A closer look at some rookies who are heating up and could be worth watching in the second half of the year.
The Big Guns
Jack Eichel – Buffalo Sabres
After what some would call a “slow” start to his rookie campaign, Eichel has picked up his scoring pace in the second quarter of the season. After only recording 14 points in his first 32 games, the second overall pick has 16 points in his last 15 games. Eichel is pumping shots on net, averaging over three shots per game, which leads all rookies, and his 11 power-play goals currently rank second behind Artemi Panarin. Seven of his 11 power-play points have come in his last 11 games, proving that Eichel’s scoring is heating up for the second half. He is currently on pace for around 50 points in his first season, but if he continues his hot play, Eichel could push closer to 60.
Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames
Perhaps no player is hotter in the goal scoring category currently then Bennett. With eight goals in his last five games, Bennett has jumped to fourth among rookies in goals. The uptick in scoring could be traced back to his shot volume, which has increased tremendously over the last 11 games. Bennett has 30 shots in his last 11 contests after only putting 44 pucks on net in his previous 33 games. Spending the majority of his ice time with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik has found Bennett in his fair share of defensive situations, but it appears his offensive game is growing in confidence. An always consistent stat that the former top-five pick provides is hits, where he is third among rookie forwards with 75.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Philadelphia Flyers
Known affectionately as “Ghost,” Gostisbehere has been a revelation offensively since his initial call-up in mid November. With 19 points in his 27 NHL games this season, the former third round pick in 2012 is currently tied with Colton Parayko in rookie defenseman scoring. Although he doesn’t provide much in terms of hits or blocks, Gostisbehere is a volume shooter averaging over two shots per game. He has also chipped in with three of his eight goals being of the game winning variety. After missing two games with a lower-body injury, Gostisbehere has kept his hot start going with three points in his last four games.
John Gibson – Anaheim Ducks
After starting the season in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls, Gibson has seized the Ducks crease and may not let it go for a long time. His 20 starts this season have resulted in ten wins and four shutouts, while sporting a 1.86 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Gibson is one of the two goaltenders on the Pacific team at this years All-Star Game, sharing the crease during the three-on-three tournament with Jonathan Quick. Given that Anaheim has now climbed back into the playoff picture after their dismal start to the season, Coach Bruce Boudreau will likely ride the hot hand in net for the rest of the season. At this point, it appears to be Gibson’s job to lose.
Under the Radar
Mattias Janmark – Dallas Stars
Janmark was a player who I featured early in the season, feeling that his scoring would trail off after his hot start to his rookie year. Although that hunch was somewhat correct (Janmark had three points in his next 20 games), he has proven me wrong over the course of the season as a capable rookie scorer. Since the turn of the calendar to December, Janmark has 12 points in 24 games, all coming at even strength. Third behind only Dylan Larkin and Parayko in terms of plus minus, Janmark clearly has the trust of Coach Lindy Ruff at even strength. Be on the lookout for a spike in the young forwards power play time. If so, his point totals could rise even further.
Joonas Donskoi – San Jose Sharks
Currently riding a three-game point streak, Donskoi has increased his point total on the season to 18. The line of Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels and Donskoi appears to have caught lightning in a bottle with 13 points in their last seven games. Fantasy owners should continue to watch where the young Finnish forward slots into the lineup, as his fantasy value drastically increases if he is playing with any of the combination of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, or Couture. Although he is not featured on the power play, he does get modest time with the man advantage. Donskoi does not provide a ton in terms of multi-category help outside of a handful of points when the line he is playing on is clicking.
Brett Pesce – Carolina Hurricanes
With all the talk about Noah Hanifin and his development on the Carolina blue line this season, Pesce’s very solid rookie campaign has been slightly overlooked. Currently fourth among rookie defensemen in scoring, the former University of New Hampshire standout has 12 points in only 40 games. Coach Bill Peters has trusted Pesce with increased power-play time since the end of November, which has resulted in five points with the man advantage on the season. Although not a big hitter, the 6-3 defenseman is averaging over a block per game for those in multi-category leagues.
Colin Miller – Boston Bruins
After arriving in Boston via the blockbuster Milan Lucic trade in the offseason, Miller has fit in well in a Bruins defense transitioning from veterans to youngsters. Despite only playing in 34 games due to a mid-December injury, the former fifth round pick is currently third among rookie defensemen in scoring with 14 points. Although he plays most of his even strength shifts on the third defense pairing with Dennis Seidenberg, Miller routinely gets top power-play minutes alongside Torey Krug or Zdeno Chara when in the lineup. Although he has not scored a power-play goal this season, he does have four assists with the man-advantage. The young defenseman still has plenty of room to improve all-around, but thus far is a plus player averaging over a shot and hit per game and just under a penalty minute per game.
Phil Di Giuseppe – Carolina Hurricanes
Needing secondary scoring, Di Giuseppe was called up to the Hurricanes for his NHL debut in early December. He has hit the ground running on a line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask with eight scoring points in his first 16 games. He had a minor setback with a concussion in early January but has drawn back into the lineup in the for the last few games. Although his shooting percentage isn’t sustainable at almost 16%, Di Giuseppe has provided all his scoring at 5v5 in limited minutes, averaging only twelve minutes a game with no power-play time. Another bonus for multi-category leagues is Di Giuseppe’s 46 hits, averaging 2.8 per game.
Jonathan Marchessault – Tampa Bay Lightning
As a diminutive, undrafted rookie, Marchessault has fit in well on Tampa’s fourth line in 25 games this season. From a fantasy perspective, Marchessault’s real upside lies in the amount of power-play minutes he has been given by the Lightning coaching staff, spending three of his 11 minutes per game playing with the man advantage. Given that six of his 11 points have come on the power play, the young forwards’ scoring value will likely dry up if he is removed from the unit, but he does chip in with shots (46) and hits (34) for those in incredibly deep leagues.
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