By: Adam Pasternak
The NHL has been overshadowed by the other major sports leagues as of late, or so it seems to me. But that’s all about to change. This years crop of rookies are the new faces of the NHL and will be for the next 10 years. While it’s almost sad to realize that Crosby and Ovechkin are starting the later parts of their careers, it is the reality. They won’t be around forever, and now it is time to get to know the players who are taking over.
SporsNak’s Early-Season NHL Rookie Rankings 2015/16:
1. Connor McDavid: Centre – Edmonton Oilers
As of today, “The Next One” is doing as everyone expected, putting up points at a quick pace. Right off the bat, young McDavid is already leading all rookies in scoring with 8 points in 8 games. He’s also found the back of the net 5 times already, scoring a highlight reel goal against the Red Wings this past week. He played his first game with Taylor Hall alongside him, a duo people would inevitably think would work, but it didn’t. After one game coach Todd Mclellan switched him onto a line with another former first overall pick Nail Yakupov and the well-travelled Benoit Pouliot. The trio is clicking and producing well for the new look Oilers. The “MacDaddy” is my pick for the Rookie of The Year award this year, but it won’t come without some stiff competition from the next few names on this list.
2. Max Domi: Left Wing – Phoenix Coyotes
The son of the ex-Leaf tough guy Tie Domi, Max, is making his own imprint on the NHL. Unlike his father, Max is racking up the points and highlight reel goals. In just 7 games, he’s already tied with Connor MacDavid for the lead in rookie scoring with 8 points. Leading his team with 3 goals and 5 assists, Max and the Yotes look like a perfect match. Acquiring Anthony Duclair, another great rookie in his own right, and putting him alongside Domi has not been talked about enough, in my opinion. They have created a young core who’s combine to score highlight reel goals like this one from Domi and a beautiful setup by Domi for this one from Duclair. They are exciting to watch and the NHL should be on watch. The next few years in the Desert are gonna be fun.
3. Jack Eichel: Centre – Buffalo Sabres
The often overshadowed Jack Eichel has scored a few highlight reel goals early on this season, but his point production isn’t quite where Domi or MacDavid’s is having put up just 2 points, both being goals. He will come around, do not worry Sabre fans. The team has potential, they just need to build chemistry first. It’s a very new team with lots of interesting personalities. I’ve had my doubts that Evander Kane and recent Tim Horton’s customer Ryan O’Reilly (too soon?) will actually get along and co-exist. The Sabres have some good talent there, but they are still a solid, healthy goalie and a few missing pieces away from contention. With Eichel though, they are definitely on their way up.
4. Dylan Larkin: Left Wing – Detroit Red Wings
The hometown kid, Dylan Larkin, is off to a fast start in his early NHL career in Detroit. Coming out of nowhere to already being named as a contender for the Rookie of The Year award this season. He’s already racked up 7 points in 7 games, with 2 goals and 7 assists. He’s fit in nicely on a young Red Wings squad led by the Babcock protege, Jeff Blashill. He’s a tall kid, but has explosive speed and power as you can see on one of his early goals this season against the Maple Leafs. It’s going to be interesting to see if Larkin can keep up the pace he is on early this season. It’s a lot to ask for a rookie, but he’s looking like a star in the making.
The Habs Hot Start:
The Montreal Canadiens are currently a franchise record 7-0-0 and the favourites to win the Stanley Cup. As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it kills me to say it but the Habs are for real. They’ve got a great team with a realistic chance of bringing the Cup back north of the border and I’m jealous. Alex Galchenyuk has become one of my favourite young NHL players to watch. He is so talented that the Montreal brass made the move to turn him into a centre in order to make use of his talents and get him on the ice more. So far, it has been a success as Galchenyuk has accumulated 6 points on 1 goal and 5 assists in 8 games. The numbers will improve but what’s most important is that he’s looked comfortable at centre.
Carey Price Has looked great in goal, as usual, and is looking to be well on his way to winning his second Vezina Trophy in as many years. I can’t help but admire the Canadiens and how they’ve built their team. A lot of the guys on the team are their own draft picks and they’ve developed them extremely well. They have a good mix of veteran talent and young, energetic skill along with scrappy, often under-appreciated players, like Dale Weise. They have four lines that can all play solid minutes and produce. They seem to be following the Chicago Blackhawks mould in having four lines with the ability of scoring. There isn’t room for the scrappy forwards with no skill. The new era of the enforcer’s seem to be able to finish on opportunities and actually contribute to the team in more ways then just punching moral and energy into the team. Their defence is fantastic, led by superstar and the super-arrogant P.K Subban. The addition of Jeff Petry at last seasons trade deadline proved to be a phenomenal trade by the Habs, as he’s fit in really well on the Canadiens blue-line. I applaud the Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, as he’s created a team that could be scary for many years to come.
The Babcock Era Is Here:
The Mike Babcock era is here, ladies and gentlemen. The buzz around the leafs big front office names is huge, but the team isn’t quite as established. The rebuild is in its early stages for the leafs, as they’ve been telling fans to get prepared for a few years of essentially awful hockey in order to rebuild the roster and hopefully be able to contend for a few Cups down the road. Shanny and the boys made a few big moves this offseason but none bigger than trading Dion Phaneuf’s now ex-ping pong partner, Phil Kessel, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Kasperi Kapenen and a few interesting pieces. I have to agree that trading Kessel was the right call. His style and personality would have definitely clashed with the powerful Mike Babcock and his salary hit would put us in a tight situation to rebuild in. Phaneuf, although I honestly don’t like him, provides us with 20+ minutes a game. Not many defensemen can do that and Dion does a decent job at it. You have to respect the fact that he goes out there every night and even with all the critics, gives it his all and still has hope for the team. It’s actually amazing that he has been able to play through all the often deserved criticism that has been thrown his way over the years. I can’t believe he still wants to be in Toronto. His tenure in the Blue and White hasn’t been all that celebratory. One triumphant first round, 7 game series against Boston and a all-star appearance here and there have been all he has to look back on. I believe the new Leafs regime has the team going in the right direction, but theres no telling in how long it’s going to take. I can’t predict what moves they will make other then they will draft high this offseason. Will they trade away Lupul at the deadline? Will JVR stick around? There are many questions that leafs fan have, but only as the season goes on will we get answers. It’s going to be a long, rough journey, but as Leafs fans, do we really have a choice but to fasten our seatbelt’s and tag along?
How would you rank this years rookies? Do you think the Habs are for real? Is the Leafs plan going to work? Comment below!