by PuckStopsHere on 02/03/13 at 12:46 AM ET
Before the lockout shortened season began the clear rookie of the year choice was Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers. He led the AHL in scoring for much of the first part of the season as a rookie defenceman. Projecting that to the NHL he looked like a likely star. He has been a solid rookie. He leads all rookie defencemen with five points so far this year but another AHLer has been the top rookie so far this year. Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been the rookie leader so far this season.
Conacher has 12 points in eight games with a +7 +/- rating. Those are great numbers. Only five players in the league have more points than Conacher. His Tampa Bay Lightning have been the highest scoring team in the NHL and he is a big part of it.
Conacher did not have such a high scoring run in the AHL during the lockout. He scored 28 points in 36 games, which is good but it is nowhere near his NHL scoring rate. In 2011/12, Conacher was the second highest scorer in the AHL. His slow start this season was a bit of a surprise; however his NHL success is a bigger surprise in the opposite direction.
Conacher has never been too big on NHL scouts radar. As a smaller player who is 5''8" 175 pounds he went undrafted. He played in the NCAA and was a respectable scorer. In his junior year he scored 53 points in 35 games. He didn't improve his offensive totals as a senior where he dropped to 42 points in 37 games. That was good enough to earn him a minor pro career which has put him into the NHL this season.
Cory Conacher is a 23 year old small forward. He isn't the kind of player who has excited the scouts but he has done well enough at each level to be an all-star and graduate to the next level of play. Now that he is in the NHL, he has been a star.
While it is possible that may be able to be an NHL star, his start looks like he has been over his head. He has played with high scoring Steve Stamkos and Martin St Louis in a time when his team is scoring very well. He has been a part of that but with some luck that looks unsustainable. His shooting percentage of 35.7% is far above the level that any player is able to sustain in a full season.
Cory Conacher has been the top rookie so far this season. He has had a great opportunity to play with top linemates. His team has been very successful. What will happen when the going gets tough? Is he capable of maintaining this level of play for an entire season?
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