There has been a shift in the culture of the NHL the last few years with focus pulling away from veterans and moving over to the younger players. Young players have been filling more and more roles on NHL teams recently. Quite simply, they are cheaper and there is more of an upside than their older counterparts.
This year in particular, the rookie movement is in full swing, and not only are these young men surviving in the NHL, but they are thriving. More this year than any year in memory, the rookie movement is making an impact, with big names on almost every team, and so many of them succeeding.
To put this season into perspective, most teams have played around 7 games this season and already 27 rookies have scored goals and nearly 40 have found their names on the score sheet. Not only are they scoring though, they are leading teams. Not since the lockout season of 2005/2006 have we seen the name value we do this year, and that year had the benefit of two groups of eligible rookies. This season the rookies are on their way to becoming one of the best rookie classes of all time, lets take a look at some of the names that are trying to make that happen.
McDavid and Eichel; The Big Two
Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be forever linked much like the names Crosby and Ovechkin are. All of last season people were looking ahead at who would be the first pick and who would be the second, a battle between the two all year despite only seeing each other at the World Junior Championship. In the end it was McDavid who was taken first overall by Edmonton, and he has been the class of the rookie movement so far. McDavid has shown offensive brilliance, five goals and three assists in eight games, he has also played strong defense and has become a leader on the ice for this team.
The struggles in Buffalo have effected all, including Eichel. The second overall pick has only managed two goals for the 2-5-0 Sabres, who appear to be on the way to another last place finish. Though he may not be filling the stat sheet, Eichel has shown flashes of very impressive offensive skill, and may have the best pure shot of any rookie this season. It will take more time for Eichel and Buffalo, but do not doubt the skill of the young American.
The Desert Duo; Domi and Duclair
Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have surprised a lot of people this year and have put the Coyotes into main stream NHL news. With 15 combined points in 7 games, the two youngsters are not only among the team leaders in points, but they are leading the team to wins. The two rookies have been strong on both sides of the puck, both with good +/- ratings, and getting plenty of ice time in all situations. The two really showed off their skills in a 4-0 win in Anaheim on October 14th. Duclair scored a hat-trick while Domi added a goal and assist. The pair dominated the game for Phoenix and could have had multiple more points with a little puck luck. The Coyotes have gone on a bit of a slide after starting 3-0, but this team is much improved, especially thanks to these two young players who will lead this team to a stronger future.
The Winnipeg Jets Trio
Rookies make NHL rosters every year, but for three to make the same team is very rare. That is what has happened in Winnipeg this season. Three rookies made the Jets opening night roster, Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Andrew Copp. Ehlers was no surprise to anyone, his offensive skill is jaw dropping on some nights and he appears to just be improving.
Petan and Copp play together on the fourth line. It is not a typical fourth line as both have pretty high offensive IQ’s. Petan is an especially gifted offensive player who gets extra ice time on the powerplay, his passing is among the best on the team and he looks to move up the depth chart as time passes. To have three rookies all contributing on one team is surprising, to have that team be successful really speaks to the skill these rookies have.
The Best of the Rest
These players we have talked about hardly scratch the surface of the rookie skill in the league this year. Dylan Larkin has contributed for Detroit and is getting a ton of offensive minutes. Oscar Lindberg four goals in his first three games this season for New York and has jumped right in to a top role for the Rangers. Sam Reinhart, Artem Panarin, the list of strong young players this year goes on and on and as the season continues you can be certain more will emerge. The NHL is getting younger and younger and this season is a great example of the youth movement currently in effect around the league.
Born and raised Winnipeg sports fan and contributor with The Hockey Writers.