For the first month of the NHL season, it wasn't Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier or Luc Robitaille leading the New York Rangers in goals. It was Daniel Goneau.

Daniel Go-who?

Goneau was among the early-season surprises in a year featuring a bumper crop of good rookies. In some cases, some of these younger players took the spotlight away from the veterans as they made a fast getaway in their race for the NHL's Rookie of the Year honor.

Jarome Iginla at Calgary and Jim Campbell at St. Louis were two other players who led their teams in scoring for a good part of the first month. Other strong rookies in the early going: Jonas Hoglund, Iginla's linemate with the Flames; Harry York, Campbell's teammate with the Blues; Edmonton's Rem Murray; Chicago's Ethan Moreau; Toronto's Sergei Berezin; and three defensemen _ Boston's Mattias Timander, the New York Islanders' Bryan Berard and Ottawa's Wade Redden.

Goneau, whose eight goals after 19 games tied him with Gretzky for the team lead, was a big early surprise for the Rangers, who didn't expect so much so soon from the 20-year-old left wing from Montreal. In fact, Rangers general manager Neil Smith said he didn't know much about him until the team's scouting staff headed by Larry Pleau gave him an earful.

Goneau's excellence at the left-wing position made Sergio Momesso expendable. The Rangers traded the veteran left wing to St. Louis this past week for right wing Brian Noonan.

``He just knocked Sergio out of the lineup,'' said Smith, explaining why Momesso had seen little ice time this season.

Goneau was originally a second-round pick by the Boston Bruins in the 1994 Entry Draft, but returned to juniors for two more seasons before re-entering the draft in 1996, when he was the Rangers' second-round pick.

He didn't become a big goal-scorer until his final year in juniors, when he had 54 at Granby last season. He had scored a total of 61 goals in three previous seasons with Laval.

``We have no worry about playing Daniel at any time,'' Rangers coach Colin Campbell says. ``Daniel has matured quickly. I don't want to get ahead of myself. The next game he could take a step backwards, as it sometimes happens with rookies at this level. But Daniel has a good shot and has to stick to it.''

Iginla has been the go-to guy in many instances for the Flames, and is more than holding his own with such veterans as Theoren Fleury and Dave Gagner.

``He's been great,'' Fleury says. ``He's a kid who came in with a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure on him to pick up this organization. He's played extremely well with Dave Gagner and Jonas Hoglund and they've really helped give us more than one (scoring) line _ something we haven't had in the past.''

After 16 games, Iginla was leading the Flames with six goals and seven assists for 13 points.

``He's the most refreshing 19-year-old I've seen in a long time in our business,'' Flames coach Pierre Page says. ``He works hard, he trains hard and he knows how to play defense. Usually at that age, kids are spectacular at scoring goals, but you complain about their defense and their work ethic.

``This guy is a future captain. He's very humble. The other day, he scored a goal on a deflection but wouldn't say it to anybody and the goal was awarded to somebody else. It's nice to see young guys like that come into our business. There aren't enough of them.''

The 19-year-old right wing, a product of the Western Hockey League, was a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars in 1995. Along with Corey Millen, he was traded to Calgary for Joe Nieuwendyk.

``He does all the little things, all the fundamentals, all the basic stuff that any coach in any sport would want a young player to do,'' says Page. ``You very very rarely see that.''

Iginla struggled during the preseason before turning it on.

``It was a little tough for me in the preseason,'' he said. ``But I'm playing with some great linemates in Gagner and Hoglund, who's a threat all the time. We're getting some good ice time and we're getting a few breaks.''

In Campbell and York, the Blues have a pair of the NHL's best-looking rookies. With seven goals after 17 games, Campbell was tied for second on the Blues in goals. Campbell was the NHL Rookie of the Month for October with 11 points on 6 goals and 5 assists in 12 games. Three of his goals were game-winners.

The 23-year-old Campbell considers himself a ``late bloomer.'' He was drafted by Montreal in 1991 and traded to Anaheim for Robert Dirk in 1996. He played 16 games with the Mighty Ducks before signing as a free agent with St. Louis this past summer. Campbell said he wanted to play for Mike Keenan because ``he's won everywhere he's gone.''

York, also a center, had five goals and five assists in his first 17 games.

Murray was one of the reasons the Oilers got off to their fastest start since the 1988-89 season. He had five goals and six assists in his first 18 games. At one point he was leading the NHL in shooting percentage with five goals on 10 shots.

Moreau has been a welcome addition to a Chicago team depleted by the loss of such offensive stars as Jeremy Roenick and Bernie Nicholls. The rookie had three goals and four assists in 18 games. Berezin energized the Maple Leafs' offense with seven goals in his first 16 games.

Timander, Berard and Redden has been steady on the blue line for their teams, and Corey Schwab has played well in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Schwab was made an instant starter because of Daren Puppa's health problems and performed admirably in October with a 4-4-1 record, including one shutout, and 3.02 goals-against average.

End advance for Nov. 16-17