John Tavares. John Tavares. John Tavares. In short, that is what many people expected the 2009-10 NHL rookie race to be: a one-kid show, featuring the New York Islanders' teenage goal-scoring sensation. He has not disappointed, putting up three goals and seven points through nine games - and those stats are all the more impressive when you consider the Islanders are a lowly 1-4-4 and sit 28th in a 30-team league.
As NHL clubs hit the 10-game mark, though, there have been a number of other impressive young freshmen. For example, the Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman and the Colorado centre Matt Duchene, drafted second and third overall after Tavares last June, have played to positive early reviews. Of course, when you are a top draft pick, the expectation is that you will hit the ground running - or, to be more precise, skating - when you reach the NHL. Meanwhile, there have been several other, less heralded rookies making some noise in the early going.
Here are five NHL rookies who have surprised with some quick success in the big leagues: 1 Michael Del Zotto, NY Rangers: While Tavares received all the pre-season hype in New York - and around the rest of the NHL - it is Del Zotto, who was Tavares' junior teammate the past three years in the Ontario Hockey League, who has caught the Big Apple's eye. He surprised by cracking the Rangers' roster in training camp, and was immediately given top power play time. Four goals and 10 points later (in 11 games), Del Zotto is tied for the rookie scoring lead and is among the league leaders in scoring by defencemen.
2 Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado: Matt Duchene, the Avalanche's first-round pick last June, has rightfully been praised for his all-around play in Colorado. Meanwhile, O'Reilly, drafted in the second round (33rd overall), also made the Avs and has surprised with an immediate impact. He is tied with Del Zotto for rookie scoring honours with two goals and 10 points in 11 games - and his plus-10 rating ranks second in the NHL, an amazing accomplishment for an 18-year-old player.
3 Jason Demers, San Jose: Who? Exactly. Demers came out of nowhere and made the Sharks' line up, which is no small feat considering that they are the defending Presidents' Trophy champion (for most points in the NHL last season). A smart, mobile defenceman with an offensive upside, Demers was drafted 186th overall in 2008. Yet here he is in the NHL, getting time on San Jose's potent power play and collecting eight assists in his first 11 games.
4 Jamie Benn, Dallas: Simply put, he is a goal-scorer. With three goals - and eight points - in his first 11 games, Benn has quickly found his stride as a Star. He will be on one of the top two lines in Dallas for years to come. And all of this from a guy who was drafted 129th overall in 2007 and is making the jump to the NHL after playing just two years of major junior - and not a single game in the minors.
5 Tyler Myers, Buffalo: The expectations were high for Myers, but that comes with the territory when you are a 6ft 7ins, 220-pound defenceman who can skate. Drafted 12th overall in 2008, Myers was expected to make the Sabres this season, and he did. The surprising part has been how quickly he has been able to inject some offence into the Sabres, with two goals and five points in eight contests. He scored a shootout game winner against Tampa Bay - on a deke, no less - as the sixth shooter the Sabres sent out.