Top 6 Sophomores vs Top 6 Rookies, Western Conference


It’s no secret that in today’s NHL, salary cap restrictions will more often than not favor the inexpensive ELC (Entry Level Contract) substitute over the greybeard veteran looking for a retirement contract. Especially in a rare year where the cap ceiling has been dealt a downward spike, many casualties will inevitably surface. The freezing out of the Jason Arnotts, Vinny Prospals, Milan Hejduks and Simon Gagnes of the world have certainly paved the way for many fringe, promising prospects to accelerate their paths to the big show. 


In several cases, the skills, experience and leadership traits possessed by the wily veterans whom are denied NHL deals, exceed the raw offerings of the youngsters chosen over them. The ‘Cap-onomics’ from time to time force this issue, which very well may slightly water down the league’s product in the short-term. However, on the contrary, this also allows talented NHL-ready prospects a chance to shine, who were otherwise blocked from a promotion by fat, unfulfilled contracts (no longer bury-able in the AHL). i.e. The Calgary Flames exodus allowed for the opportunity afforded to Sean Monahan to spread his wings.


In recent years, this has resulted in a somewhat steady influx of 18- to 21-year-old talents into the league; a larger group than we’ve been accustomed to in prior decades.


Here’s a look at the Top 6 2013 class rookies pitted against the Top 6 sophomores; many of whom have been direct beneficiaries of cap squeezes around the Western Conference:




1) Jakob Silfverberg - In some situations, young players have what it takes to compete at the NHL level, but are deprived of the quality of linemates to carve out a significant offensive impact. Jakob’s linemates last season (as outlined by Frozen Pool) were decent for the most part, which enabled him to compile 19 points in 48 games.


Jakob Silfverberg’s 2012-2013 Most Frequent Linemates (with Ottawa Senators)




Line Combination















However, despite less minutes doled out to him thus far by Bruce Boudreau (14:53/game) than awarded in his rookie campaign last year (16:13), he’s been a fixture on future Hall-of-Famer, Teemu Selanne’s left wing. This has resulted in an increase in production nonetheless in the early goings, with six points in seven games for the young Swede. His minutes should continue to creep up as well as long as the second unit continues to outscore(18 points) or keep pace with the top line of Perry, Getzlaf & Penner(15 points)—(Although don’t expect that trend to continue for too long)


Jakob Silfverberg’s 2012-2013 Most Frequent Linemates (with Anaheim Ducks)




Line Combination









2) Nail YakupovDefensive discipline, unwillingness to forecheck and backcheck and lackadaisical play without the puck are reasons that had often found Yakupov in Dallas Eakins’ doghouse early in the new head coach’s tenure. Eakins was brought into Oil Town to snap the under-performing group into shape by instilling a work ethic that would best aid the young talented core to best utilize their talents in a two-way game. Although, Nail has very clearly and publicly struggled to adapt just yet, infamously landing the 2012 No.1 overall pick in the press box for back to back games early on.


With only a sole assist and a minus-2 rating to his name thus far, Yakupov hopefully was humbled by the experience. He’ll have to work much harder on the two-way facets of his game. His overall absence from the scoresheet can also be attributed to a degree, to the loss of running mate and set-up man, Sam Gagner, whom Nail shared nice chemistry with last season. It's still early though, and Nail’s immense talent should burst through sooner rather than later.


3) Vladimir Tarasenko - TOI opportunities can have a significant impact on a player’s ability to perform, especially when breaking into the league. Tarasenko completed his freshman season, scoring at a clip of exactly one point every other game (19 points/38 games), given 13:24 of ice time per game. However, this year, his TOI has increased to 14:50 per game, which has resulted in a large uptick of production as well; from 0.50 PPG to 0.71 PPG (Granted a very small sample size of seven games).


4) Justin SchultzThere’s no denying the offensive flair owned by Justin Schultz, but his defensive acumen remains a large question mark. His smart puck sense and awareness of teammates in the offensive zone are characteristics which previously put him above the rest of the crop in the NCAA. However, he continues to make a myriad of fundamental errors in his own end of the rink.


His minus-17 mark in the 2012-2013 seems destined to be crushed in his sophomore year, already sitting at a minus-8 rating through nine contests. However, one would think that the acquisition of new defensive partner, Andrew Ference, from the air-tight blue line in Boston would rub off on Justin, though it has yet to. He’ll need to become more structured as he matures, but it appears he is still simply a one-dimensional player at this stage in his very young career.


FrequencyStrengthLine Combination


5) Jonas BrodinThe 20-year-old all-around stud is already more than halfway to reaching his rookie point total. He’s shown more of a willingness to experiment creatively with the puck at both ends of the rink. His increased confidence already shown in his second season has begun to reap rewards, as Brodin has already established a career high in goals with three. He’s been given more responsibility as of late as well, earning the most minutes of any Wild blueliner not named Ryan Suter. Added power-play time can only bode well for him going forward.



6) Mikael Granlund - Oftentimes, athletes struggle to combine their natural gifts with the polish, the effort, the discipline, the defensive awareness and sense of responsibility at the same time. However, with a much improved mentality coming into his second season, there seems to be a newfound Mikael Granlund patrolling the ice in Minny this year. He’s been strong in the peripheral categories as well, putting his body on the line far more, having already blocked as many shots (eight) in nine games as he did in 27 last season.


Honorable mentions (Other Western Conference sophomores to hold in high regard): Brandon Saad (Chicago), Jake Muzzin (Los Angeles), Charlie Coyle (Minnesota)




1) Nathan MacKinnon – The No.1 overall selection in the 2013 entry draft made all one-year fantasy league owners who took a chance on him in earlier rounds very happy right off the bat. With seven points in his first six career games, he’s shown that he was certainly the right choice on draft night.

His faceoff skills were still at a junior level in the early going, having only won 29 of 83 draws thus far. Although he has already shown improvement in that area since the first three games of his career, where he won just six of 27 (22.2%), having now won 17 of his last 31 faceoffs (54.8%). The numbers should even out a bit as the season progresses, but there’s no doubting his overall impact had on the Avalanche’s shocking rise to the top of the NHL to start the year. Despite the early success, Patrick Roy is still treating him with baby gloves in terms of ice time (11:28/game) and power-play involvement (1:43/game). He will certainly be given more and more room to grow moving forward.


2) Tomas Hertl – No words need be used to describe the uber-skilled teenage Czech star. This gem of a youngster, had a very well-documented opening week. After ‘cooling off’ after his four-goal outing (and six markers in two games), Tomas has managed to hit double digits (10 points) by his eighth career game.

Naturally, lining up alongside arguably the best setup man of the past decade, Joe Thornton, hasn’t hurt his rapid development, or the presence of the big-bodied, Brent Burns. As long as he sticks with those two, not only will he be fed pucks in advantageous positions on a regular basis, but he’ll apprentice with one of the game’s best regarding the intangibles on a nightly basis.

3) Sean Monahan – The overwhelming school of thought heading into this season was that Mr. Monahan would get no more than a nine-game trial with the Flames. A surprising start for the Flames (devoid of franchise cornerstones Iginla and Kiprusoff, injured star Cammalleri, as well as departed trade assets like Bouwmeester and Tanguay) have allowed Sean room to succeed when he otherwise would not likely have had a sniff. (see intro paragraph).

‘Chart-A-Player’ TOI Mapping by Frozen Pools – Sean Monahan



As you can see, he’s been given increased even strength and especially power play time with each passing game, resulting in a superb five goals and eight points in only seven games!

4) Matt NietoThe latest NCAA prospect to make it to the big show has rode the wave (no pun intended) of the Sharks great start to the season. He’s not likely to be sent to Worcester any time soon, after compiling five points in eight games.




Line Combination








Not bad for a 20-year-old rookie, but lining up with world beater Joe Pavelski has certainly played a highly-influential role. Has Joe ever been on fire, sitting behind only Sidney Crosby in league scoring. Nieto hasn’t been pulling in too many secondary points though from Pavelski’s efforts, but the success by association is bound to come right back around. The quantity of shift have mitigated his production though with only 22 to Pavelski’s 31.

5) Seth Jones‘Shock’ would be a good word to describe what the Jones family endured on draft night last summer, and perhaps for 95% of hockey fans and media after getting passed up for Aleksander Barkov. He’s certainly out to show that it was a mistake on Florida’s (and perhaps Tampa’s & Colorado’s) behalf to pass him up, with four points in eight games. He’s shown a ton of poise and the appearance of a veteran structurally, learning immensely from All-Star partner and captain, Shea Weber. He’s not been afraid to immerse himself into rushes either.


6) Mark Arcobello – Not many thought prior to this season that the Oiler’s sixth string pivot in their depth charts would not only be summoned to the big club, (due to the injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner) but thriving in the top six. With a wonderful eight assists already, Mark leads the NHL rookie assist leaders. Most impressive is his plus-4 rating, considering the atrocious defensive unit in Edmonton.


Honorable mentions (other Western Conference rookies to hold in high regard): Sven Baertchi (Calgary), Alex Chiasson (Dallas), Filip Forsberg (Nashville), Brandon Pirri (Chicago)


In closing, there’s no clear winner or loser in this comparison, but it’s an exercise to outline the talent of the two groups from a very broad level. In that breath, it's plain as the eye can see that the sophomore class is a much more offensively-inclined group. Given that most of the top-end talents from that class are forwards, this is no surprise.


Whereas the this year’s rookie class is littered with both high-end, puck-moving and all-around defensemen in addition to a solid offensive punch from their forward class as well. You can bet on it that the sophomore group will produce much more over the space of their careers, though the rookie group looks primed to possibly be a more all-around collection of talent. They’re likely to fill a wider variety of roles on different teams, rather than battle each other for Top 50 scoring status

~~~ Follow Anthony Lancione on Twitter @ANTHISDAMAN ~~~


Get today's starting goalies for free - right here.

You need to login to post comments. Registration takes 5 seconds. See link at top left under "home"