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  • For the second straight season, the NHL and its fans will be treated to a wealth of game-changing rookies.
By Michael Blinn
September 28, 2018

The 2017–18 class of NHL rookies was one of the deepest in recent memory, and this season’s set of freshman could give it a run for its money.

Easily the most notable first-year player is defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. For what seemed like forever, he was tabbed as the top prospect for the 2018 draft and made the Buffalo Sabres’ choice with the first pick a foregone conclusion. He’s not the only rookie that has Sabres fans excited this season, after they got a taste of 2017 draftee Casey Mittelstadt for six games at the end of 2017–18, a stretch in which he posted a goal and five points.

They’ll have their work cut out for them as they compete for rookie supremacy and the Calder Trophy, with Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson already tabbed as the Vegas favorite to take home the trophy. Dahlin is right behind him and Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in 2018, rounding out the top three, as per sportsbook Bovada.

That’s just a taste of what this year’s rookie crop is bringing. Here are the betting favorites to bring home Rookie of the Year honors, via Bovada:


Elias Pettersson, F
Vancouver Canucks
Pick: No. 5, 2015 draft
Calder odds: 4/1

Even before training camp started, Canucks’ brass was high on Pettersson. “I think he’s ready to play in the NHL,” GM Jim Benning told TSN 650. The 19-year-old led the SHL in scoring with 55 points, despite missing time for the World Junior Championships. Scouting reports tend to laud his blend of creativity, offensive skills and speed, not to mention his smarts, awareness and tenacity.

Rasmus Dahlin, D
Buffalo Sabres
Pick: No. 1, 2018
Calder odds: 6/1

What the 18-year-old Super Swede brings to the table has been well-documented at this point: He’s a franchise defenseman who plays a strong two-way game, but excels at creating offense. His draft-year highlight reel featured deft hands and big plays and earned him comparisons to the likes of countrymen Erik Karlsson and Nicklas Lidstrom.

NHL
Undersized, Puck-Moving Defenseman Favored in the First Round of the NHL Draft

Andrei Svechnikov, F
Carolina Hurricanes
Pick: No. 2, 2018
Calder odds: 6/1

On a Hurricanes team in search of offense, 18-year-old Svechnikov will get plenty of chances to shine. With 40 goals in 44 games for WHL Barrie, the Russian was an easy selection for Carolina at No. 2. His USHL coach described him as a mix between Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov, which sounds pretty dangerous for anyone not wearing a Canes jersey.

Eeli Tolvanen, F
Nashville Predators
Pick: No. 30, 2017
Calder odds: 13/2

The young Finn’s work is already cut out for him, after being assigned to AHL Milwaukee to start the season. While he won’t be on the opening-night roster, he could join the big club before long. He’s a big-time shooter who excels on the power play, though he went pointless in a much-hyped three-game stint with the Preds last season. His start in the minors will be telling.

Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Casey Mittelstadt, F
Buffalo Sabres
Pick: No. 8, 2017
Calder odds: 15/2

Count Jack Eichel among those happy to see Mittelstadt in the blue-and-yellow at the end of last season. The high-scoring center has piled up the points at every level he’s played, including an 11-goal, 30-point freshman season at Minnesota. He followed that up with five points in six NHL games with the Sabres, showing off a tantalizing blend of puckhandling, sniping and playmaking.

Miro Heiskanen, D
Dallas Stars
Pick: No. 3, 2017
Calder odds: 17/2

There’s a reason the Stars’ trade talks for Erik Karlsson stalled out this summer: the Senators insisted Heiskanen be part of the return. Why wasn’t GM Jim Nill willing to ship out the 19-year-old blueliner? He’s a smooth skater who excels in the transition game and contributes plenty in the offensive zone. He ripped it up in Finland’s top league last season and brings some big expectations to the NHL for 2017–18.

Anthony Cirelli, F
Tampa Bay Lightning
Pick: No. 72, 2015
Calder odds: 9/1

At 21, Cirelli is one of the older players on this list, though he’s made a name for himself as someone who steps up in big moments. In an 18-game audition last season (and another 17 games in the playoffs), he showed a willingness to play a two-way game that included going into the dirty areas and winning battles. He’ll provide valuable offensive depth for a serious Cup contender in Tampa.

Ryan Donato, F
Boston Bruins
Pick: No. 56, 2014
Calder odds: 10/1

Donato had himself a year in 2017–18, scoring just under a goal-per-game for Harvard, heading to PyeongChang with the U.S. Olympic entry and then making a highly anticipated NHL debut with the Bruins in the stretch run. The 22-year-old proved to be a shot-generating machine, notching five goals in his first 12 games. The Bruins will look for their young forward to slot into a top-six role.

Brady Tkachuk, F
Ottawa Senators
Pick: No. 3, 2018
Calder odds: 10/1

The Sens’ top pick in 2018 will become the latest of the Tkachuk clan to join the NHL ranks, following Hall-of-Famer dad Keith and Flames forward Matthew. Brady became the highest-drafted member of his family, and for good reason. Ahead of the draft, scouts raved about his game, with TSN’s Craig Button telling SI, “He's exceptionally smart, he's got excellent hands, he's a very good skater and going to get better. ... All he does, whoever he plays with, is help teams win."

NHL
Hurricanes Look for Big Things From Rookies Necas, Svechnikov

Filip Zadina, F
Detroit Red Wings
Pick: No. 6, 2018
Calder odds: 12/1

Zadina was widely regarded as a steal for the Wings after falling to No. 6 in the draft. While he may not start the season in Detroit, he showed flashes of his high-end skill and dynamic abilities. The Red Wings are content to take things slow with their two-way prospect, possibly having him begin the season in AHL Grand Rapids to help him adapt to the pro game.

Other rookies we’ll be keeping an eye on this season: Kristian Vesalainen, WPG; Filip Chytil, NYR; Lias Andersson, NYR; Martin Necas, CAR; Valentin Zykov, CAR; Henrik Borgstrom, FLA; Jordan Greenway, MIN; Jesperi Kotkaniemi, MTL, Mikhail Vorobyov, PHI; Kailer Yamamoto, EDM, Andreas Johnsson, TOR; Logan Brown, OTT

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