By Daniel Friedman
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New Jersey’s own Johnny Gaudreau leads all NHL rookies in points, which is what inspired me to make this list. He’s just the latest hotshot to come out of the region, and there are more coming.
If Gaudreau wins the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, he’ll be just the second from New York or New Jersey ever to do so.
With that, here are my top 10 current players from the area:
10. Erik Cole (Oswego, N.Y.) — LW, Detroit Red Wings
At age 36, his best days are behind him, but Cole still has 39 points this season for Dallas and Detroit. He’s got 532 career points in 892 games.
9. Dustin Brown (Ithaca, N..Y) — RW, Los Angeles Kings
Brown has captained the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cups, though his numbers have started to dip the last couple of years. Still, he’s a player any coach would love to have.
8. Nick Foligno (Buffalo, N.Y.) — LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Foligno’s having a career year, putting up 64 points in 70 games (his previous best was 47 points). He’s a creative puck-handler and is fun to watch in the offensive zone. He’s in his prime at 27 years of age, so it stands to reason that this might not be the only time we see this kind of production from him.
7. Jimmy Howard (Syracuse, N.Y.) — G, Detroit Red Wings
Howard’s had his ups and downs, but for the most part he’s played well. When he’s on, he’s very difficult to beat.
6. Ryan Callahan (Rochester, N.Y.) — RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
A beloved Rangers captain before getting moved to Tampa, Callahan is a true leader in every sense of the word. He’ll skate through the boards if it’ll help his team win. He can also score and make plays — he has 51 points in 69 games for the Lightning this season.
5. Johnny Gaudreau (Salem, N.J.) — LW, Calgary Flames
Man, is this kid fun to watch. Seriously, you need to see him play if you haven’t already done so. Slick, fast, accurate and dangerous. Insert praiseworthy adjective here. The best part is, he’s only 21 years of age.
4. Bobby Ryan (Cherry Hill, N.J.) — RW, Ottawa Senators
Ryan has some of the best hands in the league, and there’s no denying his scoring ability. Selected No. 2 right after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 draft, he took some time to get to that higher level, but he’s certainly justified his selection by now.
3. Kevin Shattenkirk (New Rochelle, N.Y.) — D, St. Louis Blues
He’s missed much of this season with injuries, but has 40 points in 49 games. Shattenkirk’s one of the premier puck-moving defensemen in the NHL, and he can play solidly without the puck as well.
2. James van Riemsdyk (Middletown, N.J.) — LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
“JVR” has 49 points this season, without a true No. 1 center feeding him the puck. His talent level is through the roof, and his numbers would be even higher if he were surrounded by better playmakers. He’s just 25, but he has 241 points in 398 career games.
1. Patrick Kane (Buffalo, N.Y.) — RW, Chicago Blackhawks
This was an obvious choice. Kane’s not only the best player from the region; he’s one of the best in the entire league. He could’ve won the scoring race this year if not for a late-season injury which will probably sideline him until midway through the playoffs. Kane has 557 points in 576 games, not to mention a Calder Trophy, two Stanley Cup rings, an Olympic silver medal and four All-Star Game appearances. He’s 26.