The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2020-21 season. Every two weeks, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.
This week, the top five rookie skaters averaging the most ice time (20 games minimum):
1. Mikey Anderson, D, Los Angeles Kings: The 21-year-old has developed into a top-pair role with Drew Doughty in his first full NHL season. Anderson (6-foot, 197 pounds), selected by the Kings in the fourth round (No. 103) of the 2017 NHL Draft, leads NHL rookies with an average of 21:07 of ice time in 35 games and has seven assists, 33 shots on goal, 44 blocked shots, 38 hits and a plus-1 rating.
“I did everything I could to help make him comfortable, and we’re just on the same page,” Doughty said. “When you get more games under your belt you’re able to talk about the things you did wrong and the things you did right. That’s just made us better together. He likes discussing things on the bench, asking if he should have done something different. He’ll even tell me maybe I should have done something different too, which you don’t see a lot in young guys. But I love that because I don’t want him to be nervous playing with me. I want him to have fun playing with me.”
2. K’Andre Miller, D, New York Rangers: The No. 22 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Miller (6-5, 210) has scored eight points (three goals, five assists), has a plus-13 rating and is averaging 20:43 of ice time in 34 games. The 21-year-old, who plays on one of the Rangers’ top two defense pairs alongside Jacob Trouba, also has 60 hits, 46 blocked shots and 21 takeaways.
“He’s got wonderful feet for a big man,” Rangers radio analyst and former NHL defenseman Dave Maloney told Newsday. “Somebody was saying he might be the next-generation Chris Pronger. And my first thought was, ‘I think he skates better than Pronger. He’s got better feet.'”
3. Ty Smith, D, New Jersey Devils: The 21-year-old, who is averaging 19:41 of ice time in 36 games, leads NHL rookie defensemen with 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and 15 even-strength points (one goal, 14 assists). He was chosen by the Devils with the No. 17 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft and has played on the top defense pair for most of the season with Damon Severson. Smith (5-11, 175) is a quarterback on the power play and has been diligent in his approach to shutting down opposing offenses with his good reach, smarts and elite-level skating.
“Early on I didn’t have a lot of expectations for how much he would play, or even if he would play,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “But I think his confidence to play against top players is something that has surprised me. We know at times he can’t physically outplay them, but positionally and his angles and awareness of where players have been at have been excellent. If you can’t defend as a young defenseman, you can’t play.
“You can have offensive talent, but if I put you on the ice and you’re getting scored against or can’t be relied upon, that hurts ice time and eventually you’re out of the lineup. So that’s probably been the biggest surprise for me.”
4. Zach Whitecloud, D, Vegas Golden Knights: The 24-year-old (6-2, 211) has scored eight points (two goals, six assists) and has 51 hits averaging 18:31 of ice time in 34 games, including 1:57 per game shorthanded, fourth on the Golden Knights. Whitecloud signed with the Golden Knights on March 8, 2018, after two seasons at Bemidji State University.
Whitecloud is out for at least the next two games and is considered day to day because of an upper-body injury.
“In today’s game you want to be able to make plays, and I think as a defenseman you have to be able to put the puck in the forwards’ hands as quick as possible and as efficiently as possible,” Whitecloud said. “As each game and each practice comes and goes, you start to get more comfortable with making those more critical decisions with the puck. You want to be able to manage pucks too. You don’t want to be giving pucks away, you don’t want to be turning pucks over, right? It’s just kind of learning those things as you go along.”
5. Kirill Kaprizov, F, Minnesota Wild: Selected in the fifth round (No. 135) of the 2015 NHL Draft, Kaprizov (5-9, 201) joined the Wild this season after playing six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 23-year-old leads NHL rookies in goals (14), points (31), even-strength goals (11) and even-strength points (27), and is first among rookie forwards with an average of 18:28 of ice time in 37 games. He has been a dynamic offensive threat for the Wild with his speed, intelligence and scoring touch.
“He’s exceeded my expectations,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. “This is the best league in the world and a lot of times it takes an adjustment period, but he’s been fantastic. He’s just kind of jumped right in and played his game. He’s got an oxygen tank on, is in great shape and wants to play a ton of minutes. If you watch him closely, he competes on every loose puck, goes to the hard areas and has been really fun to watch.”