It's been a relatively slow season in terms of significant rookie impact in the fantasy hockey realm this year. The past few seasons have been extraordinary in terms of rookie showings. Consider: Steve Mason and Bobby Ryan in 09. Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom in 08. Malkin and Stastny in 07. And, of course, Ovechkin and Crosby in 06. All of these players were major players in their debut seasons. While 09-10 hasn't produced a similar impact player over the long haul, there have been stretches of greatness from rookies here and there. Often times, the cream of the crop will rise during the last 6 weeks of the season. So let's take a look at which rookies figure to have the biggest fantasy impact over the final month of the season:
1. Matt Duchesne (F - COL)
Duchesne is looking more and more like a lock for the Calder Trophy, as he's the one player who has performed consistently well from day one of the season. While his numbers aren't staggering, he's already eclipsed 20 goals and has a shot at 30. Since the break, he has 5 points in 5 games, and he's piling up the shots. You can count on him being a steady producer to finish out the season.
2. Tyler Myers (D - BUF)
Myers may be the one guy in this group who has most exceeded expectations. Both from an all around play and from a fantasy perspective, the giant blueliner has been a pleasant surprise. He's on pace for 10 goals and 40 points this year, which is a decent showing for a defenseman of any age. His production has slowed a bit recently; however, he's still logging around 25 minutes a game. Look for him to continue his pace of .5 pts per game.
3. Jimmy Howard (G - DET)
After years of anticipation and promise, the baton has officially been passed on to Howard to protect the Redwing net. A good percentage of NHL fans have never seen a Detroit team miss the playoffs, but Howard has been one of the few bright spots on the Redwings roster. He's on pace for 30 wins, despite playing on an average team, and despite starting the season as the backup to Osgood. He is facing an inordinate number of shots each night, but that has only served to bolster his save percentage. The Wings are bound to tighten things up over the final month, now that their roster is healthy, so don't be surprised to see Howard put a few shutouts on the board.
4. T.J. Galiardi (F - COL)
Check your free agent list in your league. There's a spankin' good chance that Galiardi is still sitting there in the corner, waiting for someone to ask him to dance. If you're looking for a partner to fill out your offense, consider the Avalanche rookie. While a host of other rookies shot out of the gate in Denver, he started slow, then spent a few weeks on the IR with ankle problems. Since the start of December, his role in Colorado and his production have started to soar. Since the Olympic break, he's tallied 6 points in 5 games. In fact, he's played at near a point a game pace over the past 20 games, as he's bounced around between the top two lines.
5. John Tavares (F - NYI)
It's been a confusing season for the man preordained to win the Calder this year. He came out of the gate on fire, then completely disappeared for a couple of months, while other Islander rookies took the stage. Since the break, Tavares has started to show signs of life once again. He logged 20 minutes last night (the first time since December), and knocked in a goal. His shot totals have picked up since the break as well, including a 7 shot performance against Ottawa. Most fantasy owners have benched or dumped him at this point, so you may want to roll the dice on him making a late season push. At a minimum, you can expect another 6 or 7 seven goals over the next month.
6. Tuukka Rask (G - BOS)
The only thing holding Rask back from being a major fantasy hockey goalie is the contract of Tim Thomas. The Bruins committed to Thomas in a big way last summer, despite the fact that Rask has shown he's ready to take the #1 job. Over his past 10 games, he's recorded a 2.2 GAA and .920 save percentage. He's currently dealing with a knee injury, but once he returns, he should be a viable #2 option in net. If you're in a keeper league, now's the time to make a deal of Rask and set yourself up for years of fantasy gold.
7. Niclas Bergfors (F - ATL)
Bergfors was a promising prospect in New Jersey. He's now a productive player in Atlanta. Since arriving with the Thrashers, he has tallied 8 points in 10 games, including 6 goals. He's in a much more prominent role in his new environment, and he seems to be answering the call. He's still available in most leagues, so if you need the help, he could provide a late season push for your fantasy roster.
8. Michael Del Zotto (D - NYR)
Much like his former Oshawa/London teammate John Tavares (see above), Del Zotto has had an up and down rookie campaign. He stormed out of the gate, then disappeared from the New York City lights. He just returned from the IR and looks like he may be back in business. He's recording big minutes, including top power play honors, and has recorded 2 points in his first 3 games back.
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