The rookie classes the NHL has been welcoming over the last few years have been fascinating. Last year's was exceptional with multiple players making sizable impacts on their teams right out of the gates. It's been the same story in 2016-17.
Last summer's No. 1 pick, Auston Matthews has been gaining headlines and accolades from his stunning debut and continued production in the early goings for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The player picked right after Matthews, Patrik Laine, has also shown early signs of living up to his billing. Both of them have already registered their first NHL hat tricks and continue impressing. After Laine's two-goal performance Thursday, the two are tied among the top goal scorers in the league with six apiece.
They're going to be the leaders of the class, without question. Their exploits surely will overshadow others as both appear destined to be in one of the most entertaining Calder Trophy races since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin torched the league as rookies in 2005-06. But beyond them, there is such a wealth of talent across the league.
Several first-year players are already being handed some big-time responsibility and making a positive impact on their clubs. So while Laine and Matthews get all of the attention, don't forget about these players, either.
This is just narrowed down to the ones making an early transition and earning bigger roles with their respective clubs. There are 79 rookies that have played in at least one game so far this year, and there will certainly a few more poised to break out as the season progresses. Here's a look at 15 rookies that have made an early impact so far this season.
1. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets: It's been a pretty average start for the Blue Jackets, but Werenski has been a real bright spot for the club. The 19-year-old defenseman is already an integral part of the team's top four. He has five points through his first six games and has some stunning possession numbers in the small sample so far. An extremely mobile and smart defenseman, Werenski has made a remarkably smooth transition. Last year, he spent an entire season with the University of Michigan before joining the Lake Erie Monsters ahead of the AHL playoffs. He was one of their best players en route to the Calder Cup and now is a key piece on a Columbus blue line that features two other high-end young players in Seth Jones and Ryan Murray. Check out the release on this kid's shot, too:
2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs: Being Auston Matthews' linemate has its perks. Nylander can play center or wing, but he'll probably be happy to go wherever he can ride shotgun with his new teammate. Right now, Nylander is second among rookies with nine points in seven games, just one point behind Matthews. He had 13 points in a 22-game run with Toronto last year, but has become a power-play weapon this year. Five of his nine points have come on the advantage. At 20 years old, the creativity and nose for the net he is showing should make Leafs fans really happy and really excited about the young core of this team.
3. Michael Matheson, Florida Panthers: When the Florida Panthers revamped their defense over the offseason, Matheson was one of the players the team simply had to make more room for. The 22-year-old blueliner played three regular-season games and five postseason contests last year before starring for Canada at the World Championship in the spring. That tournament further cemented Matheson's status as a key player going forward for Florida. The young defenseman is still finding his way a bit, and it's very early, but he already has four points including a pair of goals and he's logging top-four minutes already. As the season progresses and as the Panthers continue adjusting to their revamped lineup, he should have a much, much bigger role. Here is one of his best plays of the season so far, in overtime no less:
4. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers: While the Flyers are off to a bit of an uneven start, Konecny has rewarded the team for keeping him on the NHL roster with his exceptional play-making abilities. The 19-year-old has registered six assists to lead all rookies in that category so far. All of those came at even strength while he's getting middle-six minutes with Philly. The great thing about Konecny is that he has the versatility to be used in so many different ways. He's played a lot with Sean Couturier, the Flyers' best shutdown forward, but he's also seen a little time with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Nothing has seemed to faze this kid so far.
5. Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers: The NHL's hottest free agent of August after his draft rights with the Nashville Predators (and later traded to the Buffalo Sabres) expired has done a good job of living up to the hype early. The reigning Hobey Baker winner as the best player in men's college hockey was always a great goal scorer for Harvard. So far he is tied for third in rookie goal scoring with four on the year. He also has an assist for five points through his first seven games as the Rangers are off to a strong start. A big reason for that strong team start is the improved scoring depth on the roster, with Vesey playing a role in that department.
6. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs: While taking nothing away from Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, Marner may be the most entertaining of NHL rookies to watch this season. His puck skills and offensive sense are off the charts. The Maple Leafs have put him with veterans Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk and Marner is the one making that trio pretty deadly. The 19-year-old Ontario native who co-captained the London Knights to a Memorial Cup last year already has six points this season, with three coming in Toronto's recent win over the Florida Panthers. Even when he's not producing, he's making plays thanks to his speed and overall creativity. He's also shown an ability to extend plays or find the plays you wouldn't expect him to make, like this incredible pass from a really difficult angle on a Tyler Bozak goal vs. Florida:
My goodness, this Mitch Marner pass to Tyler Bozak on the 3-2 go-ahead goal. He's unreal already. pic.twitter.com/HkDWFyj45f— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 28, 2016
7. Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes: Despite the Coyotes' noticeable struggles, the second-youngest defenseman in the NHL this season has played more like a veteran. The Coyotes have been doing a good job of managing Chychrun's ice time, but he is seizing his opportunity brilliantly so far. He has three points, while averaging 15:45 of ice time per game. The Coyotes are also doing a good job of controlling the puck when Chycrun is on the ice. In fact, according to hockey-reference, the Coyotes control even-strength shot attempts at a rate 8.5 percent better with Chychrun on the ice as opposed to off. He is learning on the job and the team hasn't been great to start, but if he keeps this up, look for Chychrun's ice time to grow. That's when we'll get an even better idea of how big of an impact he's making as a rookie.
Others to watch:
Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins: Already averaging over 22 minutes per game, Carlo has spent a lot of time on the blue line with Zdeno Chara. The big 19-year-old has been a key figure in plugging one of the holes the Bruins had on the blue line coming into the season.
Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs: Over recent years, it has been difficult for Russian defenseman to make the transition to the NHL. So far, Zaitsev looks undaunted even if he is getting smoked in possession metrics currently. The Leafs are giving him a big role and hoping he progresses over the year. He already has five assists and is averaging 22:25. Mike Babcock is going to give this 24-year-old a long leash, as he should.
Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers: Provorov is another Russian that is looking to break through on the blue line. He also has five assists to start the year and though he has made some mistakes early on, the Flyers aren't trying to change him. They're letting him grow on the job. Having already spent the last three years in North America, his transition to the NHL has been mostly seamless. The talent is undeniable.
Devin Shore, Dallas Stars: With six points to start the season, Shore is off to an impressive start. The number of injuries the Stars have had to endure make it a little tougher to get a read on what kind of role he'll have long term, but he's been important in helping fill the void left by veteran forwards
Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota Wild: Though he wasn't on the opening-night roster, Eriksson Ek is off to an incredible start to his NHL career. He has five points through four games already despite playing limited minutes. We'll have to see if he gets an elevated role with the club as time goes on, because these hot starts can sometimes be deceiving. He's looking strong to start, though.
Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders: They 19-year-old forward has been impressive after being no sure bet to make the NHL roster. It looks like he's with the team to stay after posting five points over his first seven games. Like Eriksson Ek, his minutes have been limited, so it will be interesting if he ends up being given more ice time.
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes: With five assists, the Finnish forward is showing why the Hurricanes were so excited about this kid. He had a dominant year in Finland last year and is showing some real skill early on as the Hurricanes struggle out the gates.
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning: His numbers might not be huge yet, but the Lightning love this kid and there's good reason for it. He has three assists so far and is averaging over 16 minutes a game. The 20-year-old looks like another draft gem for an organization teeming with them.