After Swedish youngster Elias Pettersson took the hockey world by storm in 2018-19, there are big expectations for the next crop of NHL rookies heading into 2019-20.
Pettersson won the Calder Trophy in 2019 after a 66-point season that saw him post multiple five-point games and surpass Pavel Bure’s franchise rookie scoring record.
While Pettersson stole the show on offense, rookie blueliners Rasmus Dahlin and Miro Heiskanen played significant roles for their respective teams on defense. 25-year-old rookie netminder Jordan Binnington led the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
With the NHL trending towards speed and skill, younger players are more important than ever when it comes to building a fantasy hockey squad. Which rookies should fantasy owners keep their eyes on in 2019-20?
Here are 10 NHL rookies to watch in 2019-20.
Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils
The sky is the limit for the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Hughes is an elite offensive talent with incredible playmaking ability. The potential superstar put up 34 goals and 112 points in just 50 games with the U.S. National U18 team this season and had nine goals and 20 points in seven games as captain of Team USA at the U18’s. Much like the 2018 first overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin, with the Sabres, Hughes is expected to have a big impact on his NHL club in his rookie year. The Devils had an outstanding offseason, adding P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds, in addition to drafting Hughes. Whether Hughes centers the speedy Taylor Hall or the skilled sniper Gusev, there’s the potential for the American centerman to have a massive Pettersson-type rookie season. A spot on New Jersey’s first power-play unit anchored by Subban would be the icing on the cake for Hughes’ fantasy value in 2019-20.
Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks
While his brother is joining a significantly improved Devils squad, Quinn Hughes will also be a must-own in fantasy in 2019-20 on a young and exciting Vancouver squad. An incredible OT shift last season by Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Q.Hughes gave Canucks fans a glimpse into the exciting future of the team.
Hughes was fantastic in five games with the Canucks last season, picking up three assists and demonstrating a great combination of speed, skill, and intelligent decision-making. I really like Q.Hughes’ chances at the Calder Trophy this season. He’s going to be the go-to offensive guy on their blueline and has fantastic offensive talent playing in front of him. The Canucks signing right-shot blueliner Tyler Myers instead of the more offensive and left-shot defenseman Jake Gardiner only bodes well for Hughes’ fantasy value in 2019-20. Hughes is going to be quarterbacking a power-play unit that includes Petterson, Boeser, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller. If the Canucks end their four-year playoff drought in 2019, Q.Hughes is going to have played a major role.
Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
While the Devils arguably had the best offseason in the NHL, the Rangers were certainly a very-close second. Not only did they land the biggest free agent in Artemi Panarin, but they also traded for two-way defender Jacob Trouba and signed college free agent blueliner Adam Fox. One of their most significant offseason moves didn’t come from a trade or through free agency. The Rangers hit the jackpot with their second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Kaapo Kakko is an elite Finnish forward prospect who was closing in on J. Hughes in prospect rankings throughout the second half of last season. Hughes may have the better all-around offensive skill, but Kakko has the physicality to go with spectacular puck skills.
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 16, 2019
Currently listed at 6’2” and 190 lbs, Kakko is the definition of an “NHL ready prospect”. He came seriously close to challenging Hughes for first overall at the draft thanks in part to his dominance at the 2019 IIHF World Championships. Kakko proved he could play with men as he netted six goals in 10 games for Team Finland. He brings a winning resume to Broadway, having captured Gold at the World Juniors, the U’18s, and the Men’s Worlds.
Panarin and Kakko certainly give a massive boost to the Rangers offense, but there are still question marks. Mika Zibanejad had a breakout 74-point camping in 2018-19, but the team is very unproven and inexperienced down the middle. I like Kakko’s fantasy potential a lot given his likely ability to contribute in multiple categories and play with Panarin on the power play, but his even-strength center options aren’t ideal. Kakko is still a very strong bet to win the rookie scoring race, as the Rangers will be counting on him for production — and he should be up for the challenge.
Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar proved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that he should be on everyone’s fantasy radar entering the 2019-20 season. The 20-year-old was called up to the Avalanche during their first-round series against the Flames and made an immediate impact. Makar instantly looked like he belonged in the NHL, demonstrating poise and confidence while contributing a goal and five assists in 10 postseason contests. After the Avalanche moved Tyson Barrie to the Maple Leafs this offseason in exchange for Nazem Kadri and Alexander Kerfoot, Makar has the potential to turn in a monstrous rookie season on the right side of Colorado’s blueline. He’s an excellent skater with an effortless stride and fantastic transition play. His puck-moving and playmaking ability are very strong, as he reads the play well and sees the ice at an elite level.
The Avalanche are going to be a threat in the Western Conference for many years to come and their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog is one of the best in the NHL. Colorado has endless fantasy potential this year, especially after adding Kadri and Andre Burakovsky to boost the second line. Samuel Girard is a rising two-way stud on defense, but Makar has the better offensive tools and should take over the role of quarterback on the first power-play unit. He’s simply a can’t-miss fantasy player this season.
Filip Zadina, RW, Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are trending in the right direction thanks in part to their top prospect Filip Zadina. The Czech forward got Red Wings fans buzzing last season when he showcased the lethal shot that helped him go sixth overall in 2018 on his first NHL goal. Zadina plays a dynamic and well-rounded two-way game that should make him a multi-category fantasy contributor for many years to come.
Zadina has great fantasy potential in 2019-20 due to his role with the Red Wings. He got in nine games with the club last season after netting 16 goals in 59 games down in the AHL for the Grand Rapid Griffins. Zadina will likely quarterback the first power-play unit and have a top-six role at even strength. Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha are a lethal combination on the top line, so Zadina may be starting on the second line with Andreas Athanasiou, but I love his potential on that first power-play unit. He doesn’t have necessarily have top-tier elite-level talent around him, but that might just increase the odds that he takes the bull by the horns and becomes a top player for Detroit in 2019-20.
Erik Brannstrom, D, Ottawa Senators
There have been tough times in Ottawa recently, but there are certainly reasons to be optimistic. Swedish defenseman Erik Brannstrom is a very promising prospect on Ottawa’s blueline. Fantasy goers got a glimpse of his fantasy potential this past season after he put up seven goals, 28 points and 36 PIM in 41 AHL Games and captained Sweden at this year’s World Juniors, registering four goals in five games.
The key returning piece in Ottawa’s blockbuster trade with Vegas for Mark Stone, Brannstrom is a great skater with strong offensive skills. He moves very fluently and can pass and shoot at a high level. Brannstrom has the potential to be a dynamic two-way rearguard and power-play quarterback at the NHL level. While I see him making an impact in 2019-20, I believe his fantasy potential is somewhat limited behind offensive stud Thomas Chabot on the left side. The Sens’ defense overall is very weak, so I could see Brannstrom carving out a nice role for himself in his first NHL season. With veterans Stone and Matt Duchene moving on to leave youngsters Brady Tkachuk and Colin White as the main offensive driver up front, it might be best to take a wait-and-see type of approach with Brannstrom this season instead of jumping on him early in fantasy drafts.
Adam Boqvist, D, Chicago Blackhawks
While almost everyone on this list thus far is close to being a lock to play in the NHL in 2019-20, Boqvist remains a bit of a question mark. If the promising Swedish blueliner manages to earn a spot on Chicago’s roster in 2019-20, I really like his fantasy potential.
The 18-year-old plays a calm, cool and collected game is coming off a massive 20-goal, 60-point season with the London Knights in the OHL. He was taken eighth overall by Chicago in 2018 due to his elite skating and puck-moving ability. He’s an electric offensive blueliner who should soon play a key role on a retooling Chicago squad with young talent such as Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and Dylan Sikura in the system.
Veteran blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can no longer provide the same elite fantasy value they once did, and the Blackhawks traded away top defensive prospect Henri Jokiharju this offseason to Buffalo in exchange for forward Alex Nylander. I think it’s pretty clear they have big expectations for Boqvist, and his fantasy potential on a power-play unit with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome, and DeBrincat is drool-worthy.
Vitali Kravtsov, RW, New York Rangers
Kravtsov has been somewhat flying under the radar as a Rangers prospect due to the team drafting Kakko in June and landing Panarin in free agency. Kravtsov is a big and skilled winger who could fit in a variety of places on New York’s roster The 6’4″, 183 lbs Russian forward was taken ninth overall by the Rangers in 2018 and scored six goals and 16 points in 16 games for Russian’s U20 team last year. While an NHL roster spot isn’t guaranteed this year, Kravtsov has now played three years in the KHL and appears ready to make the jump from Russia. He didn’t exactly light it up in the KHL last year with eight goals and 21 points in 50 games, but he had the highest point total out of all players under 20 years of age and finished third in team scoring for a lackluster Traktor Chelyabinsk squad. Kravtsov has drawn comparisons to Evgeny Kuznetsov due to his quick hands, a lethal release and great skating and has the potential of a top-six scoring winger. He signed an entry-level deal in May and could play a key role on a significantly improved Rangers team this year.
Dante Fabbro, D, Nashville Predators
Replacing P.K. Subban isn’t an easy task, but 21-year-old rookie blueliner Dante Fabbro should help fill the void. Fabbro is a reliable two-way defenseman who plays with a ton of poise and confidence. He was the captain of Boston University this past season where he registered seven goals, 33 points and 39 PIM in 33 NCAA contests. Fabbro got in four NHL regular-season games for the Predators last season before playing in all six games of Nashville’s first-round playoff loss to the Stars. The 17th overall pick by Nashville in 2018, Fabbro has the potential of a top-six NHL rearguard and power-play quarterback. Fabbro mainly showcased his great defensive play last season on the third pairing with Dan Hamhuis, but he has a strong shot and good playmaking ability to indicate nice fantasy potential. A full season on Nashville’s second defensive pairing and second power-play unit alongside (potentially) Ryan Ellis makes Fabbro a rookie to watch in 2019-20.
Drake Batherson, C/RW, Ottawa Senators
With Stone, Duchene and Ryan Dzingel no longer members of the Senators, it’s up to the young guys to carry the team moving forward. Drake Batherson was Ottawa’s 121st overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft and he’s quickly become one of their top prospects. The 21-year-old Canadian forward netted 22 goals and 62 points in 59 games for the AHL Senators last season before impressing Ottawa with three goals and nine points in his first 20 NHL games. Batherson scored seven goals in seven games for Team Canada’s 2018 gold-medal-winning World Junior team and has impressed at every level he’s played at over the last few years. He’s a proven goal-scorer and could get a shot on Ottawa’s top line alongside Tkachuk and White in 2019-20. The Senators are a rebuilding team, and Batherson is right in the middle of it.
Honourable mentions: , Morgan Frost, C, Philadelphia Flyers, Noah Dobson, D, New York Islanders, Owen Tippett, RW/LW, Florida Panthers, Max Comtois, LW, Anaheim Ducks, Martin Necas, C/RW, Carolina Hurricanes, Victor Olofsson, LW/RW, Buffalo Sabres, Alexandre Texier, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets, Sam Steel, C, Anaheim Ducks.