As I am marveling at this year’s crop of rookies, I looked back to see which previous rookie classes have had this many impact players. I had to go back to 2005-06, with Calder winner Alexander Ovechkin along with Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter and Brent Seabrook. While not all of them had a major impact immediately, they are all still very relevant right now. The next class as stud worthy in my humble opinion was the 1990-91 class, which consisted of Calder winner Eddie Belfour and runner up Sergei Fedorov along with Mike Richter, Rob Blake, Mats Sundin and the mighty Jaromir Jagr. Each class has its share of good and bad players, but this year’s class could be bordering on legendary.
Auston Matthews (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): The number one overall pick is living up to all the hype and is a generational talent. With 27 goals and 46 points so far this season, Matthews makes me wish I hadn’t let everyone else be the one who drafted him. He still goes through the usual rookie doldrums, but he will be a finalist come June for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie and in a class this deep, it will be earned.
Patrik Laine (RW, Winnipeg Jets): The second pick in last year’s entry draft, Laine is a goal scoring machine, especially at home. Once Winnipeg learns to win the tough games on the road and these young guys mature, Laine and the Jets will be having parades in June up in Winnipeg. Laine currently sits at 26 goals and 47 points, and missed five games with concussion-like symptoms. The next ten years in the NHL are going to be very entertaining up north of the border.
Mitch Marner (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): Marner is quietly and very effectively playing nose to nose with Auston Matthews as the future leaders of Leaf Nation. With his 15 goals and 48 points, the former London Knight is leading all rookies in scoring, with the Leafs separating all three uber rookies on three different lines often this season. Marner has blown doors off at each level of his development and I see him winning an Art Ross Trophy or two in his future as NHL’s leading scorer.
Matthew Tkachuk (LW, Calgary Flames): Speaking of former London Knights, Marner’s former teammate Tkachuk has been on fire lately, and his season numbers are slowly piling up. The son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk, Matthew is a chip off the old block, never afraid to get to the dirty spots in the corners and camping in front of the goalie. Matthew has 11 goals and 35 points so far, and 92 Penalties in Minutes and is most certainly the most physical forward of this rookie crop, all while only playing 14:21 minutes per game.
Zach Werenski (D, Columbus Blue Jackets): This former Michigan Wolverine continues to chip away at the offensive numbers while providing the young Blue Jackets much needed defensive stability, which lacked in the past. With eight goals and 33 points and a plus/minus +14 halfway through the season, 50 points is very doable and the future is bright in C-Bus.
William Nylander (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): After a 22-game stint last year, Nylander has hit the ice running this season as the third head of the three-headed rookie monster in the mecca of hockey. Willie usually plays on the top line for the Leafs with Leo Komorov and Nazem Kadri, and is a top power play unit contributor. With 15 goals and 38 points so far, this young Leaf and his rookie brethren will be killing it for years to come.
Sebastian Aho (RW, Carolina Hurricanes): Small stature hasn’t stopped Aho from being a top offensive option for the Canes this year. With 17 goals and 32 points so far, Aho is emerging as one of the young, talented leaders of a very young Carolina team bursting from the seams with draft pick talent throughout the organization at all levels. My NHL League Pass has been used quite often to watch the Hurricanes and will be there more often as this young team grows and wins a Cup.
Anthony Mantha (RW, Detroit Red Wings): After a 10-game debut last year, the hulking forward earned his time in the AHL across state here in Grand Rapids and is now a fixture on the Wings top line, and will be there for years to come. One of the few current bright spots on Detroit’s future watch along with Dylan Larkin, Mantha is averaging over 16 minutes per game and has added 13 goals and 16 helpers so far and is a plus/minus +14 on a team that hasn’t been very responsible on the defensive end, so that is a good thing.
Mikko Rantanen (RW, Colorado Avalanche): GM Joe Sakic decided to let Mikko own his spurs on the thin Colorado roster, and he's doing ok for a rookie, with 11 goals and 26 points, but sits at plus/minus -22. However, this isn’t all his fault, as Colorado has been dreadful in their own end and is one of the worst puck possession teams in the NHL. Patience is the key in Denver, as this is a very young team, and I think it would be foolish of the franchise to trade away any of their young stars right now.
You can reach me here or on Twitter @PolkaPat.