The NHL rookie class for the 2019-20 season is loaded with outstanding players, including a handful of great young defensemen like Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Adam Fox, and John Marino. Beyond them, you have forwards Dominik Kubalik and Victor Olofsson and goaltenders Ilya Samsonov and Elvis Merzlikins. We include all of them and more, as we look at the most impressive rookie on every NHL team so far this season.
The short-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks is not particularly strong. They are not a good team at the moment, with little offense and few playmakers, and they are going to miss the playoffs again. They do, however, have some intriguing young players, and the 22-year-old Steel is at the top of that list. He may not have taken the big step this season the Ducks were hoping for, but the potential is certainly still there and there is no reason to believe he cannot be a core part of the Ducks' rebuild. He has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in his first 61 games this season while being hurt by an unsustainably low shooting percentage. With a little change in his shooting luck next season, he could have a breakout performance.
Given some of the players picked after Hayton in the 2018 draft (most notably Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist and Rasmus Sandin) there might be some regret and frustration from Coyotes fans. But the Coyotes themselves still believe in Hayton and think he can be a strong player in the NHL. He has received his first taste of NHL action this season with mixed results. He is still only 19 years old, so it is way too early to give up on him as an impact player. But the Coyotes would probably like to see a big step forward next season.
The Bruins are a Stanley Cup contender with a veteran roster, so they have not had to use many rookies this season for more than a few games. Kuhlman has been one of the most noticeable ones this season, pacing the team's rookies with six points (one goal, five assists) while the Bruins have controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts with him on the ice, making him a strong possession driver in his limited ice time.
Other than Jack Eichel, Olofsson is probably the only player on this Sabres roster who has met or exceeded expectations this season. He has missed close to 20 games due to injury but is still going to end up with more than 20 goals. Had he not missed any games, he probably would have been a lock for 30.
By playing 25 games a year ago, Dube barely makes the cut as a rookie this season. But he is still technically considered one in the eyes of the league and is the only rookie in Calgary to play more than five games this season. He has shown some improvement from his first taste of NHL action a year ago but is still mostly just a depth player at this point. He was a second-round pick in 2016 and has some scoring pedigree and is still only 21 years old, so there is plenty of upside here.
Necas has been the only rookie in Carolina to get meaningful playing time this season, so he kind of gets this spot by default. But he has also been legitimately good. He is on track for more than 20 goals and close to 50 points in his first full season of NHL action while playing a strong two-way game. The Hurricanes have one of the best young cores of talent in the league, and Necas is going to be a big part of this emerging power in the Eastern Conference.
The Blackhawks are going to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row, but they at least found another player to build around. Kubalik is having one of the best rookie seasons in Blackhawks franchise history and is on track to score close to 40 goals this season. He is a little older than most rookies, (24) but there is not much in his game to suggest his production this year is a huge fluke. The Blackhawks acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade a year ago, and it has turned out to be one of the best moves general manager Stan Bowman has made in years.
This is an easy one. Makar made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, and it was obvious from the first game that he was going to be one of the top Calder Trophy candidates in his first full season in the NHL. He has not only not disappointed, but he also has probably exceeded expectations. He is a one-man highlight reel every night on the Avalanche blue line and has helped a young up-and-coming team become one of the best teams in the NHL. The Norris Trophy and a Stanley Cup are in his future.
When the Blue Jackets allowed Sergei Bobrovsky to walk in free agency, it created a massive hole in their goal crease. Instead of going outside the organization in free agency or making a trade to fill it, they relied on their own internal options, including longtime backup Joonas Korpisalo and Merzlikins. The latter has turned out to be one of the biggest difference makers on this year's team, as he has shined in his NHL debut. He had a slow start early on but has rapidly improved and has played at an All-Star level to help the Blue Jackets remain in the playoff race.
The Stars desperately needed secondary scoring if they were going to make the jump from playoff team to Stanley Cup contender. They expected to get it from free agents Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Instead it has been Gurianov who has stepped up and helped fill that role. His 20 goals in his first 61 games this season are tops on the team, and he is always noticeable flying around the ice every night.
Zadina has not had a ton of playing time in the NHL at this point, but the early returns this season have been promising. The talent is easy to see, and if you project his 2019-20 performance out over 82 games, it comes out to around 25 goals and 50 points. That is more than acceptable production for a 20-year-old forward.
Bear has turned out to be just the player the Oilers needed on their blue line. The 22-year-old has instantly stepped into a top-four role on the Edmonton defense and is already one of the team's best defenders. He moves the puck well, defends well and chips in to the offense while already playing more than 20 minutes per night. He may not ever be a superstar or Norris Trophy winner, but the Oilers still found a good one here.
Goaltending and defense has been a major weakness for the Panthers this season — again —- even after the hiring of coach Joel Quenneville and the signing of Sergei Bobrovsky. Driedger has not played a ton of games this season (only nine appearances as of publication here) but he has been outstanding in his limited work, posting a 5-2-0 record with a .932 save percentage for the Panthers.
You should not typically put much stock in plus-minus as a measuring stick stat, but when a player is a plus-10 on a team that has been outscored as much as the Kings have, and when he is doing it as a rookie, that is something to at least acknowledge. Roy overcame long odds as a seventh-round draft pick to reach the NHL and has put together a great rookie season for the Kings.
He wasn't playing a ton of minutes before an injury sidelined him for a few weeks in late February, but that just makes his overall offensive production all that more impressive. He has scored seven goals from the blue line in his first 55 games this season and has one of the highest goal-scoring rates on the Minnesota blue line. At 25 he is an older player for a rookie, but he has been easily the Wild's top performing rookie.
The Max Pacioretty trade to Vegas has turned out to be a strong one for general manager Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens. Along with Tomas Tatar — currently the Canadiens' best forward — they also picked up Suzuki in that deal. His rookie performance has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing Canadiens season, as he is on pace for more than 15 goals and close to 50 points with a 53 percent shot attempt share. He looks like he has a chance to be an outstanding top-six player for the Canadiens moving forward.
The offseason trade of P.K. Subban and the in-season injury to Ryan Ellis created some big openings on the Predators blue line, and Fabbro has been there to help fill in. The Predators have always had a steady pipeline of young defense talent coming through their farm system, and Fabbro is going to be the next one in a long line of stars. Alongside Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ellis, the Predators defense is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
There have been a lot of growing pains for Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's class. He has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but it has not always translated into goals or points. However, it is not anything to be overly concerned about. He is, after all, still only 18 years old and not every teenager, even the top pick in the draft, immediately steps into the NHL and produces like a superstar. He still figures to be the face of the franchise going forward alongside 2017 top pick Nico Hischier.
Another team with a thin rookie class. Dobson, the Islanders' first-round pick in 2018 (No. 12 overall) has received his first taste of NHL action this season. The Islanders haven't asked much from him, limiting his minutes and giving him a sheltered role when he's played, and he's produced a goal and four assists in his first 31 games.
At the start of the year, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, would eventually be the Rangers' top rookie. It has not played out that way. Instead, it is Fox who has emerged as the Rangers' Calder Trophy contender and their best overall defenseman. He has taken on a massive role right from the start and never once looked out of place. He moves the puck, he contributes offensively and he has been outstanding defensively. His performance has been overshadowed by Colorado's Cale Makar and Vancouver's Quinn Hughes on a league-wide level, but Fox is right there with them.
For a team that is going through an absolutely massive rebuild, the Senators do not have an impressive collection of rookies on this year's team. Hogberg has probably been the best, holding his own in net with a .910 save percentage in his first 20 starts. There is a strong case to be made that he has been the Senators' best goalie this season, with the team's best save percentage and winning percentage.
Myers has quietly put together a strong rookie campaign on the Flyers blue line. Through the first week of March, he is a plus-17 on the season (second on the team) and has added a bit of an offensive punch to the defense with 16 points in his first 48 games. He is obviously not on the same level as the other top rookie defensemen in the league this season, but he has been a solid addition to one of the league's most surprising teams.
The Penguins acquired Marino for a sixth-round draft pick before the season in a move that was probably overlooked by most of the NHL. It is not being overlooked now. Marino has instantly become one of the Penguins' best all-around defensemen and looks like he is going to be a key part of their defense for years. The combination of his production, defensive play and cheap salary cap hit through next season is a huge score for the Penguins. He is one of the great young defensemen in this rookie group across the NHL, right there with Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes and Adam Fox.
The Sharks' disappointing season and constant run of injuries has forced them to go through a lengthy list of rookies this season. Ferraro has played the biggest role out of any of them, finding a regular spot among the Sharks' defense rotation. The 21-year-old has had a promising rookie season, playing on the team's third-defense pairing. He has taken on a bigger role in February and had one of his best months of the season.
Kyrou hasn't played a ton for the Blues this season, but he's been solid in his limited minutes. There is nothing on his stat line that really jumps off the page (four goals, four assists in 26 games is a decent enough pace), but he has posted great underlying numbers and has been one of the Blues' best possession drivers with a 58 percent shot attempt share.
Given the overall strength and depth of the Lightning lineup, it is really difficult for rookies to get meaningful playing time. Tampa Bay has used only three rookies this season and none has been more than a role player. Verhaeghe has made probably the biggest impact, with his most noticeable game being a hat trick performance against the Vancouver Canucks back in January.
Sandin figures to be a huge part of the Maple Leafs defense in the coming years but was thrust into some NHL duty this season due to a mountain of injuries on the team's blue line. The 20-year-old hasn't looked overmatched in his limited action and has top-pairing potential. His entry-level contract and high ceiling will make him an extremely valuable asset next season on Toronto's defense.
Forget about being just the most impressive rookie on the Canucks: Hughes has been one of the most impressive rookies in the entire NHL and is on the short list of top contenders for the Calder Trophy as the league's Rookie of the Year. He has become an immediate star for Vancouver and is going to be one of the team's long-term building blocks for the next decade, alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. The latter two were finalists for the Calder Trophy in each of the past two seasons (Boeser was the runner-up two years ago; Pettersson won this past season), and Hughes will easily follow in their footsteps.
Hague has appeared in only 38 games for the Golden Knights this season, but the 21-year-old has made a positive impact in his limited role. He has only one goal and 10 assists, but he has great possession numbers and looks like he has a bright future in the NHL. He was part of Vegas' initial draft class back in 2017 and, along with Cody Glass (the team's top overall pick), has played a role on this year's team.
The Capitals' first-round pick (No. 22 overall) from 2015 has been tagged as their goalie of the future. Based on the way this season has played out, he might be their best goalie in the present. Samsonov has been one of the league's top rookie goaltenders this season and has made the Capitals' decision on whether to let longtime starter Braden Holtby walk this offseason in free agency a bit easier.
Heinola played only eight games with the Jets this season before being sent back to Finland, but the 19-year-old made a strong first impression in those appearances and should be a significant part of Winnipeg's future defense. He scored one goal, had four assists and was a plus-3 in those games. The Jets selected him with the No. 20 overall pick in this year's NHL entry draft. The only other Jets rookie with more points this season is Jansen Harkins, a depth forward who has just seven points in 27 games.
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