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August 5 - A Rookie Class Like No Other

For all the talk of the NHL needing to get their fans back, there is one by-product that any hockey fan
that does not return will miss out on. This could be the single greatest rookie class any sport has
ever seen.

While all eyes are on Sidney Crosby and his exploits, there will be dozens of
rookies all over the league playing their trade in the NHL for the first time. Every
year, each team usually has one or two rookies who play on a regular basis.
However, it needs to be remembered that those scheduled to be rookies
during the cancelled 2004-05 season will be rookies this season to go along
with those who were due to arrive this season.

Let’s look at the timeline, to get a better idea. Assuming it takes the average
rookie two years following his draft year to become a viable candidate to play in
the NHL, here is what to expect this season, working backwards:

--
From the 2005 Draft – High end prospects, such as the aforementioned Crosby.
--
From the 2004 Draft – High end prospects that would have played in 2004-05, such as the top two
picks in the Draft, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, as well as
above-average prospects that projected to fight for NHL jobs after one year, such as the Rangers’ Al
Montoya.
--
From the 2003 Draft – Prospects that were ready after one year of seasoning that would have
played in 2004-05, as well as the majority of legitimate NHL prospects who took the normal two years
to be ready to join an NHL club.
--
From the 2002 Draft – College players that have graduated or who were ready to join and NHL team
in 2004-05, such as Calgary’s Eric Nystrom.
--
Pre-2002 – More college players, as well as Europeans who have opted to stay at home and hone
their game there as opposed to North America.

That gives the NHL a pool of prospects from their last four Drafts that are possibilities to join the
ranks this season. As an example of what might be routine, let’s take a look at the two New York
teams and their possible rookies, to see what an average team might look like.

It is speculated that the Islanders will shortly sign their 2003 first round choice
(Robert Nilsson) and their 2004 first round choice (Petteri Nokelainen, left).
They have already signed one of their 2003 second rounders (Jeremy Colliton).
In addition, it is expected that two other prospects who have already been
signed by the organization, Chris Campoli (2004, seventh round) and Bruno
Gervais (2003, sixth round), who spent last season playing for their farm club
in Bridgeport, are in position to earn regular NHL jobs this season following a
year of play in the AHL. Add to the list Sean Bergenheim (2002, first round), who
had a cup of coffee with the Isles in 2003-04 and who still qualifies as a rookie,
and that makes six rookies who enter training camp with a legitimate chance to
make the NHL. This will be common at training camps all over the league.

The Rangers are in a similar situation. In the last couple of weeks, they have signed their top picks
from 2004 (Montoya) and 2003 (Hugh Jessiman) as well as Rick Kozak, who was a 2003 third round
choice by Philadelphia that they acquired during their veteran purge in March 2004. Swedish goalie
Henrik Lundqvist (2000, seventh round) is also expected to make a serious run at a spot on the big
club, giving the Rangers four serious roster contenders, although it is not expected that both Montoya
and Lundqvist will make the team.

The Islanders and Rangers are just two teams that will be watching very carefully during training
camp, as the potential for rookies crops up at every position. As the NHL enters a new era, the new
blood transfused into the rosters will go a long way to spice up the excitement and hopefully bring the
fans back.

So when we look back at the NHL rookie class of 2005-06, we will most assuredly be amazed at the
vast amount of talent that debuted.

Don’t go inscribing the Calder Trophy with Sidney Crosby’s name just yet.