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January 20, 2011
From Daigle To Datsyuk
Jeff Skinner Leading the Rookie Class

by Corey Pronman

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With the NHL season at its halfway mark, we've decided to take a look at how the Calder race is shaping up, picking out the youngsters who have performed at a high level, the ones who have come out of nowhere, and one rook who has failed to meet expectations.

For each player we've included basic stats and GVT -- our proprietary value metric, which you can read about in more detail here -- in addition to projections based on their performance outside the NHL last year. Since VUKOTA does not project for players who have not played previously in the NHL, we use something called NHL League Equivalencies (NHLE). NHLE allows us to project a player's stats for the current NHL season based on his performance in a non-NHL league the year before, and is adjusted for different league qualities and player age.

Note: Stats are accurate as of games ending Jan. 15, and all players included below are Calder eligible.

Standouts

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes, Center, 18 years old
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall by Carolina in 2010
GP: 44, G: 16, Pts: 36, GVT: 7.8
Current G/G: .36, Current Pts/G: .82, Projected G/G: .20, Projected Pts/G: .36

The NHL's top rookie in points and second in goals, Skinner has been nothing short of tremendous this season when you consider he's only 18. His even-strength CORSI (Editor's note: CORSI is an advanced metric that measures shot differential over the time a certain player is on the ice. For a more complete definition, click here) is only average among Carolina forwards, and that's while he's getting a favorable amount of offensive zone starts, but that is to be expected of an 18-year old. The mere fact that Skinner is scoring as much as he is, given his age and lack of prior pro experience, should make Carolina management very optimistic about his future. His team is shooting 11.44 percent at even-strength when he's on the ice, so expect a future regression in his assist rate as he's currently over a 1:1 assist-to-goal ratio -- a number he never even achieved in Major Junior.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers, Left wing, 19
Drafted 1st round, 1st overall by Edmonton in 2010
GP: 43, G: 14, Pts: 27, GVT: 11.5
Current G/G: .33, Current Pts/G: .63, Projected G/G: .18, Projected Pts/G: .49

Coming out of the 2010 Draft, most scouts agreed that between Hall and Tyler Seguin, Hall was the most NHL-ready of the two. Through his first 43 games, it's evident why: Hall is one of Edmonton's goal and point scoring leaders, and their top forward in even-strength CORSI. Hall is already logging over 15 even-strength minutes a game, tops among rookie forwards, and it looks as though he's transitioned to the NHL game pretty seamlessly.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, Center, 20
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall by San Jose in 2007
GP: 45, G: 19, Pts: 28, GVT: 9.6
Current G/G: .42, Current Pts/G: .62, Projected G/G: .24, Projected Pts/G: .64

After seeing Logan's dominant performance last year with Worcester in the AHL, his offensive performance this season isn't that much of a surprise. In addition to leading the Sharks in goals with 19 -- the same Sharks that have Dany Heatley -- he's also one of their top forwards in even-strength CORSI, and he's playing an impressive amount of defensive zone starts for a 20-year old, killing penalties in the process.

Surprises

Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks, Left wing, 24
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall by Chicago in 2004
GP: 43 G: 11, Pts: 24, GVT: 5.8
Current G/G: .26, Current Pts/G: .56, Projected G/G: .12, Projected Pts/G: .22

Most of the players atop the rookie scoring race are guys who either were top draft picks or players whose development has earned them some serious buzz. However, breaking into the top five scoring ranks is relative unknown Bickell, who as a 24-year old is just this year getting an everyday job in the NHL. Is Bickell, a guy who is on pace to score more points at the NHL level then he ever did in an AHL season, for real? After taking a glance at his team shooting percentage while he's on the ice -- 11.87 percent at even-strength and 21.62 percent on the power play -- we expect a regression to the fringe offensive player Bickell once was. Players in their mid-20s don't usually develop offensive talent overnight.

Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks, Defense, 19
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall by Anaheim in 2010
GP: 41, G: 3, Pts: 23, GVT: 3.6
Current G/G: .07, Current Pts/G: .56, Projected G/G: .04, Projected Pts/G: .27

Fowler fell on draft day last summer after several issues arose about his game, but he has definitely put the naysayers in their place so far by proving that he can excel at the NHL level. To see a 19-year old rookie defenseman log over 22 minutes per game and put up his scoring numbers is very impressive, even for a player as talented as Fowler.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Colorado Avalanche, Defense, 21
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall by Colorado in 2007
GP: 33, G: 5, Pts: 20, GVT: 4.1
Current G/G: .15, Current Pts/G: .61, Projected G/G: .09, Projected Pts/G: .37

Prior to the season, one pro scout we spoke with was optimistic about Shattenkirk's NHL future and offensive potential. However, nobody, the scout included, expected such a high level of performance so quickly from him. Shattenkirk is ninth among rookies in points and fifth in points per game -- and he's doing it as a defenseman. Defensively, his game still needs improvement at the NHL level, which can be seen in his -0.1 Defensive GVT, but Colorado has to be pleased with his performance thus far as a rookie.

Disappointment

Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens, Left wing, 21
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall by St. Louis
GP: 41, G: 2, Pts: 6, GVT: -0.3
Current G/G: .05, Current Pts/G: .15, Projected G/G: .13, Projected Pts/G: .42

The main piece of the deal that sent Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, Eller hasn't put up the numbers the Habs were hoping for with only two goals and six points to date. However, a fair amount of his struggles can be attributed to his usage and how Habs head coach Jacques Martin likes to handle young players. Eller has played less than 11 minutes per game, and has only been on the ice for eight and a half minutes of power play time all year. In addition, his team is shooting a paltry 4.27 percent at even-strength while he's on the ice.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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