NHL rookie rankings: Why Cale Makar leads the pack after one month

Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

We're close to one month into the 2019-20 NHL season, and it's time to look at the rookie class. It remains an exciting one -- even if several of the bigger-name prospects haven't necessarily made a massive immediate impact. There's an awfully long way to go.

At this point, there are a couple of things I'm going to look at a lot closer than point totals. The first is usage. The coaches have the best read on the team and the best sense of what they feel their young players can handle. In many cases, we've seen rookies put into elevated roles on their teams and excel, whether it be as top-four defensemen or top-six forwards. That early-season vote of confidence says a lot about the player's preparation and development. You have to take into account the quality of the team, but any rookie playing big minutes and in special-teams situations says a lot about him.

The other thing I'm looking at is whether the player is starting to make the adjustment to the NHL level. That comes in the forms of increased production, increased usage or just little flourishes in his game you can see when watching. Jack Hughes didn't have a ton of points at the beginning of the season, but he kept getting closer and closer before the dam broke for him. Cale Makar has had to adjust to different partners, different roles on the penalty kill and how to defend at this level. You start seeing those incremental improvements and it's a great sign for where their seasons are headed.

Each month, we're going to do status updates for this rookie class. This isn't necessarily an early-season Calder Trophy ranking, instead a helpful look at the first-year players who are making an early impact. The fluctuation in the rankings could be pretty dramatic month to month based on the quality of this class.

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

It helps to be part of one of the best teams in the league, but Makar has been far more than a passenger. His ability to play with speed and his natural instincts have made his transition to full-time NHLer rather seamless. Makar has hit a few bumps in the road, as he's been moved around the lineup and on special teams a bit, but the 21-year-old is among the rookie scoring leaders, with 10 points through his first 11 NHL games. Six of those points have come on the power play, where Makar has averaged 3:37 of ice time per game this season. He's averaging 18:32 of total ice time, and is starting to direct more pucks to net.