Blake’s Takes: The Rise of Rookie Defensemen

This week was an exciting one in the NHL. Three major milestones were hit, all on the same day.  I’ll dive deep into those milestones and will highlight a pair of rookie defenseman that are tearing it up this year. Also, I’ll take a look into the frenzy taking place in Toronto. Happy Monday!

1. Milestones: Stamkos Scores 400, Quenneville Wins 900, Carter Plays 1,000

Saturday was filled with milestones as two players and one coach reached major achievements on the same day. A special congratulations to these three!

Steven Stamkos scored his 400th goal against the Winnipeg Jets. The goal came late in the third period as the goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, skated to the bench to bring on an extra attacker. The move worked as the Stamkos scored to bring Tampa within one goal. This is just the latest milestone Stamkos has reached. Last season, Stamkos broke Vincent Lecavalier’s franchise goal-scoring record. Congrats to Stamkos and I wish him luck for the rest of the season.

For Quenneville, this is a huge accomplishment. He is now one of two coaches in NHL history to reach 900 wins, the other being Scotty Bowman. After being fired by Chicago last season, Quenneville will look to add to that total in his first season with the Florida Panthers. More wins seem to be on the horizon as the Panthers are playing well as of late and sit in third in the Atlantic Division as of Sunday night.

Last but not least, Jeff Carter earned a silver stick and played in his 1,000th game with the Los Angeles Kings. The game ended on a sweet note as Carter scored the goal-winning goal off a deflection in the third period.

The 34-year-old is one of my favorite players in the NHL. He has enjoyed quite a storied career, winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings and earning an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2014. Carter is also inching closer towards another milestone, the 400-goal plateau. He is 29 goals away and could reach that target next season.

Congrats again to all three men on their accomplishments!

2. Cale Makar Has Arrived

I’m sure most of you have heard about Cale Makar by now. Last year, Makar won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s best player and led UMass to a runner up finish at the Frozen Four. The next day, he signed with the Avalanche and jumped straight into the playoffs. Expectations were sky-high going into this year, and Makar has not disappointed. Check out his goal (in the above video) against the Jets on Tuesday night.

Not a lot of 21-year-old forwards can do this, and fewer defensemen can. This goal is sick. It’s also a testament to the season Makar is having. In 20 games, he’s scored 5 goals, added anotehr 17 assists, all while averaging 19:30 TOI. That’s pretty remarkable for a 21-year-old playing in his first regular season. Makar is the current front-runner for the Calder Trophy and it would take a major run from another rookie to overtake him. But, it’s a long season and everyone still has another 60 games or so to do their best.

3. Adam Fox Destroys the Penguins

[Photo Credit: NHL]
A lot of people, including me, talked about Adam Fox in the offseason after he forced his way out of Carolina so he could play for his hometown Rangers. As ballsy as that move was by Fox and his representatives, he had still never suited up for an NHL game. No one really knew if he could stand on his own in the show. So far, Fox has had a few shining moments. In 18 games, he’s scored three goals, added five assists,  while averaging 17:25 TOI. Those are solid numbers from a rookie defenseman.

But it was his play on Tuesday night against the Penguins that caught my eye. His first highlight was this goal at the end of the first period.

Panarin did most of the work on this play. Still, Fox did a nice job attacking the weakside and finishing, beating Matt Murray to the glove-side.

But, it was his second highlight that really impressed me.

This is not a play rookie-defenseman can make. Fox does a great job taking the puck up the ice by himself. Next, he drives to the center, dragging the Pens’ defenseman with him. This opens up space for fellow rookie Kappo Kakko. Fox knows where Kakko is the entire time, never once looking back to find him. He then makes a perfect pass to Kakko who tips the puck past Murray for the game-winner. My jaw dropped when I saw this. This was an NHL-caliber play from Fox. If he continues to make plays like this, he could push Makar for the Calder Trophy.

4. MVP Watch: A Pair of Oilers

I know I talk about Edmonton Oilers’ duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl quite a bit, but these two just keep raising the bar. Last Thursday’s game against the Avalanche highlights their domination. The Oilers won 6-2. McDavid scored a hat-trick and notched three assists. Draisaitl had a solid game too, notching five assists. These two are simply on another planet right now.

Draisaitl currently leads the league in points and assists with a stat-line of 16-27-43. He’s also second in goals to Boston’s David Pastrnak. McDavid is playing well in his own right. He’s tied for third in goals with Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. He’s also second to Draisaitl in assists and points with a stat-line of 14-26-40. Pastrnak is the next closest player to McDavid with 32 points.

These two are playing on a level that the rest of the league can’t reach right now. They have single-handedly carried the Oilers back to the top of the standings and turned James Neal’s career around. If they keep it up, it could make for one of the more interesting Hart Trophy discussions in recent memory.

5. The Maple Leafs’ Woes Continue

The Toronto Maple Leafs just can’t catch a break. After Mitch Marner went down with an injury earlier in the month, it seems as if the wheels have fallen off in Toronto. The Leafs have dropped their last four games and are currently two spots behind the two Penguins and Flyers for a Wild Card spot.

Everyone in Toronto knows that this isn’t how this season was supposed to go. This was going to be the year the Maple Leafs finally put it all together. They were going to avoid Boston in the first round and advance to at least the Conference Finals. Well, I think all of Ontario is aware that it’s not going to plan. And when things aren’t going right in Toronto, the media firestorm begins. Many outlets have talked at length about firing bench boss Mike Babcock. As a Wings fan, I’m thankful for the time Babcock spent on their bench, but I would laugh if he gets fired (I know Mike Commodore would too).

I truly hope the Leafs do turn it around because they’re a fun team to watch. But, the media firestorm might be a bit more fun to watch right now. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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