Handing out superlatives for the NHL’s 2016-17 rookie class
- There’s a whole lot to like about the 2016-17 season's deep pool of rookies that includes Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Here are the ones to watch.
When there's nothing left to talk about, there's always rookies.
Taking a cue from our buddies over on the SI.com NBA page, who are suffering with us through these dog days of summer, we thought we'd have a little fun projecting the future of some of this season's most promising freshmen. Here then are our 2016 NHL rookie yearbook superlatives:
Most Likely To Be A Celebrity: Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
There are all kinds of great players in the NHL, but very few have that certain something that sets them apart as a star. Alex Ovechkin has it. P.K. Subban has it. Laine has it, too. Like his countryman (and former Jet) Teemu Selanne, Laine doesn't just score goals. He creates moments. He brings you out of your seat with the anticipation of something special happening every time he touches the puck. There aren't many players worth the price of admission on their own, but Laine is one of them.
Most Artistic: Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers
Forget all the caution flags being thrown by Flyers GM Ron Hextall. Provorov, the CHL defenseman of the year, is ready to contribute in Philly. He's a beauty on the ice, a true 200-foot defensemen who is as comfortable driving to the opponent's net as he is clearing out attackers who dare to interlope in front of his own. He's also pretty creative off the ice, as this sand sculpture he created at the team's rookie camp proves. Nice to know he has something to fall back on if hockey doesn't work out (it will).
Most Likely To Be Your Boss: Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets
Morrissey isn't assured a spot in Winnipeg's opening night lineup, but he'll be tough to keep down on the farm. The 13th pick in the 2013 draft has all the tools to be an impact player, but his skating and smarts are his bread and butter. And it's not just on the ice that he boasts above-average intelligence. Morrissey was named the Western Hockey League's top scholastic player in 2013.
Most Likely To Make Millions: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello once said that no player is the face of the franchise—the logo is the face.
Yeah, about that, Lou ... you might want to re-think your position now that Matthews is in town. The top pick in the 2016 draft is a marketer's dream: handsome, personable and off-the-charts talented. He'd be the main attraction in 22 cities right now. But playing in the center of the hockey universe? Advertisers in Canada will line up to fill his pockets with cash. And it's only a matter of time before American companies figure out how to leverage the Arizona-born Matthews as well.
Most Likely To Cause Regret In Columbus: Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
Look, we understand what Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen was thinking. Pierre-Luc Dubois projects as a solution to a pressing need at center ice, so he was a perfectly reasonable choice with the No. 3 pick in June. But Puljujarvi is going to roll up the numbers. It's what he does. This, after all, is a kid who scored a hat trick in the gold medal game of the U-18s, then led the U-20s in scoring with 17 points in just seven games last Christmas. Now he has a chance to skate on a line centered by either Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, both of whom can take advantage of his explosive speed and his dynamic finishing touch. Jackets fans might want to avoid the rookie scoring charts this season.
Most Likely To Get ID'd When He's 30: Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Undersized and baby-faced, Marner will need to carry two pieces of ID if he's looking to buy a round for his teammates. Except maybe in Toronto, where his face is about to become as well known as those of Wendel, Lanny and Darryl. Marner, who scored 242 points during his past two seasons with the London Knights, has nothing left to prove in junior hockey. We know he can light it up. Now he just needs to prove that he can follow in the footsteps of smaller forwards like Patrick Kane (another former Knight) and handle the physical play at the next level.
Most Trustworthy: Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski, a native of suburban Detroit, has said he patterns his game after that of Red Wings legend Nicklas Lidstrom. He's much bigger and stronger than the Hall of Famer, but he shares the awareness that made Lidstrom so successful. He always has his head up, divining his options, and that helps him to limit his mistakes. Those are qualities that should endear the eighth pick in the 2015 draft to coach John Tortorella, and will ensure that he sees plenty of ice time in critical moments as the season progresses.
Best Hair: William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
That's some pretty sweet salad, kid. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Most Likely to Be Your Favorite Rookie in Six Months: Danton Heinen, Boston Bruins
A fourth-round pick out of the BCHL in 2014, Heinen hinted at his big-league bona fides during his sophomore season with the Denver Pioneers. By focusing on his defensive game, the 21-year-old winger turned into an offensive powerhouse, finishing the campaign on an 18-game scoring streak (14-20-34). Over his two seasons with DU, he potted 36 goals and 93 points in 82 games. Like the recently departed Loui Eriksson, Heinen is a left-handed shot who can play either wing and knows how to get to the front of the net. He didn't do much during a brief turn in the AHL last spring (two assists in four games), but has a good shot to earn prime minutes this season with the offensively challenged B's.
Biggest Overachiever: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets
A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Bjorkstrand has emerged as a clutch goal-scorer with a flair for the dramatic. The 21-year-old scored six game-winning goals for Lake Erie during their run to the Calder Cup last spring, including each of the last three games in the Final. He earns high praise for his hockey sense and his ability to read and process the play at lightning speed. With the Jackets in dire need of scoring touch at a bargain price, he could win a top-six job in Columbus.