Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher and Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad made their cases, but Florida Panthers centre Jonathan Huberdeau ultimately separated himself from the rest of the pack last year, going onto win the Rookie of the Year Award.
This year one could make an argument for Colorado Avalanche first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon to follow Huberdeau’s footsteps, but at this point with the season two weeks away, it is a tad premature.
Without further ado, here is a look at five high-end rookies ready to make their mark in the NHL this season.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, centre, Colorado Avalanche – While racking up 32 goals and 75 points in 44 games in his second season with the Halifax Mooseheads, MacKinnon dropped a lot of junior hockey fans’ jaws.
One of those jaws was that of former NHL star Jeremy Roenick.
I love the way he plays the game,” said Roenick to Metro News. “I like where he goes, the high traffic areas and he does it with so much speed. Obviously, he’s a great talent; he’s got great hands. He has got a very gifted mind for the game.
“But he goes into those tough areas with fearless abandon. You can see his desire to score goals and when you can combine talent with that grit and tenacity you’re going to have a complete hockey player, and he seems to be just that.”
MacKinnon will receive every opportunity to succeed in a top-six role with the Avalanche. He will quite likely centre Colorado’s second or third and receive time on the second power play. Therefore, based on his opportunity and strong supporting cast alongside the like of Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, it seems a 60-point season is in MacKinnon’s grasp. It, after all, would only be five more points than Duchene’s rookie campaign.
2. Seth Jones, defence, Nashville Predators – Even though Jones dropped in the draft to fourth overall, he has the potential to blossom into the best player to come out of the 2013 draft class.
Jones showed last year with the Portland Winterhawks that he’s a special talent. Some touted him as the best defenceman playing major junior since Chris Pronger played for the Peterborough Petes.
The 6-foot-4, 206-pounder will essentially be the Predators’ replacement for Ryan Suter, who left in free agency in 2012 for the Minnesota Wild. He will be worked into their system alongside captain Shea Weber and should be a star in two-three years.
However, since blueliners take longer to develop, it seems it will be tough for Jones to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Not to mention, it will be easy for him to fly under the radar in an unconventional hockey city like Nashville.
3. Ryan Murray, defence, Columbus Blue Jackets – The White City, Sask., native would have been in the NHL last year, but a shoulder injury kept him out of the shortened season.
This year, Murray likely won’t make that many highlight-reel plays, but he should become a steady player on the Blue Jackets’ back end. He’s a type of player they can put on the penalty kill and power play because his strong skating abilities and high-end vision makes him positionally sound and able to smoothly transition the puck around the ice.
4. Jonathan Drouin, wing, Tampa Bay Lightning – Drouin is poised to become Martin St. Louis’ replacement when he retires as Steven Stamkos’ go-to winger.
But as far as this season goes, Drouin should fit into the Lightning’s top six nicely, likely alongside centre Corey Conacher. He showed last year with the Halifax Mooseheads, where he scored 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games, that he’s a very elusive winger that is nearly impossible to contain.
It is, however, possible Drouin could struggle against bigger players as an undersized sniper standing 5-foot-10, 190-pounds. So it’s quite likely he could go through that learning curve like Stamkos went through back in 2008.
5. Mark Scheifele, centre, Winnipeg Jets – Scheifele seems to be ready to jump right into the Jets’ offense after having an outstanding fourth season with the Barrie Colts, where he scored 39 goals and 79 points in 45 games.
Putting up big numbers could be difficult for the 6-foot-3, 187-pound centre, though, since they do have Olli Jokinen and Bryan Little in place in their first and second-line centre roles. Therefore, it seems more likely he will play more of a third-line centre role and there is a possibility he could spend some time in the AHL.