The second installment of the Rookie Breakdown series highlights five players whose rookie cards have surfaced over the past few days. Two of these players I’ve heard of and are currently making an impact in the NHL. The other three are relative unknowns to me – but may actually be playing on some of the Western Conference teams – so this will definitely be a learning experience.
This particular article will not include the rookies pulled from the “quick packs” that were dated back in the 1990s. I will attempt to do those on another day.
First, the players who are undoubtably still playing in the NHL:
I’ll begin with the player I’m most familiar with. Matt Ellis (drafted by Detroit and currently playing for the Buffalo Sabres) has maintained a pretty consistant fourth-line NHL skill level throughout his career. Being a role player is never a negative thing though, as the team typically maintains a better record with him in the lineup than when he is out. Lindy Ruff, Sabres head coach, described Ellis this way:
“That’s the reason we signed him. He’s a good leader, the kind of guy you want influencing young players. You want to have your young players around Matt Ellis so they can learn how to work. He’s a consummate pro. You don’t have to ask him to do things; he just does the right things.”
With words like that, you’d think he were an anchor on the Buffalo team. Instead, he has found himself constantly traveling between the AHL and NHL. In the NHL, he fights to stay in the lineup. In the AHL, he is a leader and consistant force each night. He has even captained a team in the AHL.
Despite his constant trips between the majors and minors, Ellis as accumulated over 200 games in the NHL.
A third-line player drafted by (and playing for) the Calgary Flames. Moss has enjoyed exactly 300 NHL games as of this article. His style of play, as a support for some of the Flames better scorers, compliments the Calgary system quite well.
Moss has had moderate success at scoring, occasionally takes face-offs for his team, and plays a pretty consistant game… when he isn’t injured. Moss has lost a substantial number of games almost every season due to injury.
The Lightning draft pick only played a few games for his first team before Tampa Bay decided not to extend a qualifying offer to him. Now property of the Ducks, Smaby finds himself on injured reserve. He has yet to score a goal, but has played over 100 games.
I’m guessing that is not the start he was looking for.
Drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, Wheeler started his career as a contract holdout. Four years passed, and he refused to accept the maximum rookie offer from the Coyotes. This resulted in unrestricted free agency, later landing with the Boston Bruins.
As a Bruin, Wheeler had moderate success. Scoring a little over 50 goals in three seasons, Wheeler earned a spot in the NHL. He would later be traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, missing out on the Bruins Championship run.
The most successful of all the rookies in this breakdown, Wheeler is now a Winnipeg Jet.
Drafted by the Canucks, Fitzgerald has only played one game in the NHL.
His best hockey has been played in the AHL, where he has literally fought for four different teams. As property of the Carolina Hurricanes, Fitzgerald has lead either the AHL or his team in penalty minutes.
He now plays under an AHL contract for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Drafted by the Blue Jackets. Pineault played three games for Columbus before being reassigned to Syracuse of the AHL. He was later traded to Chicago.
Pineault no longer plays in America, signing with HC Pardubice in the Czech Extraliga.