We’ve all been there before, picking the hotshot rookies thinking he’d really become an elite player in his second season, only to see them hit the development wall. Fatigue can still be a factor with shorter summers, and their first-year success becomes a double-edged sword since it provides both a great starting point for them but also ends up drawing more focus from opposing defenses.
For the most part, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Two years ago, Quinn Hughes led all rookies in scoring with 53 points in 68 games, and while he did struggle defensively in his second season with a team-worst minus-24 rating, he still managed to score 41 points in 56 games to finish tied-10th among defensemen. Of the top 10 rookie scorers that season, only two saw their production fall off in their second season: Dominik Kubalik, who went from 30 goals to 17 as the Blackhawks tanked, and Alex Nylander missed the entire season due to a knee injury.
It was the same story for the 2020-21 rookie class. Though it didn’t offer much depth, the high-end rookies – Kirill Kaprizov, Jason Robertson, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin – all made big strides in their second season.
The 2022-23 sophomore pool is deep, so here are 20 of them to keep an eye on.
Trevor Zegras, C, Ducks
Zegras finished second in rookie scoring and TOI/GP, and those numbers increased significantly. Ryan Strome was signed for added scoring punch, but it’s Zegras’ team in the post-Getzlaf era. He’s penciled in as their top center.
Tanner Jeannot, RW, Predators
It’s a bummer Jeannot no longer has dual-winger eligibility, but it’s not out of the question he regains it again given how liberal Yahoo has been with position eligibility. He led all rookies with 24 goals and he could push for a top-six role. Even if his scoring dips, Jeannot is also one of the league’s best bangers recording 130 PIM and 318 (!) hits last season.
Bowen Byram, D, Avalanche
Byram’s breakout party began in the playoffs and offers up plenty of offensive upside. His minutes may be limited because the Avs’ blue line is deep, but he’s arguably their second-best scoring option from the blue line behind Cale Makar, and will mop up any power play minutes he leaves behind.
Cole Caufield, LW/RW, Canadiens
The dual-winger eligibility is a big bonus and under Martin St. Louis, Caufield scored 22 goals in 38 games over the last three months of the season. Free from the shackles of Dominique Ducharme, look for Caufield to play a first-line role with Nick Suzuki. He’s a 25-goal scorer at the lower end and a potential 40-goal scorer at the higher end on a Habs team that played with far more purpose down the stretch.
Matt Boldy, LW/RW, Wild
Boldy also maintains his dual-position eligibility which will provide a lot of flexibility in leagues with separate LW and RW categories. Kevin Fiala’s departure is a double-edged sword; on one hand, Boldy loses an elite scoring winger to partner with, but on the other hand, it means Boldy’s going to get an increase in ice time.
Seth Jarvis, LW/RW, Hurricanes
Losing his C eligibility isn’t a big deal because Jarvis doesn’t take a lot of faceoffs anyway. He had a very strong rookie season with 40 points on just 13:52 TOI/GP, and consistently played on the top two lines though he was the odd-man out when Rod Brind’Amour needed to juggle some lines. Jarvis can be a sneaky pick in the mid to late rounds, and after losing key depth in free agency, will be looking to improve internally.
Dawson Mercer, C/RW, Devils
By all means, reach for Jack Hughes because he’s a superstar in the making, but don’t forget about Mercer. Like Jarvis, Mercer popped out of nowhere to win a roster spot and played a significant role throughout the season. Getting 200+ faceoff wins from a RW-eligible player is a very nice bonus.
Moritz Seider, D, Red Wings
The Wings were one of the most improved teams over the summer and Seider will be a hot commodity, especially in keeper leagues. He already offers up Victor Hedman-like upside as a multi-category contributor and a borderline top-20 defenseman. Draft him and never look back.
Michael Bunting, LW, Maple Leafs
As long as Bunting stays on Auston Matthews’ line, there’s nothing to worry about. That’s not a knock on Bunting, but his fantasy value clearly gets inflated when he’s playing with a top-five center. In the 243:58 5-on-5 minutes Bunting was on the ice without Matthews, his CF% dipped below 50 percent. I find it hard to justify reaching for Bunting in drafts when so many other good sophs are available.
Anton Lundell, C, Panthers
It’s anybody’s guess how the Panthers’ lines will look under a new coach, and Lundell’s fantasy value will depend on if he’s used in a scoring or matchup role. Sam Bennett seems to be their preferred second-line center, and their scoring depth might make offensive opportunities difficult to come by for Lundell. He’s worth a late-round pick but repeating a 44-point, plus-33 season seems like a tough ask.
Lucas Raymond, RW, Red Wings
Raymond’s 23 goals was one off the rookie lead but he’s arguably the best goal scorer in his class, ahead of both Caufield and Arthur Kaliyev, two of the better shooters. Raymond had dual-winger eligibility last season and could do the same this season. Even if Raymond struggles and gets dropped from Dylan Larkin’s line, Detroit’s added depth ensures that he still has quality players to play with.
Jeremy Swayman, G, Bruins
It’ll probably be a timeshare once again in the Bruins’ crease, but Swayman looked solid in his first full season and finished fifth in Calder voting. Even with Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy injured to start the season, the returns of both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci should keep them competitive.
Alex Newhook, C/LW, Avalanche
Look no further for the biggest potential breakout on this list. Newhook’s talent was evident though he saw limited ice time on a deep team laden with veterans. With Nazem Kadri’s return unlikely, look for Newhook to push for a top-six job, and his skillset is far better suited on a second-scoring line than J.T. Compher. Getting LW eligibility right off the bat is a huge bonus, too, with Newhook’s ability to win faceoffs.
Spencer Knight, G, Panthers
The key question is when the Panthers will decide to commit to Knight or Sergei Bobrovsky’s humongous contract. Had Knight made an appearance in the playoffs, his fantasy value would be much higher as the usurper for the starting job, but as it stands, he enters the 2022-23 season as a backup with an uncertain workload.
Cole Sillinger, C, Blue Jackets
There’s a chance Sillinger wins the coveted No. 1 center job beside Johnny Gaudreau. The Jackets are thin down the middle, which opens the door for Sillinger to play significantly more minutes after averaging less than 14 minutes last season. Neither Boone Jenner nor Jack Roslovic offer up the same kind of offensive upside.
Connor McMichael, C/LW, Capitals
Dylan Strome was signed to be their No. 2 center but don’t rule out McMichael potentially winning that spot. McMichael scored 18 points in 68 games with fourth-line minutes, but offers up top-six playmaking ability and versatile enough to play center or left wing. Nicklas Backstrom’s uncertain future means the Caps need to usher in a new wave of talent, and it’s headlined by McMichael, who also led their AHL team in scoring in his first pro season.
Arthur Kaliyev, LW/RW, Kings
Kaliyev offers up intriguing upside as a potential high-volume shooter. He plays third-line minutes at even strength but gets afforded a ton of opportunities on the power play. His 194 shots led all rookies last season and he’s a good candidate to crack 200, which would put him close to the top 50 in the league.
Vasily Podkolzin, LW/RW, Canucks
Podkolzin was a fan favorite and leapfrogged Nils Hoglander on the depth chart last season but now faces additional competition for minutes on the wings with the addition of Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev. The upside is evident, but until we see where Podkolzin plays in the lineup, he’s a reach in most standard drafts.
Quinton Byfield, C, Kings
Byfield has the pedigree but may not have the opportunity to showcase his wares playing behind Anze Kopitar and Philip Danault. There’s plenty of depth on the wings and look for Byfield’s playing time to increase, but until he can be a consistent producer on offense, it’s better to just put him on the Watch List for now.
J.J. Moser, D, Coyotes
Moser was an unsung hero for the Coyotes, an “older” rookie at 21 years old with plenty of pro experience under his belt in the Swiss leagues. He played nearly 19 minutes per game last season and slots in as a top-four defenseman even though they added Troy Stecher, Patrik Nemeth and Josh Brown over the summer. Moser’s usage should also increase if and when Jakob Chychrun gets moved.
Honorable Mention: Jamie Drysdale, D, Ducks; Yegor Chinakhov, LW/RW, Blue Jackets; Alexandre Carrier, D, Predators; Braden Schneider, D, Rangers