It is nearly the end of the November, and many clubs have passed the decision point on whether or not to keep their rookies with the team. For newly signed rookies, this is what decides whether or not their Entry-Level Contract (ELC) will begin.
For those who don’t know, the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for nine games at the start of the regular season when a player on his entry-level contract can be evaluated. A prospect who plays for any Canadian Hockey League team (Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) ) can be returned to his junior team prior to dressing for his 10th NHL game without his ELC contract kicking in. The tenth game begins the ELC contract and starts the countdown towards free agency. This player is will not be eligible to go to the American Hockey League due to an agreement with the CHL that prohibits 18-and-19-year-old prospects from playing in the AHL.
To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie.
Several teams in the Western Conference have rookies on their roster who made their case to stay in the NHL this season and are already proving themselves worthy.
Even though most eyes are on Troy Terry, forward Trevor Zegras is showing he is fully capable of staying with the team. At the time of writing he ranks 2nd among rookies in points with 14, 3rd among rookies with six goals, and 3rd among rookies with eight assists, tied with teammate Jamie Drysdale.
This isn’t his first dance with the NHL. Zegras played 24 NHL games last season, putting him one game below the threshold that would have held him back from being in the running for the Calder Trophy this year. Even though he started out the season slow, he is heating up and could swiftly surpass Detroit’s top rookies, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, for top rookie.
The defensemen drafted 6th overall in the 2020 Entry Draft is on the same trajectory as his teammate, Zegras. Both played the magic 24 games last season that made them eligible to be considered rookies this season. In 22 games, they made a strong impact on their teams this season. Drysdale has two goals, eight assists, and 10 points this season. Even though he is a rookie, he is still playing on the top line with Hampus Lindholm and is seeing an average of 21:44 minutes per game. What makes him unique is his ability to make offensive plays. The Ducks are trying to rebuild their roster and with players like Drydale and Zegras, they are off to a fine start.
Colorado’s rookie defensemen is showing that he has earned his place on the team and quickly becoming a favourite for Calder.
Byram was the Avalanche’s 4th overall pick in 2019 and didn’t make the Av’s roster immediately. He spent one extra season with the Vancouver Giants before playing 19 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season. He struggled with confidence in his first game, but by his next go-around he showed a new level of confidence. It was a confidence that continued to build in successive games and is the thing that got him a full-time spot on this season’s roster.
In the 12 games he’s played so far, he has four goals and five assists. His journey shadows that of teammate Cale Makar, who like Byram, was drafted 4th overall, and have shown their prowess on the blue line. Makar won the Calder Trophy his freshmen year, and Byram is looking like he could easily be in the running to win it for the Avalanche again.
There is a good reason Dallas is known as the Stars and their roster shows that. Their newest star is that of a Swedish centre.
The Swede who was a 5th round pick in the 2017 Entry-Draft was expecting to spend his year with the Texas Stars in the AHL when an unexpected injury to Jason Robertson gave him the chance he had been waiting for. He shined during training camp, seeing time on the same line as Tyler Seguin, but failed to make the opening night roster. With Robertson out, Peterson made his NHL debut on October 14th, playing alongside veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. He showed that he deserved the chance when he lit up the buzzer, scoring his first NHL goal. THW’s Raylene Lung has been there from the beginning, reporting on Peterson’s progress. Like Raylene and Stars fans, we are looking forward to what kind of depth he can bring he can bring to the Stars. In the 13 games he has played with the Stars, he has three goals and one assist.
Both of Edmonton’s rookies grew up Oilers fans and are getting to live out their dreams by putting on the iconic sweater.
Ryan McLeod first saw his name on an NHL roster last year when he was called up to Edmonton’s taxi squad. Even though he is a native of Toronto, he grew up an Oilers fan, so dawning the jersey for the first time and following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, Ryan Smyth, was a dream come true. In the 12 games he’s played this season, he has three goals. Before coming to the Oilers, he was playing with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors where he had 14 goals and 14 assists in 28 games. Prior to his full-time post with the Oilers THW’s Brian Swane gave fans some need to know facts about McLeod.
Ryan McLeod isn’t the only Oiler fan to dawn the blue and orange sweater this season. Enter Stuart Skinner, the rookie goalie who has stepped up the plate in the absence of veteran Mike Smith. The twenty-three-year-old was drafted 78th overall in 2017 by his hometown team.
THW’s Oilers contributor, Brian Swayne, reported on his AHL stats with the Bakersfield Condors. Skinner played 31 games and 1,787 minutes, the most in the AHL, and with 20 wins, won the most games. With stats like that, the Oilers had an easy choice when they went down a goaltender. The team is building around superstar Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Skinner is the perfect choice to add to that.
Los Angeles Kings
This rookie made history for his home country when he got drafted by the LA Kings.
When the LA Kings drafted him 33rd overall in the 2019 Entry-Draft Arthur Kaliyev became the first ever person from Uzbekistan to be drafted into the NHL and on February 2, 2021, he became the first Uzbek to play on NHL ice. He got a point in that game, but did not see action again until 2021 when he made the roster for the LA Kings. Mike Stephens of The Hockey News was able to speak with head coach Todd McLellan about this right-winger. McLellan cited COVID and his stint with the Ontario Reign as a huge reason as to why he was able to get the nod to remain on the roster. In the 19 games he’s played this season Kaliyev has four goals, two assists, and five points.
Some people may discount players who start their hockey careers in the south, but one Wild rookie is showing the opposite.
Brandon Duhaime started his hockey journey in Coral Springs, Florida, and became the 15th Florida-born player to appear in the NHL when he made the Minnesota Wild’s opening night roster. He was the 106th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry-Draft and spent two seasons with the Iowa Wild honing his skills before making the cut this season.
In the 21 games he has played with the NHL the right-winger has scored three goals with five assists. Prior to his NHL start, he was a relative unknown. THW’s Mariah Stark said of Duhaime, ‘I guarantee no one had (him) on their radar, even Wild fans didn’t. He’s been crazy to watch.’ While Stark doesn’t know if he’ll be a Calder contender, he’s certainly made Wild fans take notice.
Duhaime isn’t the only 2016 draft pick who has made the roster for the Wild this season. Canadian-born American Rem Pitlick, who was drafted by Nashville 76th overall, is also seeing his NHL dreams come to fruition. Pitlick has been exposed to the NHL his entire life, his father, Lance, played for the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, and his cousin, Tyler, currently plays in the Flames organization. Pitlick came to the Wild on October 6th, after being claimed off of the waivers from Nashville. In 12 games, the centre has four goals and five assists, and already has his first hat trick in the books. He may not be on anyone’s Calder radar, but he is on the radar of Wild fans.
When the Predators went on the hunt for new talent, they didn’t need to look any further than their AHL affiliate.
Unlike others on the list, Tanner Jeannot went undrafted before the Nashville Predators signed him as a free agent to a three-year entry-level contract in April 2018. Since then, he has spent time between the Milwaukee Admirals and the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. It wasn’t until March 2, 2021 that he finally got a call-up to the NHL. In 15 games last season he had 5 goals and 2 assists. This season the winger has played in 21 games and is sitting at a comfortable 5 goals and 4 assists. Even though he may not be at the top of the pack for the Calder Trophy, he is still a player to keep in mind out of the western conference.
Tanner Jeannot isn’t the only member of the Chicago Wolves to have made the roster for the Predators. Their 24th overall pick from the 2019 Entry-Draft, Philip Tomasino has made it to the big-times as well. Prior to going to the AHL, he spent an additional year in the OHL, splitting his time between the Niagara IceDogs and the Oshawa Generals. In his 19 games with the Predators this season he has 4 goals and 2 assists. Even though he is a bottom six forward, he is still young and has the potential to have a bright future in the NHL.
San Jose Sharks
San Jose kept two rookies on past the preseason, one of which is a second generation Shark.
There are several second-generation NHLers making their debuts this year and Jonathan Dahlén is one of them. The twenty-three-year-old 42nd overall pick in the 2016 Entry-Draft began his career getting drafted by the Ottawa Senators, but is now following in his father, Ulf’s footsteps, and putting on the teal San Jose Sharks jersey.
In his first 17 games with the Sharks, he has 7 goals and 2 assists. The rookie centre has managed to play on the same line as Logan Couture and Timo Meier. Since being drafted he has been a member of the Senators and Devils organizations, so third time could be the charm for this Swede.
Instead of choosing to play in the minor leagues, the Portland, Oregon native opted to go to university instead. Since getting drafted by the San Jose Sharks 102nd overall in 2018, he has spent the last three years at the University of North Dakota. While Weatherby may not have come out as strong as Dahlén, he is still no slouch. In his 21 games with the Sharks, he has scored two goals and three assists. The Sharks seem to be in the process of rebuilding as they had several rookies who made the opening night roster and Jasper Weatherby is a great addition to their lineup.
The defensemen that other teams overlooked is proving himself with the Canucks.
Podkolzin’s draft experienced echoed that of Anaheim Defensemen Cam Fowler’s nine years prior. Both were expected to go in the top five but dropped significantly when push came to shove. Both were sat in their future home arena when the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks respectively ended their draft day wait.
The Ducks and the Canucks each got a top-tier player that were welcomed by future fans who were in attendance for the draft. Unlike Fowler, Podkolzin didn’t immediately jump into the NHL. After his draft, he went back to his home team in Russia to play for an extra two seasons. In 2021, the twenty-year-old Moscow native made the Canucks roster this season and has played in 20 games so far. In those games he has four goals and one assist. He is showing that he deserves to stay in Canada and that the international experience he achieved in Russia helped in that development.
Vegas Golden Knights
Another player who got their start in a southern state is showing hockey has a home everywhere.
When Jake Leschyshyn took the ice in his first game on October 14th, he became only the fourth player from North Carolina to play in the NHL. Even though he was born in Raleigh while his father, Curtis, was playing with the Carolina Hurricanes, he spent most of his life in Saskatchewan where his family moved to after his father’s retirement. He was selected 67th overall in the 2017 Entry-Draft by the Golden Knights in their first ever draft. The next year he returned to the Regina Pats where he served as team captain. Post-junior, the forward spent two seasons in the NHL, but cracked his way into the NHL this season. In 18 games with the Knights, he has one goal and three assists.
We are still early in the season, and the tides could change at any point for these young players. Are there any rookies that I missed or any that should they be called up by the AHL could make a point to stay in the big leagues?
On her previous stint with The Hockey Writers, Casey covered the Tampa Bay Lightning, but she has returned to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though she is Steel City born, a former season ticker member with the Lightning, and lives in Orlando, the Canes have always been her favourite team. She started her hockey career as Keeper of Time for the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcan Hockey Club while going to school for Sport Management. She hopes to one day work with Hockey Ministries International as a team chaplain. You can usually find her tweeting about hockey or posting pictures on Instagram.