Frozen Tools Forensics: Top 20 Rookies – Part 1

by Grant Campbell on September 20, 2019

There are a few rookies who played a number of games in the NHL last year and have a very good chance of becoming regulars this season. They will become waiver pickups for most fantasy formats if they haven’t already been picked. We will include a number of those players along with the blue-chip rookies on most people’s radar. I know there are a lot of lists out there—and none better than Dobber’s 2019-2020 Calder Trophy Picks (available from Dobber’s Pool Guide)—but I am offering my own here as well.

20 – Connor Clifton – (D) – Boston

Clifton played 19 regular season games towards the end of last season; he only put up one assist, but did then play 18 games in the playoffs, in which he managed two goals and three assists. He showed great skating ability with some offensive punch. He is pencilled in as the sixth or seventh d-man and might be able to put up 15-25 points over a full season. He’s surprisingly physical for a smaller defenceman, averaging close to two hits per game over his 37 games in total.

19 – Carl Grundstrom – (W) – Los Angeles

Grundstrom achieved the rare feat of scoring in his first two NHL games last season, and went on to score five goals over the 15 games he played towards the end of the year. There is opportunity galore for him, as the Kings have a few spots open in the top six on the wing. He could very well be in the top ten of this list over a full season and should manage 15-20 goals.

18 – Joel Persson – (D) – Edmonton

Many will be reminded of Philip Larsen, with the Oilers bringing over another offense-minded smallish defenceman from Sweden. The only way Persson doesn’t play a good number of games in the NHL is if Evan Bouchard is completely ready for the NHL, but one would think that is why they brought Persson over: to give Bouchard a year in the AHL to grow. Persson will get some PP time and, with the skill Edmonton has, he could get some points. I think 20-25 points is a fairly conservative goal.

17 – Alexandre Texier – (C) – Columbus

Texier has a good chance to be the fourth-line center for Columbus at the start of the season after getting two games at the end of last season and scoring once. He also dressed for eight games in the playoffs, scoring twice and adding an assist while seeing time on the PP. He has some offensive upside but will likely play 10-12 minutes a game so he will be limited as to what he can produce. A season of 10-12 goals and a similar number of assists will go a long way to moving him up the lineup.

16 – Dominik Kubalik – (W) – Chicago

Kubalik is a 24-year-old who started his pro career in the Czech Extraliga, where he put up 29 goals in 2016-2017. He has spent the past two seasons in the Swiss league (NLA) and had 25 goals and 32 assists in 50 games last year. The Blackhawks seem to have a knack for getting the most out of experienced European players who come over to the NHL and there is every hope that Kubalik will be no different. He might find it hard to rise above the third line but should manage 35-40 points.

15 – Victor Olofsson – (W) – Buffalo

Olofsson has done nothing but score for the past two seasons. He put up 27 goals in 50 games in the SHL in 2017-2018 before coming over to North America and playing in the AHL, where he had 30 goals and 33 assists in 66 games with Rochester. He earned an audition for the Sabres at the end of the season and continued with four points in six games in the NHL. He has every chance to stick with Buffalo this year and move up the ladder on the wing to play with some very talented linemates. He could be a dark horse 20-goal and 20-assist winger.

14 – Taro Hirose – (W) – Detroit

Hirose had 10 games with Detroit after signing from Michigan State, and managed a goal and six assists. His output was more than likely a little lucky (PDO of 105.6) and he did struggle defensively (CF% of 37.5). Having said that about last season, I think he has a wide open opportunity to be on the second line in Detroit this year. The diminutive winger’s skill is impressive, but the question will be about his play away from the puck. He could be a 40-50 point rookie.

13 – Max Comtois (W) – Anaheim

Comtois had 10 NHL games at the beginning of last season and produced very well with two goals and five assists. He was sent back to the QMJHL because he needed to work on other areas of his game. His CF% was 33.3 and PDO was 116.9. On his return to the QMJHL, he battled injury and only played 25 games but had 31 goals and 48 points. He finished the season with San Diego (AHL) and played 12 playoff games in which he posted five goals and four assists. A role on the top three lines is his to lose, it would seem, and he could be a 40- to 50-point rookie.

12 – Dante Fabbro – (D) – Nashville

When P.K. Subban was traded to New Jersey, it opened up a huge opportunity for Fabbro and one would think he was part of the reason the deal was made. I have a soft spot for the former Burnaby Winter Club member and think he should be in the top four for Nashville. He still has some work to do away from the puck, but he should be good for 25-30 points if he is up for the full year.

11 – Nikolai Prokhorkin (W) – Los Angeles

At 26 years of age, having spent nine seasons in the KHL (with one eight-game stint in the AHL along the way), Prokhorkin brings size and skill to the Kings. Perhaps there will be some comfort and chemistry with Ilya Kovalchuk as they are former teammates. He is only a rookie by two days as his birthday is September 17, and the cutoff for non-rookie status was September 15 for turning 26 this season. He scored 20 goals and 21 assists in 41 games in the KHL last year and conceivably could be a top-line player for the Kings. He has an outside chance at 45-55 points.

We will look at the top ten next week, and I must admit there are another ten to fifteen rookies who could have been on this list. I’m light on goalies so far, but Jordan Binnington was such an unlikely story last year, how would anyone have seen that one coming? It’s hard to imagine anyone replicating that this season.

Thanks for reading, and please follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.