This season, we’re set to witness one of the NHL’s deepest rookie classes in a long time. Last season, Elias Pettersson entered the season as the top prospect and – surprise – he took home the Calder Trophy. This season, Jack and Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar and Kaapo Kakko all look capable of taking home the award. Heck, the New Jersey Devils’ Nikita Gusev could end up as the top freshman, even if the 27-year-old is too old to win the Calder.
But with pre-season coming to a close in the coming days, how have the best rookies looked so far?
Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils
It didn’t take long for Hughes Fever to ramp up in New Jersey, as the first-overall pick scored twice in his first pre-season game and has four points in his first three games after an already impressive prospect tournament showing in Buffalo. The Devils aren’t going to overexpose him right away with Nico Hischier primed for a breakout season as the No. 1 center, but Hughes will still finish as one of New Jersey’s top scorers this season.
Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks
Could two brothers challenge for the Calder Trophy this season? Absolutely, and Hughes, Vancouver’s top blueline prospect, is likely to be right there with his younger brother, Jack. Hughes, who already has five games of NHL experience and three assists to his credit after a short stint last season, has the most 5-on-5 ice time of any Canucks defensemen in the pre-season with 52:15 over three games. He’s a dynamic two-way defender who’ll get ample opportunities to run the power play this season.
Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
Coming off of a one-game, four-point performance at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament earlier this month, Kakko has yet to score a goal in the pre-season but is adjusting to the North American game alongside veteran Mika Zibanejad and fellow rookie Vitali Kravtsov. Kakko should have no issue hitting the 2o-goal mark this season once he finds his footing.
Vitali Kravtsov, LW, New York Rangers
Speaking of Kravstov, his opening night spot isn’t official yet, and it wouldn’t hurt his development to spend a bit of time in the AHL. The talented winger has two points in his first four games, but he projects to be a third-line winger to start the season. Would it be more effective to just send him down to Hartford, give him ample opportunity to prove himself there and play heavier minutes on a consistent basis before earning a call-up later on?
Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche
Through his first two games, Makar averaged 22 minutes and posted six shots but failed to register anything on the scoresheet. Still, it’s hard not be impressed with Makar, who has the makings of a future Norris Trophy winner. As the Avs look to contend in the Western Conference this season, Makar could find himself on the top pairing before long.
Sam Steel, C, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have one of the most exciting groups of forward prospects in the league, and Steel could be the best of the bunch. A dynamic scorer, Steel had 11 points in 22 games with the Ducks last season and is hoping to make a bigger impact in a full-time top-six role this season. Unfortunately, he has missed a few games due to a lower-body injury, but he had a couple of chances for the Ducks in his lone pre-season matchup against the Los Angeles Kings. Once he’s healthy, he’ll slot in beside Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg on the second line.
Maxime Comtois, LW, Anaheim Ducks
Comtois’ first NHL stint was a mixed bag. He started off strong, recording seven points in his first 10 games, but was later sent back to junior. He has just one assist in his first four games with the Ducks this pre-season, but his two-way play makes him one of Anaheim’s best young forwards. Comtois projects to be a middle-six power forward capable of scoring 20-25 goals a year and getting in the face of opponents, and while a bit of AHL seasoning might not hurt, he’s going to play a significant chunk of the campaign in the NHL.
Alexandre Texier, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
Prior to training camp, Texier turned heads in Traverse City with six points in four games, good for third in tournament scoring en route to Columbus’ third-place finish. In the pre-season, Texier, who had a taste of NHL playoff action last season, has just one shot in first two pre-season games. Texier has seen his game jump leaps and bounds over the past two seasons and this pre-season shouldn’t concern Blue Jackets fans.
Dante Fabbro, D, Nashville Predators
P.K. Subban’s unofficial replacement in Smashville, Fabbro is almost certainly going to slot into the team’s top four. Fabbro has shown he can put up solid numbers at other levels, but he’s not going to fill the void of Subban’s offensive output immediately. He’ll continue his development alongside Mattias Ekholm, a companion who can fill in for any mistakes Fabbro makes and give the young defender freedom to learn.
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