This week we will focus on the top ten in our two-part at the top 20 rookies for 2019-2020. As of writing this column we still have all of our part one rookies still up with the NHL teams (Joel Persson was injured in the Oilers pre-season game and we’re unsure of the severity but sounds like a concussion or shoulder). Here is my top ten:
10 – Martin Necas – (W) – Carolina
Necas will more than likely start on the fourth line with Carolina and will struggle with minutes early on if he is slotted in at center. Wing is always an option as well to start and this could allow him a little higher ceiling short term. He had a very good first season in the AHL with Charlotte with 52 points in 64 regular season games and 13 points in 18 playoff games culminating in winning the Calder Cup. If he plays center I would limit him to 25-30 points but on the wing he could see 35-45.
9 – Erik Brannstrom – (D) – Ottawa
As the main piece in return when Ottawa traded Mark Stone to Vegas, he faces some pretty high expectations from fans in Ottawa. He’s a small, mobile and highly-skilled left shot defenceman that Ottawa needs desperately to hold his own in the NHL next season. He acquitted himself well in 50 games in the AHL with seven goals and 25 assists (a 52 point pace). I don’t think he will be that prolific with Ottawa, but he should be able to reach 30 points as he is their second-best option on the PP, behind Thomas Chabot. He is no different than a few players in the top 20 as he will just need to survive the rigours of the NHL over a full season before he fills out physically in order to be productive.
8 – Elvis Merzlikins – (G) – Columbus
Merzlikins should be the starter in Columbus this season ahead of Joonas Korpisalo but I’m a little leery of the transition from the Swiss League (NLA) directly to the NHL. I see more of a 50/50 split for the two goalies and more for Merzlikins if he adapts well early on. He is also inheriting a Columbus team that sold their soul last season, so winning more than 20 games will be a challenge for sure.
7 – Drake Batherson – (W) – Ottawa
Batherson had a tremendous rookie pro season, in putting up 62 points in 59 AHL games and nine points in 20 games with Ottawa. He is ready for a full-time role and should slot in on one of the top two lines this year. His versatility will only help him, as he can play center as well as the wing. Ottawa will have a lot of moving parts this season, so he will get chances up and down the lineup. I would pencil him in for 40-50 points this year.
6 – Sam Steel – (C) – Anaheim
I’m not convinced that Steel will start out centering the second line, but more than likely the third. But eventually the second will be his for the taking. His 22 games in the NHL last season were the tale of two tapes. In his first 14 games he had one goal and two assists before being sent back to the AHL. After 53 games with San Diego, he was called up for the last eight games and had eight points (including a hat-trick on March 26th against the Canucks). He ended up playing 16 playoff games for San Diego and had 13 points. I think he will move up in the lineup and be good for 45-50 points.
5 – Cody Glass – (C) – Vegas
After Portland was knocked out of the WHL playoffs last season, Glass reported to Chicago of the AHL and quickly put up five points in the last six regular season games. He then went on to the AHL playoffs and played 22 games with seven goals and eight assists as Chicago just came up short in the Calder Cup final. I would love to see Vegas start Glass on the top line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty along with ample PP time. If that turns out to be the case, he could very well end up at the top of this list at season’s end. Conservatively, I will put him at 50-55 points but he could easily breakout.
4 – Quinn Hughes – (D) – Vancouver
After leaving the University of Michigan after his second year and signing with the Canucks he was able to play five games at the end of last season in the NHL. It took him about a shift and a half to show everyone the potential he has and he ended up with three assists in the five games. He is penned into the Canucks lineup this season and should see ample PP time while being a little sheltered defensively to start. The prospect of feeding Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser one-timers on the PP is enough to peg him at 35-45 points next season.
3 – Kaapo Kakko – (W) – NY Rangers
I’m tempted to have Kaako higher than this, but I just can’t be assured that the Rangers will have him playing with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin that much and after that there is quite a drop at center for the team. Physically (6’3” and 195lb) he is the most prepared player in the top five on this list entering their rookie season. If we could guarantee his line mates this season I would put him down for 35 goals and 70 points, but we can’t, so 25 goals and 55 points it is.
2 – Cale Makar – (D) – Colorado
I had Makar number one on this list right up until writing. Why did I change my mind? It was more to do with Jack Hughes than anything Makar might or might not do. Makar is a phenomenal skater with tremendous skills from the back end. The NHL season is long and difficult and it’s hard for players that only play 50 games in a season to adapt in their first full 82 games. I still think Makar will get every opportunity in Colorado and should get 45-55 points.
1 – Jack Hughes – (C) – New Jersey
He will be the first player to go directly from the USNTDP to the NHL. He is a small player, but like his brother Quinn, he has such exceptional skill and vision that he will be just fine in the NHL. Like most people, injury is my only worry for Hughes but if he can avoid that he will be 65-75 points next season. His early pre-season chemistry with Nikita Gusev and Taylor Hall is uncanny. There is a reason he was the number one pick.
Some players not in the top 20, but that could easily slot in are Mackenzie Blackwood, Thatcher Demko, Vitali Kravtsov, Owen Tippett, Emil Bemstrom and Klim Kostin. I just felt that the players in the top 20 had a little more assurance of playing time in the NHL. Looking back at 2018-2019 I’m not sure there were very many who would have had Jordan Binnington, Andreas Johnsson or even Carter Hart in their top 20, so there will be rookies not included here I’m sure.
Thanks for reading, and please follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.
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