We’ve talked NHL rules, teams, and players to watch this season, but what about the new guys? Here are a few of our picks for NHL rookies to watch during 2018 and 2019 that we didn’t cover in the last post. New blood on the team always changes things up and hockey is no exception. The learning curve on the ice – particularly for foreigners learning the North American game for the first time – can be steep for some who are entering the professional arena of the NHL. Playing time is often hard-won but these are the NHL rookies who are impressing so far this season.
Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks
Named the NHL’s first star of the week and October’s Rookie of the Month, this dynamic 20-year-old from Sweden continues to amaze. Elias Pettersson, the fifth pick overall in the 2018 draft, recently snagged a goal and four assists against the St. Louis Blues on the road for the Canucks. In November, he landed two goals and three assists against the Colorado Avalanche. Pettersson is only the sixth rookie (since the expansion era) to have multiple five-point games in a season. This right winger is being praised for his seamless transition to the North American game and coming in with a lot of confidence. His Swedish teammates, Loui Eriksson and Alex Edler are all about him, saying he’s been “unbelievable” for the Canucks in terms of production and professionalism. Pettersson currently leads all other NHL rookies with 15 goals and 15 assists (30 points) in 26 games this season, despite sitting out for a bit with concussion-like symptoms. He’s a top favorite for the Calder Award, the NHL award for the best rookie of the year.
Brett Seney – New Jersey Devils
He may be small, but don’t underestimate this guy. Centerman Brett Seney is only 5’9” and 156 pounds but he shows no fear against much bigger opponents on the ice. And he’s fast. The 22-year-old Canadian from Ontario was chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the last round of the 2015 draft (as the 157th overall pick) and called up in early November. Unbeknownst to most, the timing for Seney’s entry into the league was perfect for his skill set as the NHL was just transitioning from a game of brute force (and fighting) into one of speed and finesse. He’s able to create chances with his quickness but he can still handle the roughness of the game with his grit and tenacity. Coach John Hynes says it’s Seney’s explosive speed and skating strength that makes him an NHL-caliber player. Because he’s competitive yet often underestimated, Seney plays intense around the net, catching bigger players off-guard as he fights for position and greasy goals. Keep watching, because this Devils forward is one of the fastest guys in the league.
Maxime Lajoie – Ottawa Senators
LeJoie has turned out to be a surprisingly good rookie considering he was chosen during the fifth round of the 2016 draft as the 133rd overall pick. This 20-year-old defenseman played his first pro season last year with an American Hockey League affiliate, and he earned a spot on the Senators’ starting lineup at training camp. Most assumed that the top offensive positions were taken, but LeJoie made waves by sneaking in there. Never known as a big offensive defenseman, he’s proven to be just that. In six games at the beginning of this season, he racked up four goals and three assists (seven points), and he’s playing over 20 minutes per game right now. No other Senators defenseman has had such an explosive start – LeJoie is breaking franchise records. Needless to say, if he can keep up his production, LeJoie is also in the Calder conversation.
Brett Howden – New York Rangers
Drafted 17th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 and traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan McDonough, Howden earned his spot at training camp too. He put up two goals and two assists quickly in the regular season, impressing the coaches but also displaying real confidence. Howden proved almost everybody wrong when he broke through the New York Rangers roster and grabbed a spot over Lias Andersson, another top Rangers prospect. The centerman has a solid all-around game and he’s earning more playing time and playing a big role for the Rangers by using the power play and penalty kill. Furthermore, Coach David Quinn and the team trust the 20-year-old. Howden has the size to score and the hands to pass, and even if his team isn’t performing particularly well, Howden has shown he was a good pick for the Rangers’ rebuild.
Andrei Svechnikov – Carolina Hurricanes
This 18-year-old Russian rookie came in at a high pick with a high pedigree, so the expectations were, accordingly, pretty darn high. The number-two pick overall from the 2018 draft, Svechnikov didn’t start off the season with crazy numbers or goals, but with his unique blend of size, speed, puck possession, and power, he just might be the next Russian star of the NHL (à la Ovechkin). There are times when this left winger looks absolutely incredible on the ice, and right now he’s on pace for a 40-point season with the Hurricanes. Svechnikov scored his first NHL goal in early October during a home game against the Rangers and he’s snagged five more goals since then. He’s currently tied for sixth place in rookie scoring this season. While he didn’t start off with the crazy hot stats of some other rookies, it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason to worry about Svechnikov’s skills on the ice. Oh, and he’s handsome too.