A look at the NHL's best through the first 20 games
Posted: Friday November 25, 2005 1:47PM; Updated: Friday November 25, 2005 1:47PM
Forget Crosby and Ovechkin. Calgary's Dion Phaneuf is the top rookie thus far.
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With each team having at least 20 games in the books, let's take a look at the men (and a few boys) who've made an immediate impact in 2005-06. Here are my picks for the NHL's best at the quarter-pole:
Calder (top rookie)
NOMINEES: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf
Everybody knows that, barring injury, the Calder is a two-horse race this year -- and unless your name is Crosby or Ovechkin, you can grab a seat with the rest of us and see how it plays out. That said, I've got to give my first quarter rookie nod to Phaneuf. Outside of Calgary, I'm probably alone on this call, but the transition this kid has made from juniors to a potential depth member of Team Canada is nothing short of phenomenal.
While the new rules were made to accentuate the skills of offensive whizzes such as Crosby and Ovechkin, they were supposed to make the job more difficult for defenders like Phaneuf. Instead, he's obliterated the stereotype of the slow learning curve for young blueliners and has outplayed many of the game's top veterans.
Phaneuf's hockey sense has been his key asset, allowing him to minimize rookie mistakes and make the most of his devastating, but disciplined, physical presence. He leads all rookies with 55 hits, but has taken just 15 minutes in penalties. His offense (14 points in 24 games) has surpassed every expectation and his ability to contribute in all three zones allowed the Flames to weather a long-term injury to No. 1 defenseman Robyn Regehr.
If Team Canada GM Wayne Gretzky can find eight blueliners he likes better than this kid, the Canadian zone will be impenetrable in Turin.
Adams (top coach)
NOMINEES: Barry Trotz, Bryan Murray, Tom Renney
Coming into this season, there was no reason to believe the Rangers' seven-year streak of missing the playoffs wouldn't reach eight. That they've worked their way not only into contention but into the top spot in the East on Thanksgiving shows what an inspired job Renney has turned in.
Given a chance to mold the team as he saw fit after babysitting as interim coach late in the 2003-04 season, Renney has changed the Rangers from a bunch of self-focused individuals into a hard-working, blue-collar brigade. He's instilled confidence in the younger players while preaching focus to the vets, creating a team better prepared to play 60 minutes than any other in the conference.
While Jaromir Jagr is the league's leading scorer and Henrik Lundqvist one of the best stoppers, it's fair to say Renney's the most vital individual to the Rangers' early success.