Over the last four years we have seen more first-year players come into the NHL and have an immediate fantasy impact.
Since 2015, 17 forwards have recorded over 50 points in their rookie campaign. The 2018-19 crop of freshman has a large number of high-potential players who could have a fantasy impact right away.
I have listed 15 forwards and defensemen who are expected to crack the opening night roster. I highlighted their skillsets and what kind of usage they could see in year-1. Rookies typically see volatile playing time so most of these players are better left undrafted in re-draft leagues, but all have keeper/dynasty league upside.
Rasmus Dahlin — Sabres — D
ADP: 104:7 | DFO Rank: 161
Dahlin was the No.1 overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft and will immediately step into a key role on the Sabres’ blueline. Dahlin is an outstanding skater with high-end puck-skills, but also possesses great size (6-foot-3, 185 lbs.) for an 18-year-old.
Dahlin is expected to open the season on the Sabres’ second-pairing with Jake McCabe and on the second power-play unit. Dahlin has the ability to move up and play with Rasmus Ristolainen on the top-pairing and top PP unit.
Rookie defensemen often have difficulty producing at a fantasy level, but Dahlin could be an exception. Over the last decade, only nine of 459 D-men recorded more than 40 points in their rookie season. Dahlin has the highest ceiling of any other rookie defenseman, but a 10-goal, 35-point season is more likely than him being the first rookie blueliner to get over 50 points since Vladimir Malakhov in 1993.
Andrei Svechnikov — Hurricanes — RW
ADP: 140.3 | DFO Rank: 164
Svechnikov was the No.2 overall pick this summer and is projected to play a top-6 role in Carolina right away. The 18-year-old had 72 points (40G / 32A) in 44 OHL games last year and has been skating with Sebastian Aho and Valentin Zykov during the preseason.
Svechnikov owns an NHL frame (6-foot-2, 188 lbs.) and has shown to be an excellent goal-scorer at lower-levels. Putting a winger of Svechnikov’s goal-scoring ability with a playmaking-centre like Aho could be fantasy gold. He has the highest fantasy upside of any other rookie winger in this year’s class.
Casey Mittelstadt — Sabres — C
ADP: 148.0 | DFO Rank: 190
Everyone is looking for 2019’s version of Matthew Barzal and Mittelstadt might be the best bet. The 19-year-old was the No.8 overall pick in 2017 and he put on show during a brief stint with the Sabres at the end of 2018. After finishing his freshman season at the University of Minnesota with 30 points (11G / 19A), Mittelstadt registered five points (1G / 4A) in his first six games with the Sabres.
At 6-f.oot-1, 201 lbs, Mittelstadt has better size than Barzal, but he is a savvy playmaker as well. Like Barzal, Mittelstadt is projected to play a big role to start the season after the Sabres traded Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis this off-season. He will likely by centering the second-line with Conor Sheary and Kyle Okposo on opening night. Okposo’s numbers have slipped in Buffalo, but skating with a playmaker of Mittelstadt’s caliber should help him get back to fantasy relevance.
Elias Pettersson — Canucks — C
ADP: 185.0 | DFO Rank: 178
Pettersson has a big-frame (6-foot-2) like Mittelstadt, but is not quite as filled out (161 lbs). Pettersson is a deft playmaker but showed off some goal-scoring prowess while playing in Sweden’s top league a season ago. Playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League, the 2017 No.5 overall pick led Vaxjo HC in points with 56 (24G / 32A) in 44 games—15 points more than the next highest on the squad.
With the ‘Sedin Twins’ retired, there is a big hole in the middle of the Canucks’ lineup. Pettersson is set to fill that void, slotting in as the No.2 centre behind Bo Horvat. Pettersson’s goal-scoring and playmaking abilities make him a candidate to lead all rookies in scoring this season.
Ryan Donato — Bruins — LW
ADP: 194.0 | DFO Rank: N/R
Donato turned pro after his third-year at Harvard University and picked up nine points (5G / 4A) in 12 games down the stretch. Donato was a second-round pick (No.56) in 2014 and is praised for his hockey sense. Despite playing for the Bruins a season ago, the 22-year-old is still considered a rookie. He has one of the most sturdy roles in the rookie class, but will have a difficult time moving into Boston’s top-6. He won’t be able to maintain his 20.8 percent shooting percentage from last year, but his two shots per game in just 14:42 TOI/GM is a sign that he could be successful even in a third-line role. Donato is capable of posting 15-to-20 goals and 45-plus points in his first full year.
Filip Zadina — Red Wings — RW
ADP: 213.0 | DFO Rank: 171
Zadina surprisingly fell to the Red Wings at No.6 in this year’s draft and is expected to play in Detroit’s top-6 come October. The 18-year-old winger is known for his dirty hands and deadly shot. The Czech forward came to North America last year and tore up the QMJHL, finishing third in the league in goals (44) and seventh in points (82)—leading all rookies in both categories. The Red Wings are thin up front, which could lead to huge minutes for the rookie, who has a chance to lead the class in goals this season.
Miro Heiskanen — Stars — D
ADP: 238.0 | DFO Rank: 276
Heiskanen was the No.3 overall pick in last year’s draft and is the only rookie defenseman that could challenge Dahlin for the rookie-defenseman scoring lead. Heiskanen is strong puck-moving defenseman with excellent mobility, built in the mold of an Erik Karlsson. He comes to the NHL after being named the best defenseman in Finland’s top league (Liiga), the youngest player to ever win that award.
Heiskanen has been skating on the Stars’ second-pair with either Stephen Johns or Marc Methot, which could lead to over 18 minutes per night. Heiskanen won’t knock John Klingberg off of the top power-play unit anytime soon, but he will be the anchor of what should be a decent second PP unit. His sizeable usage and power-play exposure should allow Heiskanen a chance at 30-plus points as a rookie.
Eeli Tolvanen — Predators — RW
ADP: 209.0 | DFO Rank: 278
Tolvanen is another player who had a cup of tea with his NHL team at the end of last season. Tolvanen appeared in just three games with the Predators after scoring 19 goals and 17 assists (36 points) in 49 games with Jokerit (KHL). Tolvanen also represented Finland in the World Juniors, Olympics and World Championship, totaling six goals and 13 assists (19 points) in 14 combined games.
Tolvanen has an excellent shot and is capable of playing both wings, which helps in his effort to become a top-6 winger in Nashville this season. The Predators have a lot of depth, but Tolvanen could easily replace Craig Smith or Calle Jarnkrok on the second line and play upwards of 16 minutes per night. A high skill level, strong surrounding cast and path to top-6 minutes makes Tolvanen one of the top rookie targets this fall.
Update: Tolvanen was assigned to the AHL on Wednesday (Sep.26). He figures to be one of the first call-ups though and still holds dynasty/deep keeper league stash value.
Brady Tkachuk — Senators — LW
ADP: 252.0 | DFO Rank: N/R
Tkachuk was this summer’s No.4 overall pick and is expected to make the Senators out of training camp. After trading Erik Karlsson the Senators look like the NHL’s worst team and don’t carry a lot of fantasy appeal. However, the lack of skill could mean huge minutes for Tkachuk as a rookie.
Tkachuk has great size (6-foot-3, 196 lbs.) and isn’t afraid of going to the dirty areas to score goals. Like his brother, Matthew, and father, Keith, he possesses high-end hockey IQ. The rookie is projected to start the year on the second-line with Mark Stone and the newly-acquired Chris Tierney, which gives him high-end upside in year one.
Michael Rasmussen — Red Wings — C
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: 283
Rasmussen is not guaranteed to make the Red Wings out of training camp, but he’s making a strong case with two goals and one assist in three preseason games. Rasmussen is no stranger to putting up point-per game numbers, having collected 31 goals and 28 assists (59 points) in 47 regular season games and 33 points (16G / 17A) in 14 playoff games with the Tri-City Americans (WHL) last year.
Rasmussen has plenty of size (6-foot-6, 215 lbs.) and is a great goal-scorer and net-front presence. He is capable of playing centre and the wing, which helps his chances of making the team. The Red Wings aren’t very deep up front, which bodes well for the 19-year-old’s chances of cracking the top-6 if he cracks the opening night roster.
Kailer Yamamoto — Oilers — RW
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: N/R
Yamamoto is undersized (5-foot-8, 153 lbs.) but is an unbelievable skater who works hard on every shift. He started last season with the Oilers, picking up three assists in nine games before being returned to the Spokane Chiefs (WHL). During his time in juniors he had 64 points (21G / 43A) in 40 contests.
Yamamoto seems like a near-lock to make the Oilers out of training camp after having a fantastic preseason. The 19-year-old is tied with Connor McDavid for second in NHL preseason scoring with seven points (4G / 3A) in four games. If he makes the team, Yamamoto is projected to play on the third line with Ryan Strome, but he could replace Ty Rattie on McDavid’s line if Rattie can’t transfer his preseason success into the regular season.
Henrik Borgstrom — Panthers — C
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: N/R
Like Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, Borgstrom is a smart two-way centre with high-end offensive ability. Borgstrom has great size for a centre (6-foot-3, 191 lbs.) and will slot into the third line this season. Borgstrom wrapped up his sophomore season at the University of Denver with 52 points (23G / 29A) in 40 games.
As offensive as Borgstrom can be, he will be limited in his rookie season. With one of the league’s best top-6’s ahead of him, Borgstrom won’t see a lot of playing time. Head coach Bob Boughner leans so heavily on Barkov and Trocheck’s lines, both playing over 20 minutes per night—leaving very limited minutes for their third and fourth line.
Kristian Vesalainen — Jets — LW
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: N/R
Vesalainen was the No.24 overall pick in 2017 and could make the Jets. The Finnish winger is 6-foot-4, 192 lbs. and plays a power-forward game with silky hands and good skating ability for a big-man. Vesalainen will be limited by a deep core of wingers ahead of him, but could have some value on a quality third-line with Jack Roslovic and Mathieu Perreault. Vesalainen had 22 goals and 21 assists (43 points) in 48 games in Finland’s top-league as a 19-year-old. His upside is capped by a smaller role, but he will be a big part of one of the league’s best bottom-6 lines.
Robert Thomas — Blues — C
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: N/R
Thomas was the No.20 pick in the 2017 draft and should make the Blues as a bottom-6 forward. Thomas is a quality two-way centre but oozes offensive ability as well. During his 49 OHL games last year, Thomas registered 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points). Thomas is a deep keeper-league option because he’s behind Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak on the depth chart, so he’ll be very limited unless he moves to the wing. There’s no guarantee that Thomas will be there all year, but he has an extremely bright future ahead of him.
Filip Chytil — Rangers — C
ADP: Undrafted | DFO Rank: N/R
Chytil is another player who got the nine-game look last season but was ultimately returned to the AHL. Chytil had three points (1G / 2A) in his nine-game preview before registering 31 points (11G / 20A) in 46 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack. He also played well while representing the Czech Republic in the World Juniors (2G / 2A in 7 games) and the World Championships (1G / 1A in 7 games).
Chytil owns a projectable frame (6-foot-1, 178 lbs.) and is an excellent playmaker and forechecker. With very limited depth in New York, Chytil projects to be a middle-6 centre or winger this season. Chytil’s success will be largely based on who he plays with.