With the 2016-17 NHL regular season scheduled to begin in just nine days, it suddenly dawned on us that we’ve been tremendously remiss in our Fantasy hockey coverage recently.
So today, we switch gears and look at three players we expect to compete for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. As a bonus, RotoRob.com NHL Editor Dakota Case gives us five names he’s watching as well.
Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are ridiculously flush with top prospects right now, but none can touch the immense potential of Matthews. It wasn’t much of a shock that he went first overall in the 2016 draft, and this big American centre has all the makings of a dominant player. Last season, Matthews competed in Switzerland’s top professional league, so he’s been playing against older players that are more physically developed.
The 19-year-old has the size (6′2″, 216) and the demeanour to be successful from Day One. Last season Matthews compiled 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games as an 18-year-old boy playing against men.
The left-handed shooter was originally developed through the Arizona Bobcats program, a system which has produced a couple of pro players over the years, but by virtue of being picked first overall, Matthews is already the most famous ever.
This is a can’t miss prospect and one that was almost universally projected as the best player to come out of this year’s draft. And it may just be preseason action, but check out the video below to see Matthews’ first shift as a Maple Leaf.
Patrik Laine, RW/LW, Winnipeg Jets: This big (6′4″, 209) Finnish winger is the only player that was ever seriously considered for the No. 1 overall pick other than Matthews. Still, even if Laine had to settle for being picked second, do not mistake his talent, as he has a chance to be a very, very special player.
The 18-year-old’s draft stock rose in the spring as he wound up as the leading goal scorer and MVP in the Liiga (Finland’s top league) playoffs. Laine, a right-handed shot, only entered the season as a top 15 prospect, so he really opened some eyes over the last year. His performance as the World Junior Championship — seven goals and six assists in seven games to lead Finland to the Gold — was a big part of that.
Laine has shown an ability to score goals when his team needs them most, and that’s a definite sign of a game-changer. He has an NHL build, serious skill and a tremendous shot, all of which points to him becoming a star.
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Edmonton Oilers: Puljujarvi is another Finnish winger that could be the top pick in the draft in a normal season, but in 2016, there was some serious talent at the top of the board. An 18-year-old right-hand shot, he also has size (6′3″, 203), but was unable to match Laine’s scoring totals while playing in the same league last season.
There are some that compare Puljujarvi to Teemu Selanne, and Puljujarvi himself can see that in some ways. “Teemu always wanted to score, wanted to go to the net and always tried to create scoring chances. I like to do all of that, and be dangerous all the time. So I guess in that way we’re the same,” Puljujarvi told NHL.com.
Of course, Puljujarvi was no slouch during Finland’s WJC Gold medal run, racking up five goals and a tourney-high 17 points in seven games. He’s a dangerous offensive player that has a chance to make a real impact in the NHL.
Okay, so Puljujarvi may not have the offensive upside Laine does, but in time, he may be a more complete player. The Oilers have to be thrilled that Puljujarvi fell to them at fourth overall as his stock was also really rising in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Dakota offers the following…
Looking for some dark horses beyond the Big Three? Keep an eye on Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek, who may begin the season as the Wild’s No. 3 centre and if allowed to play at the 2016 WJC, could dominate. If he makes the Wild, he could put up some numbers with wingers like Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart.
Watch out for Montreal goaltender Charlie Lindgren. If Carey Price gets hurt again, Lindgren could be a rookie dynamo.
Dakota’s Top Five Rookies
1. Jesse Puljujarvi — playing alongside a healthy Connor McDavid, Puljujarvi could go all Artemi Panarin on the NHL with 30 goals and 70 points.
2. Patrik Laine — Laine will lead all rookies with 35 goals and add 20-to-30 assists for 55-to-65 points.
3. Auston Matthews — Matthews should put up Jack Eichel-like numbers in his rookie season. We’re expecting 20-to-30 goals, maybe as many as 60 points from Matthews.
4. William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs — Still eligible for Calder contention, Nylander is an ultra slick winger that should benefit from playing a lot of minutes alongside Matthews. Nylander could rack up 55-to-60 points.
5. If any goalie can make this list, it’s Lindgren. He played exceptionally well in his lone NHL appearance late last season, was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year, and has had a great preseason. Many Habs fans are demanding he be the man to back up Price.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below who you’re picking for the Calder Trophy in 2016-17.