Scott Cullen, TSN.ca
10/10/2006 12:20:44 PM
Shortly before the NHL regular season got under way, we looked at the biggest impact rookies in the league, but that short list hardly covered all the newcomers.
Throughout the league, there are a number of players either getting their first taste of NHL action or those that have had brief chances in the NHL and are looking at a more extended opportunity.
One player that got his feet wet in the NHL last year was Buffalo's Jiri Novotny. A first-round pick out of the Czech Republic in 2001, Novotny took some time to adjust to the North American game and the Sabres gave him a chance to play 14 regular season and four playoff games last year. His continued improvement indicates good potential for the 23 year-old and he opens this season centering the Sabres' third line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, as well as getting some penalty-killing time.
Anaheim's Ryan Shannon is the picture of a player who wouldn't get a sniff in the old NHL -- 5-foot-9, 178 pounds -- but the 23 year-old Boston College grad uses his speed effectively and he put up 86 points and a plus-30 rating in the AHL last year, proving that he deserved a chance.
He's starting the season on a line with fellow speedster Todd Marchant and big winger Dustin Penner.
Shannon's teammate in Anaheim, Shane O'Brien, comes from the other end of the spectrum. The 23 year-old defenceman is 6-foot-2 and a sturdy 237 pounds and isn't afraid to use his size as a tool of intimidation, racking up 769 penalty minutes in three AHL seasons before getting an opportunity with the Ducks this year. While he is sixth on the Ducks blueline depth chart, O'Brien does have some offensive ability as well (highlighted by his 22 points in 19 AHL playoff games last year), so he will see some power play time on occasion. What is certain, is that the eighth-round pick won't take his spot for granted, telling the Los Angeles Times, "It's awesome that I made it out of camp, but you can't stop working for not even one second. It's a business up here and you have to treat it like that."
Perhaps the anticipation of O'Brien's arrival helped make the decision to trade Ladislav Smid easier for the Ducks. Smid was dealt to Edmonton as part of the Chris Pronger trade this summer and the 20 year-old is being brought along slowly, playing almost exclusively in even-strength situations. Smid had a strong pro debut in the American Hockey League last year and has given every indication that he will be a top-four defenceman for years. "He's green, as most 20-year-olds are when you're trying to play defence, and there's lots he's got to learn, but I see lots there," coach Craig MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun. "I see a player who's going to develop very quickly over the course of the year."
One of Smid's rookie teammates in Edmonton, Norwegian winger Patrick Thoresen, took a circuitous route to the NHL. Thoresen played junior hockey in Quebec, with Moncton then Baie-Comeau, before going to Sweden to embark on his pro career with Djurdardens. After putting up 36 points in 50 games last year, ranking second on his team, Thoresen earned a look from the Oilers and impressed enough in camp to stick. The 22 year-old is in a fourth-line role now, and could end up spending some time in the AHL.
While he doesn't qualify for the Calder Trophy, since he's 31 year-old, Swiss winger Patrick Fischer has landed a job in Phoenix. A top scorer in Swiss hockey for more than a decade, Fischer impressed at the Olympics, was signed in the spring as a free agent and is working in a third-line role with the Coyotes to start the season.