- Corey Pronman, ESPN Insider
Despite playing without Steven Stamkos for a lengthy period of time, Tampa Bay has remained among the top teams in the East, thanks to the great play of Ben Bishop, Martin St. Louis and many top young players whom we profiled last season.
"Both are really smart, competitive and skilled," Tampa Bay assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said. "Their skill level has far gone underappreciated. If everyone knew [about their skill] including ourselves, they wouldn't have gone undrafted as long as they did.
"Both Ondrej and Tyler are both phenomenal penalty killers with their speed and competitiveness, but also threats offensively on the PK. Johnson has great speed and release on his shot. Palat has been a late bloomer physically and as a hockey player. He's always battled well, but now has additional physical maturity and explosive as a skater."
A lot has changed from my Dec. 5 update. Johnson has mildly separated from the pack, with the next four players forming the next tier. A common comment I hear from readers is that there should be an adjustment based on age and potential. As of now, the Calder trophy does not specify that, it simply awards the most proficient rookie, but obviously players such as Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, Valeri Nichushkin and Jacob Trouba would be atop my rankings if age was a main factor.
1. Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (previous ranking: 4)
Johnson has played more than 20 minutes per game from December until now. He's lined up against the opposition's best players, in all situations, and has excelled in this role. Last season's AHL MVP, Johnson is a quick forward with great two-way hockey sense. Like teammate St. Louis, Johnson is undersized and went undrafted.
6dESPN stats & info