Lightning rookie of the year

While James Mirtle hosts a round table on the (lack of) Calder race in NHL between Alex Overckhin and Sidney Crosby, I thought I'd encourage a little discussion about Lightning rookies and the impacts they've had on the team.

It's tough to peg a "rookie of the year" with the 3 standout rookies currently on the roster.

Paul Ranger was called up from Springfield on a whim to replace fellow rookie Timo Helbing while the Lightning were lost trying to figure out just where they would find a sixth defensiveman and what happened? He becomes a solid, dependable stay-at-home defensiveman who can chip in on the offense with assists now and again (14 as of this writing). After playing in 62 of the Lightning's 68 games, it's impossible to overlook his contribution to the team especially with his /- rating (currently a 6 but as high as 11 earlier in the year)...

Then we come to Ryan Craig who was called up with Darren Reid in December. The former team captain of the Springfield Falcons earned a roster spot with his nightly efforts, and has filled a niche of ugly goals in front of the net which had belonged to former Lightning team captain and NHL legend Dave Andreychuk. In 34 games (through Sunday, March 19th) Craig has 12 goals and nine assists and stands at plus two. He has four points in his last two games, including two goals in Saturday's victory versus the Philadelphia Flyers (he has 3 total against the Flyers this season as well).

And yet the third rookie on this Lightning team re-introduced the term "tough" into the locker-room lexicon. Evgeny Artyukhin doesn't just play physical, he re-defines the phrase. The 6'5", 254 pound Russian right wing has played 58 games with the Bolts, tallying 17 points and is a minus two -- but stats don't show what a force the player affectionately nicknamed "Artoo" is. Artyukhin's size alone is intimidating and for a good portion of the season -- he seemed to be the only player willing to use it. Where Lightning regulars were trying to use stickwork alone on defense and in the corners (in lieu of the new NHL rules and penalty-call's a-plenty), Artyukhin was a bone crusher instead, throwing mamoth checks and drawing the ire (fear?) of the NHL. Coach John Tortorella at one point thought the league was trying to officiate Artoo out of the league with penalties that Evgeny didn't deserve (in those 58 games, Artoo has 76 penalty minutes but the stories behind some of those penalties are questionable).

Three distinctive players, three distinctive styles and three players worthy of being dubbed the Lightning's Rookie of the Year. Who would you pick? Leave a comment or vote in the new on-site poll.

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