Calder Trophy favorite Jonathan Drouin of Tampa Bay Lightning named to SI.com's 2014-15 NHL All-Rookie Team.
Here's the thing about predicting rookie success in the preseason: It's nearly impossible to do.
Take last year. We all knew that 2013's top pick, Nathan MacKinnon, was ideally situated to make an immediate impact with the Avalanche. But Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, his fellow fellow Calder Trophy finalists last spring? Johnson was undrafted and Palat was taken with the 208th pick in 2011, behind such prospects as Joachim Nermark (93rd), Steffen Soberg (117th) and Darian Dziurskynski (141st), none of whom have played so much as even one NHL game. Most of the 200 or so players who make their debuts this season will soon slide into oblivion. Some will take the first steps toward becoming solid pros. And a select few will begin to build a case for their eventual elections to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It's a crap shoot, but we won't allow the uncertainty to prevent us from considering the merits of a promising crop of young talent. Here are the NHL freshmen that we expect to emerge as the best rookies at their positions this season, the members of the first annual SI.com Preseason All-Rookie Team.
Brian Elliott has been tabbed as St. Louis's No. 1 keeper to start the season, but there's reason to believe that the cage could belong to Allen when the games really start to count. The 24-year-old dominated the AHL last season, earning the league's top goalie honors, and was impressing when he went 9-4-0 during an emergency call-up in 2012–13. “He could put up really good numbers playing behind that defense,” says one scout.
Barely sneaking in as Calder-eligible after spending parts of two seasons with Montreal, Beaulieu enters this campaign with 23 games of NHL experience. He'll start on the third pair, but don't expect him to remain there. He brings a high level of skill to the Canadiens' blue line, where his speed and smarts are ideal for driving possession—something that the Habs need more of this season. He'll be a top-four fixture by season's end.
Could he really be this good? Passed over multiple times in the draft, the 23-year-old caught on with the Blackhawks as a free agent out of New Hampshire this summer. The term “long shot” doesn't even begin to describe him. Yet here he is, earning lavish praise from coach Joel Quenneville and starting the season playing on the team's top four. He's smart, poised and moves the puck well, making him the perfect fit for a team that prizes possession ... and he's a salary cap bargain, to boot.
The preseason Calder Trophy favorite has been sidelined by a fractured right thumb and could open the year on injured reserve. Still, he is coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the QMJHL and looks to be the most explosive offensive rookie in the NHL. And given that Drouin's playmaking ability ensures he'll spend at least some time on the left wing of Steven Stamkos, his potential to pile up points is great.
Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov got all the hype coming into camp, but it was Burakovsky who left with the coveted second-line center gig. He displayed some dazzling individual skills that led to a couple of highlight reel goals in the preseason, but it was his commitment to two-way play that put him in coach Barry Trotz's good graces. Playing alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer both at even strength and on Washington's second power play, Burakovsky has a chance for 40-plus points.
The Flames have been a lousy road draw in recent years, but Gaudreau's about to change that. The reigning Hobey Baker winner as the best player in college hockey has the sort of razzle-dazzle skills that everyone will want to see. He is diminutive at 5' 9" and 150 pounds, but he has the slippery smooth puck skills of Patrick Kane. He's also fearless. This kid is the real deal.