Rookie Watch: Fehervary, Mercer among best in Metropolitan Division

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The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2021-22 season. Each week, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, the top five rookies in the Metropolitan Division (in alphabetical order):

Martin Fehervary, D, Washington Capitals: The second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2018 NHL Draft earned a spot in the lineup after the Capitals waived Michal Kempny and assigned him to Hershey of the American Hockey League on Oct. 10. The 22-year-old (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) has averaged 18:34 of ice time while earning top-pair minutes with John Carlson. Fahervary has three points (two goals, one assist), is tied for first among NHL rookies in hits (40) and tied for second in blocked shots (23) in 14 games. He averages 1:46 in ice time on the penalty kill.

“He’s in a great spot with John because [Carlson] is a really smart, high-end, top-end defenseman in the National Hockey League and he’s a good communicator,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “[Carlson] likes playing with Marty, so they’re establishing a relationship, and they’re working to build that trust together out on the ice.

“[Fahervary’s] a strong kid. He’s a strong skater, strong kid. If you are going to be a good team, you got to be competitive.”

Video: CGY@WSH: Fehervary records first career NHL goal

Connor McMichael, F, Capitals: McMichael (6-0, 180) has shown consistency after he was a healthy scratch the opening two games of the season. He’s been moved around the lineup and filled a role at No. 2 center behind Evgeny Kuznetsov. The No. 25 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft has scored six points (two goals, four assists), taken 25 shots on goal and has five takeaways while averaging 11:35 in ice time in 13 games. The 20-year-old led Hershey with 14 goals and 27 points and AHL rookies with eight game-winning goals in 33 games last season, his first as a professional. He also scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games for second-place Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

“[I’m] a lot more comfortable,” McMichael said Nov. 8. “The more and more ice time you get, the more and more games you play. You get a lot more comfortable and feel the trust that (Laviolette) has given us young guys. It makes us play with a little bit more confidence in our game, and we’re really enjoying it right now.”

Dawson Mercer, F, New Jersey Devils: Mercer (6-0, 180) was the biggest surprise of Devils training camp, scoring three points (two goals, one assist) in three preseason games. The 19-year-old took the No. 2 center role in the absence of center Jack Hughes (shoulder) and has had success with Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt. Mercer is third among NHL rookies with 11 points (five goals, six assists), second in takeaways (11) and tied for third in shots (33) while averaging 15:31 of ice time in 14 games. Among rookies with at least 30 shots, Mercer ranks first in shooting percentage (16.1 percent) and the Devils control 54.0 percent of all shots attempted at even strength when he is on the ice. The No. 18 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft scored 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 23 regular-season games and 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in nine playoff games last season for Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“I try and give a young player as much as he can handle and he’s been able to handle almost whatever I’ve thrown at him so far,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “He takes what you usually give him, and the physical side of the game hasn’t bothered him yet, so with the absence of a couple key players up front we need him to play a fairly large role.”

Video: BOS@NJD: Mercer finishes off tic-tac-toe passing

Drew O’Connor, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: O’Connor (6-3, 200), an undrafted free agent who signed a two-year, entry-level contract March 10, 2020 after two seasons at Dartmouth, scored five points (three goals, two assists) in 12 games before he was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL on Sunday. The 23-year-old played left wing on a line with center Brian Boyle, averaged 11:02 in ice time, and had 11 hits and five blocked shots, so he could be recalled at some point. 

O’Connor was named NCAA Ivy League Co-Player of the Year and selected to the All-Ivy League First Team after leading Dartmouth in goals (21) and points (33) in 2019-20.

“I think Drew is one of those guys where I think he can reinvent himself a little bit and not just be a one-dimensional offensive player,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Oct. 5. “I think he has offensive capability, which is real intriguing for us, especially if we can help him develop a conscientious game with his size, his skating ability, his awareness, his recognition skills. He thinks the game pretty well … so I wouldn’t just categorize him as a quote-unquote checker. But I think in order to establish himself in this league, I think he’s got to develop a conscientious game, and that will give him the ability to grow his offensive game from there.”

Cole Sillinger, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: The 18-year-old center (6-2, 203) earned his spot in the lineup following a productive training camp. He’s scored seven points (four goals, three assists), has seven hits, and has drawn three penalties while averaging 14:28 of ice time in 12 games on a line with Yegor Chinakhov and Jakub Voracek. He played with Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League last season because of the uncertainty surrounding the start of the Western Hockey League season due to the coronavirus pandemic. He led the Stampede in goals (24) and points (46) in 31 games and was named USHL rookie of the year. His father is retired NHL forward Mike Sillinger.

“I’ve said this several times about [Sillinger],” Columbus coach Brad Larsen said. “His hockey acumen, his ability to adapt, apply, has been great. Two of his biggest assets are his competitiveness and his work ethic. We’ve had some great conversations about self-assessment, and he’s spot on and genuine about it. Some guys interview very well, say the right things, but they don’t apply it and show it through action.

“There are times he may struggle, but his self-assessment was spot on and he always comes back strong the next game. There’s a real bright future with this kid. I think the organization has something to be really excited about.”

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