The 2018-19 rookie class, while talented, was top heavy. There figures to be much more depth this season. In addition, there are upwards of a dozen players expected to make their full-time NHL debuts this season who project as potential top-line forwards or No. 1 defenders down the road. The NHL is becoming a young man's league, and this is the result.
The Brothers Hughes
Jack Hughes (C-NJ): The first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Hughes has all the makings of a franchise No. 1 pivot. His vision is exceptional, his speed is top notch, and most impressively, his brain thinks as quickly as his feet move. There may be a slight learning curve as Hughes, who is undersized, adapts to the rigors of the NHL game, but the production (particularly on the power play) figures to arrive in short order. The addition of Hughes combined with a healthy Taylor Hall and the acquisition of defenseman P.K. Subban have New Jersey thinking about a return trip to the postseason after spending last spring on the sidelines.
Quinn Hughes (D-VAN): Jack's older brother, Quinn left the University of Michigan following the completion of his sophomore season and immediately signed with the Canucks in March. He posted three assists in five games with Vancouver. The 19-year-old isn't a great one-on-one defender, but his body control and escape ability are remarkable, and he's ready to run an NHL power play right now. The Canucks are at least another season away from competing, but they figure to feed Hughes all the minutes he can handle in his first full year.
Kaapo Kakko (RW-NYR): Selected second overall this past June after Hughes, Kakko will be counted upon to provide immediate production for New York. The highest draft selection in franchise history, the big-bodied forward excelled while playing against men all season long in Finland's Liiga. His game features a unique blend of power and skill and it's quite clear that he's ready for the rigors of an NHL season despite the fact he won't turn 19 until February. The Rangers plan on having Kakko play right wing even though he's a left-handed shot, which makes him the leading contender to skate on New York's No. 1 line alongside center Mika Zibanejad and marquee free-agent addition Artemi Panarin. It goes without saying what playing in that spot could do for Kakko's numbers.
Vitali Kravtsov (RW-NYR): Kravtsov will be making his NHL debut after playing out his KHL contract and signing his entry-level deal with New York in May. A brilliant offensive talent with game-breaking ability, Kravtsov is a threat to score every time he touches the puck. If he can handle the transition to the smaller ice surfaces of North America without issue, Kravtsov could be a dark horse contender for the Calder Trophy.
Adam Fox (D-NYR): Already on his third organization despite the fact he has yet to play an NHL game, Fox made it known to his former clubs that he only wanted to suit up for the Rangers and was prepared to play an unnecessary fourth year of college hockey in order to make it happen. New York traded for his rights in May and signed him days later. Arguably the best player in college hockey over the past couple seasons, Fox is an offensive-minded power-play quarterback with exceptional vision. Barring an unforeseen development, he too will be in the New York lineup to begin the season.
Cale Makar (D-COL): The winner of the 2019 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player, Makar projects to be one of the most dynamic defensemen to enter the league in a long, long time. His skating and skill were on full display during the playoffs when he stepped off campus at UMass-Amherst and right into a top-four role for the Avs. Rearguards are often tricky to project because outside of the top handful of guys, their point totals tend to fluctuate from year-to-year. Makar shouldn't have that issue. He handled the tough terrain of the NHL postseason like a 10-year veteran, and his full-time assault on opposing NHL defenses begins this fall. The trade of Tyson Barrie to Toronto should only increase Makar's role in 2019-20.
The rebound crowd
Eeli Tolvanen (LW-NSH): No prospect in the game has seen his stock plummet more in the past 12 months than Tolvanen. Widely expected to be a top-six option and power-play specialist for Nashville this past season, the talented Finn spent all but four games in the AHL, and it's not as if he set that league on fire (15 goals in 58 games), either. Tolvanen's talent is still worth betting on, but there are legitimate concerns about his game.
Martin Necas (C-CAR): Necas was limited to just seven games with the Hurricanes this past season, and he played a secondary role in most of them. His AHL play was up and down before he found his game in the playoffs, helping Charlotte win the Calder Cup by picking up five goals and 13 points in 18 contests. There are rumblings that Carolina might have Necas play wing to begin the season to limit his defensive responsibilities.
Filip Zadina (LW-DET): After struggling with the pace of the NHL game during the preseason, Detroit wisely had Zadina begin the 2018-19 campaign in the minors. Outside of a nine-game stretch from late February to mid-March, Zadina spent the entire year with AHL Grand Rapids. Not surprisingly, nine games worth of action allowed the Wings to hold off on burning the first year of the 19-year-old winger's entry-level contract. There will be no such meandering this time around. Detroit wants, and needs Zadina to be a difference maker this coming season and he has the skill to do it.
No room at the inn
Ilya Samsonov (G-WSH)
Igor Shesterkin (G-NYR)
Samsonov and Shesterkin are two of the very best goaltending prospects in the league, but there's no room for NHL playing time for either of them right now. Braden Holtby has things locked down in the nation's capital while the Rangers are expected to roll with the combination of future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist and second-year man Alexandar Georgiev for another season. Barring an unforeseen injury, Samsonov and Shesterkin should spend most, if not all of the 2019-20 campaign in the AHL.
Ty Smith (D-NJ): The Subban acquisition shouldn't impact Smith's ability to make the New Jersey roster, but it definitely could cut into his potential power play time.