A good rookie represents hope for the future, but a really good rookie represents hope for the here and now as well as down the road. Here are the 10 NHL teams most likely to receive an injection of youthful skill and optimism this season:
ANAHEIM DUCKS: It’s not quite Ryan Getzlaf and a bunch of 20-year-olds in Anaheim this season, but it’s close. The Ducks might enter the 2019-20 campaign with a half-dozen rookies on their roster, including five up front. Highly regarded forwards Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all but locks to crack the lineup and get the chance to make immediate contributions, with Max Jones and Isac Lundestrom also pushing hard for a spot. On defense, Josh Mahura looks good to earn a regular shift, while Brendan Guhle – who’s technically not a rookie after playing 18 and eight NHL games in the past two seasons, respectively – is also expected to play full-time.
Calder Trophy candidates: Steel, Terry and Comtois will be put in position to succeed, with Steel the most likely to compete for rookie-of-the-year honors.
OTTAWA SENATORS: The future is now. At least, that’s what the Sens are hoping. Coming off a last-place finish and top-to-bottom roster purge, the door is wide open in Ottawa for first-year players to earn a spot. Drake Batherson was a revelation in the AHL last season and also impressed in a 20-game NHL audition. Look for him to start the season on a scoring line. Big-bodied center Logan Brown and speedy winger Alex Formenton will also get long, long looks in camp. On the blueline, ultra-skilled Erik Brannstrom – who was the main piece coming back to Ottawa in the Mark Stone trade – should step right into a top-four role on defense.
Calder Trophy candidates: Good starts by Batherson and Brannstrom could thrust them into the Calder conversation.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: You may have heard that Columbus lost some star power during the off-season. Nobody expects the Blue Jackets to replace the likes of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky, but the incoming rookie rabble should at least be able to help bridge the gap. Alexandre Texier, a native of France who had been playing in Finland, joined Columbus at the end of the regular season and dressed for eight playoff games, scoring two goals. Emil Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick in 2017, isn’t big but he makes up for it with speed and skill. They’ll both get an opportunity to make a difference up front. In other news, Elvis lives. While incumbent backup Joonas Korpisalo is first in line to replace Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets have high hopes for Elvis Merzlikins, a Latvian netminder who has been playing in Switzerland for the past six seasons. On defense, at least one of Vladislav Gavrikov and Gabriel Carlsson should crack the top-six.
Calder Trophy candidates: No sure things here, but keep an eye on Texier and Merzlikins.
NEW YORK RANGERS: There’s plenty of hype surrounding Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, and deservedly so. The Finnish winger is big, fast and talented, and should start scoring goals right from the get-go. But Kakko isn’t the only young gun in the Rangers’ arsenal. Vitali Kravstov, drafted ninth overall in 2018, is a top-10 NHL prospect in his own right. He hasn’t played in North America yet, so perhaps he gets some development time in the minors, but it’s hard not to see him contributing in a Rangers uniform this season. On defense, NCAA alum Adam Fox comes over after being traded from Carolina and he’s expected to step right in and be factor at both ends of the ice.
Calder Trophy candidates: Count on Kakko to contend for the Calder – and if they make team out of training camp, don’t count out Kravstov or Fox, either.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: Martin Necas’ breakout rookie season was supposed to happen last year, but it didn’t come to pass after a staggered start. He improved as the season wore on – ultimately helping AHL Charlotte capture the Calder Cup – and, once again, skates into a new NHL season amid great expectations. The Canes aren’t blessed with an abundance of offense up front, so if Necas gets off to a good start this time around, he could be a vital scoring cog in Carolina. Meanwhile, the Canes are blessed with an abundance on the blueline, so the offensively inclined Jake Bean will have to vie for a depth spot and then work his way up. Carolina appears set in goal with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, but Alex Nedeljkovic is ready to step in should one (or both) of the veterans falter.
Calder Trophy candidates: The Hurricanes need scoring, and that’s exactly what Necas brings to the table.
EDMONTON OILERS: Hang in there, Connor McDavid, there’s help on the way. Unfortunately for the Oilers superstar, however, Edmonton’s best on-the-verge rookie hopefuls are defensemen, not scoring wingers. The Oilers’ blueline will likely feature promising offensive D-man Evan Bouchard, the No. 10 pick in 2018, with Caleb Jones, Joel Persson and Ethan Bear also in the mix. Up front, Joakim Nygard, 26, comes over from Sweden with the hope he can step into the NHL and start scoring goals. There’s also Kailer Yamamoto, the No. 22 pick in 2017. He’s no longer considered a rookie after playing nine and 17 NHL games in the past two seasons, respectively, but he represents another possibility to play on McDavid’s flank.
Calder Trophy candidates: If the Oilers decide to run with Bouchard, he’ll get plenty of power-play time with McDavid.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall draft pick in June, swerves into New Jersey looking to swipe the No. 1 center job from 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier. Even if he doesn’t, Hughes will play on a scoring line and see regular PP duty. Given his elite speed and sublime skill, he’s expected to immediately put up points and be a leading NHL rookie this season. The sky’s the limit for this kid. Elsewhere, 2017 second-rounder Jesper Boqvist could get a look on the wing, while 2018 first-rounder Ty Smith will push for a spot on defense. Like Hughes, the calling card for both Boqvist and Smith is their offensive game.
Calder Trophy candidates: Hughes is a pre-season favorite to be named the NHL’s best rookie in 2019-20.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: There’s a chance the Canucks might actually have the best Hughes this season. Quinn Hughes, who’s one year older than Jack and was drafted seventh overall in 2018, will join Vancouver’s blueline after an encouraging five-game preview at the end of last season. Like his brother, Quinn’s game is predicated on mobility, puckhandling and vision. And he can take care of business in his own zone, too, which is always a nice bonus for a first-year NHL defenseman. Olli Juolevi, the No. 5 pick in 2016 whose trajectory has been slowed by injuries, could join Quinn on the Canucks’ back end, while goalie-of-the-future Thatcher Demko is set to begin his NHL career backing up Jacob Marsktrom.
Calder Trophy candidates: Hughes vs. Hughes for top rookie honors? Don’t bet against it.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: Cale Makar will be the Avs’ best rookie this season – and there’s a very good chance that the poised, playmaking defenseman will also be the NHL’s best rookie this season. Makar stepped into Colorado’s playoff lineup last spring and looked like a star from his first shift. He can skate or pass the puck out of trouble and into a scoring opportunity at the other end. He’ll surely make magic on the Avs’ power play with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Bowen Byram, drafted fourth overall in June, and Conor Timmins, who missed all of last season due to concussion symptoms, will also battle for blueline jobs.
Calder Trophy candidates: For what it’s worth, Makar is my pick to win the Calder this season.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Ryan Poehling made it a memorable NHL debut with a hat trick in his first game on the last day of the 2018-19 regular season. That’s a tough act to follow for a center who’s more of a two-way playmaker than a top-line scorer, but it bodes well for his future nonetheless. Nick Suzuki, who came over from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade, is more of a pure offensive producer than Poehling, but the Habs might take it slow with him.
Calder Trophy candidates: Poehling and Suzuki are promising prospects, but long shots to contend for the Calder.