NHL rookie rankings: Two-player race for the top spot?

Welcome to December. It’s that portion of the NHL calendar in which teams have a sample size of more than 20 regular-season games.

There are some teams that will be in the playoffs. There are some who are trying to get there, and there are others who might be looking ahead to the lottery. Regardless, there are teams in all three categories that have rookies who are already making an impact.

So who are the current crop of rookies a little beyond the first quarter of the season? Let’s find out.

Stats: 24 GP | 10 G | 11 A | 21 P
Previous Ranking: No. 1

Why he’s here: Beniers continues to show why he remains in a top-six role. He just had a six-game point streak snapped, during which he had 12 points. That scoring stretch also came during the Kraken’s seven-game winning streak. He was already among the premier rookies but now leads all rookies in goals, points and points per game among first-year players with more than 10 games.

Going forward: What Beniers has done has aided in those early discussions about the Kraken potentially challenging for a playoff spot. Any attempt for a postseason push means they will continue to rely on Beniers, who is second on the team in goals and third in points. Playing a key role in helping a team reach the playoffs only adds to Beniers’ Calder Trophy hopes. But there is also a conversation to be had about another Pacific Division rookie possibly winning the award for the NHL’s best rookie.

Stats: 17 GP | 12-5 | 2.54 GAA | .920 SV%
Previous Ranking: No. 3

Why he’s here: Thompson has found a way to become a No. 1 goaltender in a tandem with Adin Hill. He has also become a No. 1 goaltender for one of the NHL’s best teams in a season in which goaltending was among the biggest questions at the start of the year. It amounts to Thompson emerging into one of the most important players on a team that feels it has everything needed to win it all.

Going forward: In terms of his team? Bruce Cassidy has continued to show trust in Thompson considering he has twice the starts as Hill this season. The result of that is a consistent goalie who is in the top five in wins, goals-against average, save percentage, goals saved above expected and shutouts. In terms of the Calder race? It could become a question of who has made a greater impact? Beniers or Thompson?

Stats: 24 GP | 1 G | 10 A | 11 P
Previous Ranking: No. 2

Why he’s here: On the whole, the Senators have not had the season a number of people were expecting. Sanderson, however, has remained one of their most consistent performers. The 20-year-old puck mover is tied for the rookie lead in points by a defenseman. He is also among the top five Senators players in 5-on-5 ice time, power-play and short-handed minutes to further reinforce his do-everything status.

Going forward: He is projected to finish the season with three goals and 38 points. But know this about Sanderson: There is so much more to his presence that goes beyond facilitating offense and registering points. Sanderson has also shown awareness in the form of only taking two penalties through his first 24 games while drawing five penalties — the most of any Sens defenseman this season.

Stats: 22 GP | 4 G | 11 A | 15 P
Previous Ranking: No. 6

Why he’s here: Perfetti rises up the rankings because he has proven to be an important player for the Jets. Entering Thanksgiving, the Jets scored the third-fewest goals. Since then? The Jets have scored so much that they have a plus-15 goal differential. Perfetti had five points during that stretch which played a part in showing the Jets could have the necessary production that complements Connor Hellebuyck in their chase for a postseason berth.

Going forward: Only Beniers has more points among rookies than Perfetti. That said, Perfetti is playing on the Jets top line next to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler which should allow him to remain a serious contender for the rookie points title.

5. Owen Power, D, Buffalo Sabres

Stats: 25 GP | 0 G | 10 A | 10 P
Previous Ranking: No. 7

Why he’s here: The No. 1 pick from 2021 is still in search of his first goal of the season. But he has still remained productive. Power is a point behind Sanderson for the rookie lead among defensemen. In total, the former Michigan star is tied for fifth in the rookie points race. One category where Power stands alone is ice time. Power not only leads all rookies in ice time but he is doing it by more than two full minutes per game.

Going forward: How Power has performed in November could lay the foundation for what he could be the rest of the year. And that’s a top-four option who more or less is on the ice with every other shift. No, seriously. There are only four players in the entire NHL who have been on the ice more during 5-on-5 sequences than Power.

Stats: 24 GP | 1 G | 8 A | 9 P
Previous Ranking: No. 5

Why he’s here: There is no denying Guhle’s place among his peers. He is part of that class of rookie defensemen with Power and Sanderson that are emerging into top-four options who can be trusted to play more than 20 minutes per game. In terms of 5-on-5 ice time, he ranks second on the Canadiens behind David Savard.

Going forward: Using him in 5-on-5? Asking him to operate in short-handed situations? Trusting him in the defensive zone? Guhle has shown he can meet those demands. His five points in November also shows how he can provide contributions on that end. Guhle averaged 0.55 points in the WHL and is averaging 0.38 points this season. It comes out to him being on pace to finish with 30 points over an 82-game campaign.

7. Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa Senators

Stats: 24 GP | 9 G | 2 A | 11 P
Previous Ranking: No. 4

Why he’s here: Pinto is having one of the stronger campaigns by a rookie forward. He opened the season with six goals and seven points in October but finished November with three goals and four points. That said, Pinto is tied with Beniers for the most goals by a rookie going into December while also being tied for the Sens’ team lead in goal with Claude Giroux and Brady Tkachuk.

Going forward: The current projections have Pinto on pace to finish with 31 goals this season which strengthens his case for the Calder. He’s sixth in points but only has two assists. Pinto is still having an impact on his team similar to Beniers and Perfetti. The main difference is that Beniers and Perfetti are doing it for teams trying to reach the playoffs whereas the Sens came into December in last place in the Atlantic Division.

Stats: 20 GP | 2 G | 14 A | 16 P
Previous Ranking: NR

Why he’s here: November was extremely good to Maccelli. He averaged 0.90 points per game which was the second-best mark among rookies with at least 10 games that month. It more than doubled what he produced in October, and it is why he entered December third in the rookie points race with 13 points in 18 games.

Going forward: Maccelli’s strong month also led to him being third in points among Coyotes players behind Clayton Keller and Shayne Gostisbehere. Now it is just a matter of seeing if Maccelli can find more consistency when it comes to scoring. He’s not alone as the Coyotes have scored the second-fewest goals this season.

Stats: 20 GP | 6 G | 7 A | 13 P
Previous Ranking: No. 10

Why he’s here: Johnson is one of the members of this season’s rookie class who entered December with more than 11 points. Yet one of the most notable details about Johnson’s performances is what they mean to his team. He’s third in points while his six goals ranks tied for third for the Blue Jackets in what’s been a challenging season.

Going forward: Can his contributions lead to a potential increase in playing time? Johnson is averaging a little less than 13 minutes per game. But the fact he is on pace to finish with 21 goals and 46 points could lead to seeing more minutes throughout the season.

Stats: 20 GP | 5 G | 8 A | 13 P
Previous Ranking: NR

Why he’s here: A number of players had significant roles in the Devils’ 13-1 record in November. Zetterlund was one of those players. He scored three goals and had 10 points which was the fifth-highest offensive output on the team. Zetterlund also had a four-game point streak while finishing the month with six points in the last seven games.

Going forward: Zetterlund was a late-season callup last year who scored eight points in 14 games after averaging 0.90 points in 58 games in the AHL. What he did last year created intrigue around the Devils. What he is doing this season makes him even more alluring given his 0.65 points per game is tied for third among rookies with at least 10 games.

What to watch for: Jonatan Berggren (Detroit Red Wings), Marcus Bjork (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Juuso Parssinen (Nashville Predators) have played in a fraction of the games as the rest of the rookie class. But they have all made impacts on their teams within such a short time. It’s possible December could provide them with the outlet to cement their places within their respective teams while also impacting the rookie landscape.

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):
Noah Cates, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
Wyatt Johnston, C, Dallas Stars
Nils Lundkvist, D, Dallas Stars
Mason McTavish, C, Anaheim Ducks
JJ Peterka, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Jack Quinn, RW, Buffalo Sabres

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