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January 17, 2012 | 2:04pm ET
Immediate Impact

CHICAGO, IL -- As the 2011-12 season continues to steam along, it cannot be ignored that a number of youngsters that were waiting for their name to be called in Minneapolis in June are waiting to hear it from an NHL coach.

It's becoming clear every day that the 2011 NHL Draft is living up to the hype. Teams all over the NHL are being impressed with their picks, and some are making an impact on the playoff races in the League already.

The two big forwards that heard their names called first have been impact players all season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was hearing his name mentioned in All-Star game banter when he sprinted to 35 points in 38 games, including 13 goals and a hat trick at the expense of the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately for the Oilers, Nugent-Hopkins is just one of a handful of key players that have been touched by the injury bug lately.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Landeskog is skating equally important minutes for the Avs and has shown flashes of being an elite, top-line center. Two of his nine goals have won games, and his plus-eleven rating is a strong indication that he's making good decisions on the ice.

Then consider what rookie defenseman Adam Larsson's doing in New Jersey. The fourth overall pick skating the top average ice time among all Devils defensemen and has been producing offensively as well. As the Devils chase the postseason, the play of Larsson will be scrutinized even more with each game.

Sean Couturier, selected eighth by the Flyers, has also been a pleasant surprise in a stressful situation. He's posted 16 points in 39 games so far, but is in a completely different situation than Nugent-Hopkins or Landeskog. The Flyers were expected to be battling for home ice in the Eastern Conference, and his impact in a third and fourth line role has been solid so far.

Six players selected in the first round of the 2011 Draft have seen NHL action this year. With Mika Zibanejad back in Sweden and Mark Scheifele and Brandon Saad both back in juniors, there have really been four skaters that had made an impact this year.

Until recently.

That's when an unexpected name hit the ice in the NHL. Andrew Shaw, a 20-year-old fifth round pick (139th overall), signed his entry-level deal and made the jump to the Blackhawks' roster in the wake of Daniel Carcillo's season-ending suspension/injury. In his first seven games, he's been all anyone in Chicago can talk about, scoring four goals and flying up and down the ice.

San Jose's Todd McLellan noticed Shaw after the Sharks' loss in Chicago, and he's been seeing ice time with Marian Hossa on the Hawks' second line in the absence of Patrick Sharp.

There are a handful of rookies having impressive seasons this year, and the Calder race is as wide open as the playoff picture in both conferences. Will the Class of 2011 continue to represent down the stretch? Their teams certainly hope so.

Tab Bamford is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the Chicago Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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