The rookie class in this shortened season is fairly stout. Nail Yakupov has been lighting the lamp consistently. Jonathan Huberdeau, Cory Conacher, and several other forwards could have solid cases made for them. The defensemen, as always, get ignored when it comes to Rookie of the Year voting. This year's defensive rookie class has several worth highlighting.
The main three are Justin Schultz of the Oilers, Jonas Brodin of the Wild, and Brenden Dillon of the Stars. Make no mistake, none of these three are going to win the Calder Trophy. Schultz MIGHT get nominated, but likely the nominations will go to Yakupov, Huberdeau, and Conacher. These three defensemen deserve at least a passing mention for the work they did in their rookie years.
Schultz ended up leading all rookie blueliners in points with 27 in 48 games. He finished eight points ahead of second place. He also added 48 points in 30 games in the AHL. He ended up leading AHL defensemen in scoring despite playing 41 less games than second place Matt Donovan. The main knock going against Schultz as a Rookie of the Year candidate is that he played relatively sheltered minutes. The points might get him nominated, but he wasn't given much defensive responsibility.
Jonas Brodin and Brenden Dillon both had solid offensive seasons as rookies, but the main piece of evidence supporting them as Rookie of the Year candidates is their success in difficult minutes. Dillon was, for most of the season, used in a checking capacity playing with Stephane Robidas. They were wonderful at their job. As the year progressed he played more with Alex Goligoski and still did a very good job. Dillon was able to drive possession in those minutes and gave the Stars an element on defense that they have desperately needed for half of a decade.
Brodin fits a very similar profile to Dillon. He has been arguably the biggest addition to the Wild for the 2013 season. Unlike Dillon, Brodin has had to play with a less than impressive defense partner. Brodin has been tasked with carrying Ryan Suter up and down the ice.
Yes, Brodin had to lug the 100 million dollar man up the ice. Brodin and Suter were on the ice for 706 minutes and were a 50% Corsi pairing. Without Suter on the ice Brodin played 126 minutes to the tune of 60% possession. Without Brodin, Suter, in 237 minutes, was a mediocre 46% possession player. As much as Suter gets credited with the playoff push for the Wild, his little buddy Brodin drove the bus from the blue line.
Editorial Note: When I hear the name Dougie I think of a little kid with chocolate all over his overalls and chest (because he obviously isn't wearing a shirt under his overalls...he's Dougie), or Dr. Evil. Please go by Doug.
Yakupov is going to end up being a worthy Rookie of the Year, but any of these three defensemen would be worthy of votes. The guys on the back end rarely get the recognition they deserve, especially the guys pulling the real tough minutes. Dillon or Brodin, particularly Brodin, would be fine choices as top rookie given the defensive responsibilities that helped them thrive as rookies. Neither will get the recognition, but both should be valuable contributors to their respective clubs for years to come.