As the Nashville Predators head into this weekend's action, center Craig Smith stands atop the NHL rookie scoring race, with 14 points in 15 games so far. For Preds fans, he's been a welcome addition to a team which has too often taken a "pass first, second, and third" mentality in the offensive zone, and has quickly earned a name for himself among the Smashville faithful.
|2011 - Craig Smith||15||7||7||14||0||12||3||0||0||45||15.5|
But how does Nashville's Honey Badger stack up against the other top rookies around the league right now? Let's take a look...
Let's review some data from Behind the Net to see how these guys are trending...
|Player||Scoring||Shooting %||5-5 TOI||5-5 Shots/60||5-5 Pts/60||5-5 Team Shoot %||5-4 TOI||5-4 Pts/60||5-4 GF On/60||Team GF/60|
|Craig Smith, NSH||7G 7A||15.6||12.0||10.6||3.21||14.1||2.9||5.79||8.7||5.4|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, EDM||7G 6A||24.1||12.9||6.6||2.16||8.7||3.4||6.93||8.1||6.4|
|Luke Adam, BUF||4G 7A||12.1||12.2||8.3||3.49||10.5||2.3||1.84||3.7||6.9|
|Sean Couturier, PHI||5G 3A||20.8||9.0||7.9||3.08||12.6||0.4||0.00||0.0||7.0|
|Gabriel Landeskog, COL||4G 4A||8.5||14.4||13.8||1.29||5.6||1.6||4.48||6.7||10.9|
As for commentary on each:
Smith: Things have really "clicked" during his ice time, as that team-wide shooting percentage of 14.1 in 5-on-5 stands 12th-best among NHL regulars right now, and that's an indicator which an individual player has very little influence over. Even if that regresses to a more normal 7-10% range, however, he's likely to continue at more than a 2.00 Pts/60 pace, which is fine for a rookie, and just dandy for a team like the Preds (just see how those numbers looked last year). He gets plenty of power play work, and since his 3 PP goals lead the team, that's not about to change.
Nugent-Hopkins: The goals have been pouring in for last summer's #1 overall draft pick, but that's not likely to continue at this pace. Especially if he continues drawing such major ice time (especially working the power play), he should still pile up plenty of assists, though.
Adam: The fundamentals here look especially strong - he's putting pucks on net, piling up points at a prodigious pace (Pts/60 is 7th best), and that's not being driven by an especially high Team Shooting %. The downside here is that he was recently moved off a top line in favor of Ville Leino, so his ice time and surrounding talent could take quite a hit.
Couturier: Has the toughest job among this group to earn a prominent role due to Philadelphia's strong lineup, and both his individual and team shooting percentages are looking too hot for now. I don't expect him to keep up with the leaders. but that's due as much to opportunity as anything else.
Landeskog: If there's a bit of a dark horse among this Top 5, Landeskog would be my pick. He's firing pucks with abandon (his 5-on-5 Shots/60 is 2nd-best in the league among players with at least 10 GP), and is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Smith in terms of Team Shooting % in 5-on-5, meaning that things are likely to heat up a bit, which could boost his assist totals. He's getting a decent amount of power play ice time, and is contributing solidly there so far.
The NHL Rookie Scoring Title - A 3-Horse Race?
If I had to take a stab right now, I'd say that Smith, Nugent-Hopkins, and Landeskog are the favorites, based on their individual performance, likely ability to maintain that performance, and the amount of ice time that's available to them going forward.
That's not bad for Smith to be right in there neck-and-neck with the #1 and #2 overall draft picks, is it? Granted, he's 22 while the other two are still teenagers, but Preds fans won't quibble when he's in the hunt for the rookie scoring title.