- The NHL is quickly becoming a younger man's league, and the 2018 rookie class fits in that trend. The SI NHL staff debates which youngster is the most exciting to watch.
The youths are here.
This season’s class rookies garnered quite the hype over the summer and in the first few weeks of the season, it has not disappointed. No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin is thriving on a rejuvenated Sabres team, Andrei Svechnikov is right in the mix of a surprising Hurricanes team, and Elias Pettersson was on a crazy streak before being sidelined by a concussion.
Now that we’ve gotten to see how the youngsters have adjusted to playing in the NHL, the SI NHL staff discusses: Which rookie has been the most impressive so far?
Jeremy Fuchs: Injury notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear that Elias Pettersson has been the best rookie thus far. In five games played, he has five goals and three assists for the Canucks. That’s ridiculous for a 19-year-old in his debut month. He’s also very clearly the top option on the team. The worry, obviously, is the concussion. He did not play Thursday against Arizona, but is travelling with the team. Hopefully, he’s back in the lineup soon, and getting back to his impressive ways.
Emily Caron: Maxime Lajoie takes the cake for this one. He was an immediate impact player for the Senators, scoring in his NHL debut (then nabbed a second point with an assist just four minutes later) and went on to notch four goals and three assists through his first six NHL games. Lajoie’s production has stalled the last two games after his red-hot start, but the rookie defenseman should pick the pace back up as soon as Ottawa's young team finds its rhythm.
Eric Single: Andrei Svechnikov’s first nine NHL games are best consumed with a steady stream of reminders that whatever he’s doing on the ice, he is doing as an 18-year-old. (The Hurricanes’ home broadcast is only too happy to oblige when it comes to those reminders, by the way.) You can see the instinctive feel for the offensive end of the ice in his two goals and two assists so far, and from there it’s easy to imagine how quickly he can put everything together once he gets his sea legs. Chalk up the team-leading 10 penalty minutes to an on-ice awareness adjustment everyone makes at different speeds. Carolina is going to continue to reap the rewards of throwing him into the fire.
Dan Falkenheim: On a team with blue-line stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Henri Jokiharju plays with poise beyond his experience. The 19-year-old Finnish defenseman tallied five assists in his first three games (and added a sixth on Thursday), and is logging an average 20:44 of ice time. He passes the eye test, the stats test (Jokiharju leads the team in CF%) and, most importantly, the Joel Quenneville test (Quenneville slotted the rookie into the team’s ailing power play). While he doesn’t have the hype of Rasmus Dahlin, Jokiharju has established himself as part of the Blackhawks’ rejuvenated young core and is here to stay.
Kristen Nelson: It’s nearly impossible to talk about the 2018 rookies and not mention Rasmus Dahlin. The defenseman has one goal and three assists in his first 10 games, which isn’t quite as exciting as Lajoie’s or Jokiharju’s numbers, but it’s Dahlin’s poise that impresses me. The 18-year-old already looks so comfortable on the blue line. Not only is the Swede adjusting to the NHL (in a tough Atlantic division no less), but he’s also adjusting to, ya know, living in the U.S. for the first time. Phil Housley is being sure not to overwhelm Dahlin (he averages about 19 minutes of ice time), but I expect his game to grow as he gains more opportunities.