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 five most impactful rookie players since March 1 (listed alphabetically):
Kirill Kaprizov, F, Minnesota Wild: Kaprizov leads NHL rookies with 12 goals and is second with 20 points in 26 games since March 1. For the season, he leads rookies with 18 goals and 37 points in 44 games, and his 18:16 average ice time is most among rookie forwards. The 23-year-old was selected in the fifth round (No. 135) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
“I think as time goes on he’s just going to keep getting better and better and hopefully we can continue to build our team and we grow with him,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. “We have to have a team-first mentality in Minnesota and he’s one of the guys who has that high skill level, but he buys into the team aspect of it, the systems and how we play.”
Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Carolina Hurricanes: Nedeljkovic went 6-1-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and one shutout in eight March games and was named NHL Rookie of the Month. Since March 1, the 25-year-old is 8-2-1 with a 1.71 GAA, a .938 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 games. For the season, he is 10-4-2 with a 1.92 GAA, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts in 16 games. A second-round pick (No. 37) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Nedeljkovic has received his most extensive NHL work this season after spending most of the past four seasons in the American Hockey League.
“He’s had nights where he’s had a lot of action and done well, and he’s been limited and been sharp too, and that’s what you have to do if you want to play in this League,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The other asset he brings is that puck-handling ability. Occasionally when we’re under stress he can get the puck out. That’s a big, big deal, especially in today’s game with how heavy forechecks are in the NHL.”
Jason Robertson, F, Dallas Stars: A second-round pick (No. 39) in the 2017 NHL Draft, Robertson has established himself as an offensive force playing right wing on a line with center Roope Hintz and left wing Joe Pavelski. Robertson leads NHL rookies since March 1 with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists), 10 even-strength goals, 24 even-strength points and a plus-15 rating while averaging 18:05 of ice time in 28 games. For the season the 21-year-old is second among rookies with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 39 games, and is averaging 16:27 in ice time. The Stars have controlled 55.7 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts with Robertson on the ice this season, 56.7 percent since March 1.
“He’s an offensive player, talented and very confident in his abilities,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “‘Robo’ has got tremendous offensive skills and vision, and the confidence to back it up. We have to make sure he is with the right players because the defensive side of the game will improve, but again, we are asking an awful lot from these kids.”
Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers: Shesterkin had a shutout streak of 152:37 spanning three games come to an end when New Jersey Devils forward Michael McLeod scored at 12:37 of the second period of a 6-3 Rangers win Saturday. A fourth-round pick (No. 118) in the 2014 draft, Shesterkin is 9-2-2 with a 2.14 GAA, a .931 save percentage and two shutouts in 14 games (13 starts) since March 1. The 25-year-old is 13-9-3 with a 2.28 GAA, a .925 save percentage and two shutouts in 27 games (24 starts) this season.
“If you’re going to have success at any point, your goalie has to be good,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “He’s just calm, knows where the net is, doesn’t waste a lot of energy, he’s competitive, and it’s why he’s had so much success at every level.”
Ilya Sorokin, G, New York Islanders: Selected in the third round (No. 78) of the 2014 draft, Sorokin is 10-2-0 with a 1.95 GAA and a .926 save percentage in 12 games since March 1, forming an effective tandem with Semyon Varlamov. For the season the 25-year-old is 12-4-1 with a 2.02 GAA, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts in 17 games. He is 8-0-0 with a 1.71 GAA and a .928 save percentage in eight home games.
“Day-in, day-out, practice day, game day … he’s always trying to do his best,” Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “He’s super competitive. Even in practice, he lets one goal in and he’s not happy. He’s trying to save all of them. And that’s why I think he’s so good. He’s fighting for us and he’s playing for the logo in front (of the jersey) and we’re happy to have him here.”