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  1. HF Test1045.13:31:11.0561503
2011-12 rookie crop could top last season's strong group
Posted 8/21/2011 11:50 AM ET
Andy Miele was the best player in college hockey last season and he might have a shot to be one of the best rookies in the NHL this season.

"Don't count him out," said Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney. "This kid is competitive and he's smart."

Certainly, the 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner isn't guaranteed a spot on the Coyotes' roster, but Maloney said Miele, 23, will get a chance in training camp to show what he can do. He's a 5-8 forward who had 24 goals and 47 assists for 71 points in 39 games for Miami (Ohio) last season.

MORE: Previous Kevin Allen blogs

"We're not a team blessed with an abundance of high skill," Maloney said. "He brings that. … It will come down how he performs in September when the big boys show up."

This season's NHL rookie crop should be as strong as, or stronger than, last season's crop. The top four picks from the June draft — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) and Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils) — should all have a chance to start with their NHL teams, although Huberdeau hasn't signed a contract yet.

There probably will be other 2011 draft picks who could get a look. Remember, Carolina Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner, the 2010-11 rookie of the year, was the seventh pick in the 2010 draft.

The Nashville Predators could have three strong Calder Trophy candidates in defenseman Jonathan Blum, and forwards Blake Geoffrion and Craig Smith. To be eligible for Calder consideration, players can't have more than 25 NHL games on their résumé. Blum played 23 last season and Geoffrion played 20.

But there always are surprise standouts in the rookie field, such as last season, when Chicago Blackhawks goalie Cory Crawford and Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand emerged.

One sleeper candidate this season could be Calgary Flames smallish center Paul Byron, picked up from the Buffalo Sabres in the Robyn Regehr deal. The speedy Byron had 26 goals and 27 assists for 53 points in 67 games for Portland (Maine) in the American Hockey League.

"We simply will not place artificial barriers or limitations on guys," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said. "If someone deserves to be on the team, we are going to make room for him, whether it's during camp or at some point in the season."

Posted 8/21/2011 11:50 AM ET
Andy Miele could provide offensive pop for the Coyotes.
By Josh Gibney, AP
Andy Miele could provide offensive pop for the Coyotes.