Led by Swedes Elias Pettersson and Rasmus Dahlin, the 2019 Calder Trophy race was dominated by European talent.
In fact, seven of the 12 players who received a Calder Trophy vote were European, with four nations receiving at least one. Heading into the season, Russia’s Andrei Svechnikov, the second-overall pick in 2018, was seen as a favorite but finished seventh with 50 total votes (Pettersson had 1,650 in a winning effort). It was justified: for as good as Svechnikov was in junior, his NHL freshman season was quite underwhelming. Svechnikov’s 20 goals and 37 points put him fifth in team scoring and seventh among rookies.
The Hurricanes look poised to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time in the 22 years the team has been in Carolina, and Svechnikov is ready to establish himself as a first-line winger. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are coming off career seasons and, if Svechnikov can catch fire, the team will have one of the more dangerous first lines in the Eastern Conference.
At 19, Svechnikov is one of just three 2000-born NHLers, so patience is a virtue. But he’s far from the only sophomore primed for a breakout season in 2019-20 – let’s take a look at five others ready for a big campaign.
Casey Mittelstadt, C, 20 (Buffalo)
Expectations were high for Mittelstadt, who exploded for five points in six games as a late-season call-up after the end of his NCAA career in 2018. His rookie season, however, saw him finish with 12 goals and 25 points in 77 games for one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL. Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart had career years with Buffalo, and having Reinhart, who played center at points in his career, play on a line with Skinner and Eichel allows Mittelstadt to take the second center spot and run with it. But he needs help: Conor Sheary’s scoring touch only goes so far and Kyle Okposo’s game has drastically deteriorated over the past four seasons. Center Dylan Cozens isn’t that far away, so if Mittelstadt wants to keep his spot in the top six, he needs to get the jets moving, but he’ll need some help around him first.
Ryan Donato, RW, 23 (Minnesota)
Now that Minnesota has Donato signed to a two-year deal, it’s time to see what he can do in a full NHL season. Donato gave Wild fans a taste of what he’s capable of when he exploded for 16 points in 22 games after a pre-trade deadline deal with Boston, including 13 in his first 14 games. But he still has a lot to prove: he scored at an incredible rate in the NCAA and was Team USA’s star player at the 2018 Olympics, but questions arose as to what his pro potential was when the Bruins sent him down prior to the trade deadline. Minnesota will give him every opportunity to thrive in the top six and prove his late-season run wasn’t a fluke.
Robert Thomas, C, 20 (St. Louis)
Thomas could end up missing the start of the season after undergoing wrist surgery last month, but St. Louis has to be happy with how his rookie season went. The Blues are loaded with centers – nine current roster players have played down the middle in their career – but Thomas is one of the most promising young forwards on the roster with great two-way skill and offensive upside. Despite a rather lackluster playoff run by Thomas himself, the Blues were willing to throw Thomas into tough matchups and, while there were growing pains, he acquitted himself well. After a season of solid growth, Thomas is on track to have a Smooth sophomore season and should Push himself into the top six by the end of the season – and please tell me you understood those references.
Filip Chytil, C, 19 (NY Rangers)
The Rangers are a new and improved team heading into 2018-19, but they’re still a substantial work in progress. Chytil is a big part of the European youth movement in the Big Apple and is one of the best center prospects the team has had over the past decade. Offensively, Chytil’s rookie season was unspectacular with 11 goals and 23 points but, then again, did you see the team the Rangers put on the ice? There were some promising signs, however: he proved he can play center and the wing at the NHL level and a couple of goal-scoring streaks showcased what he can do offensively. He’ll look to establish himself as a top-six forward this season and, with names like Chris Kreider, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko on the wing, Chytil will have plenty to work with.
Filip Hronek, D, 21 (Detroit)
Do the Red Wings have a gem on their hands? As the team looks destined to finish near the bottom of the standings in 2019-20, Hronek will be given ample opportunities to become a leader on the back end after a solid half-season in Detroit. Even though he only played in 46 games, tallying five goals and 23 points, his 19:57 average ice time was the third-best among all rookies, and only Dahlin (0.54) averaged more points per game among first-year defensemen with at least 45 games played. Hronek will start the season on the second pairing, but if Mike Green runs into health issues – and let’s be realistic: the odds of him playing 82 games is unlikely – Hronek could be playing top-pairing minutes quite quickly.
For more on another big breakout candidate, Roope Hintz, check out this feature on the Dallas Stars youngster from our Champions Issue.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.