark to make assessments at. Calder Trophy races can be one of two things: a moment you have a reasonable feeling about who will win immediately (Alexander Ovechkin in 2006) or a tight class with the winner emerging from nowhere (Steve Mason in 2009).

This year's freshmen belong in the latter competing with calmness and poise expected out of veterans, not rookies. A few of these gentlemen have yet to reach their 20th birthday but find themselves in contention for a title that has been handed to legendary athletes.

With that in mind, here are ten first-year professionals who have earned their attention.

10) Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)

Nobody has been more under the radar among rookies than Benn who got off to a flying start with eight points in his first ten games. Unsurprisingly, his numbers have dropped recently particularly in the plus-minus branch. But there's lots of time for him to improve and he's got a great cast including the likes of Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow to grab pointers from.

9) Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche)

Although Duchene has hit a bit of a rough patch (one point in 11 games), there's no denying the raw talent of the 18-year-old. With his blazing speed, tenacity and offensive prowess, he will become a center who can do it all for the Colorado Avalanche. Those glimpses of amazement that we've seen from time to time are going to be regular occurrences down the road.

8) Evander Kane (Atlanta Thrashers)

Often combined with Colby Armstrong and Rich Peverley, Kane's landed himself on one of the better third lines in hockey. The former Vancouver Giant has worked exceedingly in the manner everyone expected him to upon his debut. Along with his physical play, he endures laborious pain battling for the puck and has a cunning scoring touch to unify with his durable physique.

7) Niclas Bergfors (New Jersey Devils)

This Swede saw action in just nine games with New Jersey during the last two seasons. With 14 points in 19 games, I'd venture a guess that he's safely a lock in the line-up at the moment. Bergfors is clever with the puck and has the instincts to capitalize on a scoring chance. The defensive style the Devils are urged to follow will slow him down but he'll continue to stay in the mix.

6) Tyler Myers (Buffalo Sabres)

You knew he'd be included. What would that say about Die by the Blade if Myers wasn't mentioned? In my mind, he confirmed his position on the roster when he deked Mike Smith in a shootout last month capping a comeback win for the Sabres in Tampa Bay. The 6' 7" defenseman has deceptive footwork supplying tremendous results in just about every in-game aspect presented.

5) Ryan O'Reilly (Colorado Avalanche)

Instead of Duchene alone, Colorado brought two 2009 draft picks to the organization. O'Reilly has actually been the superior rookie in terms of production contributing four goals and 11 assists in 21 contests. The plus-12 rating he owns is tops indicating that he has a firm grasp of the defensive responsibilities. Whether it's the first or last shift, O'Reilly works non-stop for the Avalanche.

4) Semyon Varlamov (Washington Capitals)

Technically, he is a beginner despite his playoff net minding last year. Off to an 8-1 start, Varlamov's cool nature and quick adjustments to the North American game have been impeccable. Jose Theodore's struggles must cease if he's to keep the starting job in Washington. After all, the Russian did step in to guide the Capitals in the postseason. He can do it again.

3) Michael Del Zotto (New York Rangers)

Is it just me or has the plummeting worthiness of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival made this kid stand out easily? Regardless, Del Zotto has understood his assignments in no time quarterbacking the powerplay and sending sleek passes effortlessly. Any freshman with 15 points in 21 games deserves appreciation especially a defender. Similarities to Brian Leetch are being thrown around Del Zotto constantly.

2) John Tavares (New York Islanders)

Who could have predicted the Islanders being above .500? It's true, New York has gutted it out into overtime seemingly every night recording a respectable 8-6-7 success story. Tavares has lived up to the hype hitting the back of the net in many alternative situations. Despite racking up 19 points, we're awaiting the first game-winner of the sniper's career. I'm sure it'll arrive before we know it.

1) James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers)

Yes, Tavares has been phenomenal for Long Island but van Riemsdyk is standing out on a squad containing stars left and right. The only rookie averaging over a point per game, this bulking power forward is fourth on Philadelphia's point tracker largely because he missed three matches. With only Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger holding more points than the 20-year-old, van Riemsdyk is in elite company.

Honorable Mention: Jason Demers, Artem Anisimov, Mathieu Perreault, Jonas Gustavsson, Dmitry Kulikov.

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