x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The rocky road to becoming the top rookie

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was looking like the honour was going to be his, but injury sidelined the youngster, giving others, such as Adam Henrique, a chance to take the prize.

The Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Hugent-Hopkins is going for the rookie-of-the-year title.
The Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Hugent-Hopkins is going for the rookie-of-the-year title.

The race for the rookie-of-the-year award was wide-open at the start of the season. For every player that offered promise, there was a reason to dismiss him.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, drafted by Edmonton first overall last June, was acknowledged as a top-end talent, but there were doubts as to whether he could withstand the rigours of the NHL. Many assumed the Oilers would send the 18 year old back to junior hockey to develop his strength.

But Nugent-Hopkins earned a spot on the team in training camp, was rookie-of-the-month in October and November, and has racked up 35 points in 38 games.

But he missed most of January after a shoulder injury, returned for two games and then was sidelined again with another shoulder injury. Now the rookie race is wide open again and a slew of hopefuls have emerged.

Adam Henrique has been skating on New Jersey's top line and has tied Nugent-Hopkins for first place among first-year players with 35 points. Philadelphia's Matt Read is a non-traditional NHL rookie - he is an undrafted 25 year old - but he leads all rookies with 16 goals and has 32 points. Cody Hodgson has been a force on Vancouver's third line, and with 14 goals and 30 points, while Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado is in the mix with 13 goals and 29 points.

There is a good chance that Nugent-Hopkins returns with a flourish and wins the Calder Trophy, but it is not the shoe-in it appeared to be in the first half of the season.