The play of several high-profile rookies, including forwards Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and Kaapo Kakko of the New York Rangers, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, respectively, is one of the major storylines of the 2019-20 season. Each Monday, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.
With the NHL pausing the 2019-20 regular season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, we continue our look at the top NHL rookies in each division. This week, the top six in the Metropolitan Division (player ranking on Dec. 3 in parentheses after team):
1. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers (2): He’s third among rookie defensemen with 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists), first with 57 takeaways and plus-22 and tied for third with 92 blocked shots while averaging 18:54 in ice time in 70 games. Fox needs three more takeaways to pass John Carlson (60 in 2010-11) of the Washington Capitals for most in a season by an NHL rookie defenseman since the League began tracking the statistic in 2005-06. The 22-year-old ranks sixth in Rangers history in points by rookie defensemen behind Brian Leetch (85), Reijo Ruotsalainen (56), Ron Greschner (45), James Patrick (44) and Mike McEwen (43).
“I knew his strengths were going to be able to be influential at this level,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “I didn’t know to what degree, but I knew he was going to be a good player at this level, he was going to be a smart player who was going to generate some offense and get us out of our end. When you watched him in college you just knew this kid had that special ability that was going to translate.”
2. Martin Necas, F, Carolina Hurricanes (4): The 21-year-old right-handed shot leads Metropolitan Division rookies with 16 goals and 11 even-strength goals in 64 games. Necas ranks seventh among all rookies with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) while averaging 14:10 in ice time. The Hurricanes control 51.9 of all shots attempted at even strength with Necas on the ice, first among rookie forwards in the division with at least 10 games played.
“I know when I first came over here at 16 (from Russia) it was so hard for me,” Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov said. “The game was so much faster and more physical. I think last year helped him so much to get ready for the NHL. As far as his skill, he’s so fast. When he gets the puck, you expect he’s going to do something good with it and have a good moment.”
3. Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets (NR): The 25-year-old is tied for second among goalies with five shutouts (Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights; Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins). He’s a big reason the Blue Jackets are tied with the Hurricanes for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Merzlikins is 13-9-8 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 33 games.
“Merzlikins played a lot of games by the way of the injury to Joonas Korpisalo and was lightning in a bottle for them on a team that is still in contention,” NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes said. “Especially considering the fact that Korpisalo was selected to the All-Star Game this year (but didn’t play because of injury). Merzlikins has taken the League by storm.”
4. John Marino, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (5): Marino ranks third among division rookies with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists), 77 blocked shots and 37 takeaways while averaging 20:15 in ice time in 56 games. The 22-year-old had seven points (one goal, six assists) in a six-game point streak (Nov. 16-27), the longest among rookies this season.
“Marino (6-foot-1, 181 pounds) is big and strong, he can really skate, defends well, has a good stick, and he is brave,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s willing to take hits to make plays. He can hang onto the puck, take a hit and make a subtle pass, a four-foot pass that helps us get out of our end clean with possession.”
5. Mackenzie Blackwood, G, New Jersey Devils (NR): Blackwood leads rookie goalies in wins (22), starts (43), saves (1,328) and shots against (1,452). He is 22-14-8 with a 2.77 GAA, .915 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games. The 23-year-old was 8-2-2 with a 2.28 GAA and .936 save percentage in his past 12 games prior to the NHL pause March 12.
6. Jack Hughes, F, New Jersey Devils (1): The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Hughes ranks first among division forwards in shots on goal (123) and average ice time (15:52) and is third among division rookies with four power-play goals. The 18-year-old, who has been asked to do a lot in his first NHL season in a top-six role, has drawn 16 penalties and ranks second among division rookies with 42 takeaways.
Head to Head comparison
Hughes and Kakko each have spent much of the season learning what it takes to experience NHL success and though it may have taken longer than many have expected, there’s no doubt the future looks bright for each player. The Devils (average age, 25.7) and Rangers (average age, 26.0) are the two youngest teams in the NHL.
Kaapo Kakko, F, New York Rangers
Shots on goal: 109
Average ice time: 14:16
Telling stat: Tied with Fox for fifth among rookies with 13 power-play points.
Jack Hughes, F, New Jersey Devils
Shots on goal: 123
Average ice time: 15:52
Telling stat: Ranks fourth among NHL rookies in face-offs taken (462) and sixth in face-off wins (167), leading all first-year players with 38 wins on the power play.
Morreale’s Calder Trophy frontrunners
1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Leads rookies in points per game (0.88) with at least five games played, and all rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (four) and even-strength goals (eight).
2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: First among rookies with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) and 25 power-play points (three goals, 22 assists) in 68 games.
3. Dominik Kubalik, F, Chicago Blackhawks: First among rookies with 30 goals, 38 even-strength points and 157 shots on goal and third with 46 points in 68 games.