Talking to many fantasy general managers, one of the best things about this game is finding those diamond-in-the-rough rookies that can completely surprise you.
After all, many leagues have rules that allow an extra couple of players on a roster as long as those players are rookies. It can take a lot of tanking or an overpayment in trading to get a top rookie such as Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko or Cale Makar.
Fortunately, there are plenty of rookies that are looking to make an impact this year. There are always surprises. It’s not always the ones you expect that will be in contention for the Calder. Sure, Elias Pettersson may have won last year, but no one had Jordan Binnington in second place.
Below are 10 players that are probably already on your radar for this year, but may find themselves in situations to surpass their expectations. As of 11 p.m. on Sunday, they were all still on their main club.
10. Martin Necas, Carolina
He’s the most likely player on this list to find himself back in the minors by the time Wednesday rolls around. Necas didn’t have a great camp, but after a few years of coming close but never quite making the team on a full-time basis, maybe this is the year he finally breaks through. He was excellent in the AHL last year (52 points in 64 games followed by 13 points in 18 games), and doesn’t have anything else to prove there. When he does make the squad, it should be because he’s able to hold down a top-nine role.
9. Dante Fabbro, Nashville
Fabbro appears to have a top-four spot locked up now that P.K. Subban is no longer in Nashville. There’s also a chance that Fabbro could be on the second-unit power-play. Fabbro was excellent with Boston University and has proven he can succeed with Canada at the World Juniors and World Championships. He won’t be setting any rookie defenseman records, but with a little luck, he could challenge for 35 points.
8. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo
There has already been a lot written about Olofsson, as he has been great in the preseason while playing on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. However, he would need to keep up a torrid scoring pace during the regular season as well, as he is taking Jeff Skinner’s place on the top line. The Sabres just gave Skinner a crazy eight-year, $72-million deal (so $9 million a year). They won’t want to keep him on the second line for long if Olofsson or Skinner is struggling. However, playing with Eichel on any kind of regular basis will make for a decent rookie season.
7. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey
Thanks to being a backup for most of last season, Blackwood played only 23 games, so he is still considered a rookie in most fantasy leagues for this upcoming season. The way Cory Schneider has been playing the last 10 months means Blackwood won’t be getting as many starts as some may have hoped during the summer, but the rookie netminder would still be a great option in case Schneider falters or is re-injured. The Devils as a whole will be a better team than they were a year ago, which equates to more wins for Blackwood when he is in the lineup.
6. Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa
The main piece in the Mark Stone trade last year, it appears as if Sens fans will see Brannstrom make the NHL quicker than many had expected. For now, he’s firmly behind Thomas Chabot on the depth chart, but Brannstrom is talented enough to run a power play. Long-term, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Senators power-play. It may not be this season, but one day there will be a big battle between the two for the opportunity to be the main guy with the man advantage.
5. Nick Suzuki, Montreal
Suzuki has been impressive this pre-season, as has been shifted from centre to right wing for those in leagues that need specific positions. Suzuki has been slotted in all over the lineup, but has been practicing at times in the top six. Suzuki is not the kind of player you can put on the fourth line and allow him to play 10 minutes a night and hope he learns the game that way.
4. Cody Glass, Vegas
Sometimes no matter how impressive a rookie may be in training camp, the best opportunity for him to make the NHL could come down to an injury to a couple of regular roster players. Glass is a good example of that as Vegas is dealing with injuries to Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin. Despite the injuries giving him an advantage, Glass was third on the team in pre-season scoring with three points in four games. Glass was an offensive force in juniors and had five points in six games in the AHL a year ago, followed by 15 points in 22 playoff games. Pretty impressive for an AHL rookie.
3. Carter Verhaeghe, Tampa Bay
Verhaeghe’s chances of making the roster took a big step forward Saturday night, when Tampa Bay lost both Cedric Paquette and Tyler Johnson to injury. There’s no guarantee either will miss time, but with Brayden Point already out for most of October, there could be some extra spots to fill. Even without the injuries, Verhaeghe may have done enough to make the squad with five points in six preseason games, with Lightning coach Jon Cooper saying Verhaeghe was a pleasant surprise this camp. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from Tampa the last few years, it’s that any young player making the roster has a chance to be a complete surprise.
2. Barrett Hayton, Arizona
What seemed like a huge stretch when the Coyotes made Hayton the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft is quickly turning into shrewd drafting. Hayton originally made the Coyotes last season but never played a game before getting sent back to juniors. Now he’s on the cusp of making the squad again, and this preseason has been playing with Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller. There’s plenty of potential if he can stick on that line.
1. Alexandre Texier, Columbus
If the preseason is any indication, it looks like Texier is getting a shot on the Blue Jackets top line to start the season. He’s moved from centre to Artemi Panarin’s old spot on the left wing. Texier has been getting plenty of love the last couple of weeks, and with good reason. Any rookie that doesn’t have the pedigree of a high draft pick and slots in on the top line has to be tops when it comes to potential surprises.
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