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Look around the NHL as the 2017-18 season kicks off, and you’ll see at least one promising rookie listed on nearly every team’s roster.
Today’s young players have been working their whole lives to be NHL-ready. Many of them don’t need much time after they’re drafted before they can effectively make the jump. The economics of today’s game is also a factor. Entry-level salaries are easy for teams to squeeze into their salary-cap structure—slotting in rookies is almost always cheaper than signing free-agent veterans.
At this time of year, a sense of optimism abounds for the kids, but the truth is not all of them are going to successfully stick in the NHL this season.
Some of the youngest players will be returned to their junior teams before their nine-game trial is complete in order to prevent losing a year off their entry-level contracts. Kailer Yamamoto of the Edmonton Oilers and Owen Tippett of the Florida Panthers, both first-round picks from 2017, are two likely possibilities.
Older rookies who are waiver-exempt may find themselves shipped down to the AHL if they can’t show enough consistency or defensive responsibility.
Here’s a look at eight NHL rookies who shone in training camp. They look like they’re poised to make big contributions for their teams throughout this season.
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 4 GP, 3-5-8
A product of the U.S. National Development Team, speedy Clayton Keller was a standout for the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 2017 World Junior Championship before going on to win the Hockey East rookie of the year award after a standout season at Boston College.
From there, it was on to the IIHF World Championship, where Keller picked up seven points in eight games more than two months before his 19th birthday in July.
The Arizona Coyotes gave Keller a top-line spot on the wing in preseason and he made the most of it, picking up eight points in just four games. Expect him to keep scoring in the regular season, playing right wing with Max Domi and Derek Stepan.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 4 GP, 0-1-1
Another Boston University product who shone for Team USA at World Juniors, Charlie McAvoy showed that he’s NHL-ready during six impressive playoff games on defense with the Boston Bruins.
A strong skater who moves the puck well, McAvoy has some offensive skill as well as a good dose of snarl. The Bruins were able to successfully integrate Brandon Carlo into their blue line last year. All signs indicate that McAvoy’s rookie season will be even more impressive.
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LM Otero/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 4 GP, 0-3-3
Swedish center Joel Eriksson Ek has good size at 6’2″ and 197 pounds and showed off a terrific shot during a 15-game audition with the Minnesota Wild last season, when he tallied three goals and seven points.
The Wild’s salary-cap challenges make Eriksson Ek and his entry-level contract an attractive option for Minnesota’s third-line center role. Playing behind Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, Eriksson Ek won’t get a lot offensive opportunity, but he will get regular five-on-five minutes. His two-way game is strong enough that he’ll be trusted by coach Bruce Boudreau.
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Mel Evans/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 4 GP, 4-3-7
After overtaking Nolan Patrick to earn the first overall selection in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier has been everything the New Jersey Devils could have hoped for during his first NHL preseason.
With top-line center Travis Zajac sidelined for months due to a pectoral injury, the Devils came into camp with big holes in their lineup at forward. A poised Hischier put up seven points in four exhibition games, including some spectacular goals.
Hischier’s not just ready to make the jump to a top-six role in the NHL; he can also provide some much-needed excitement on a Devils team that finished 28th in scoring last season.
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Adrian Kraus/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 5 GP, 3-4-7
The playoff MVP for the 2017 WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds and a member of Canada’s last two World Junior squads, speedy Mathew Barzal stole the spotlight from another promising rookie, Josh Ho-Sang, at the New York Islanders’ training camp.
Barzal plays a responsible defensive game but will be given a chance to shine offensively, starting the season centering the Islanders’ second line with Andrew Ladd and Josh Bailey.
Expect to see Barzal’s name high on the list of rookie scoring leaders this season.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images
Preseason Stats: 5 GP, 3-3-6
At 6’6″, Logan Brown brings great size to the center position and has shown good hands to go along with solid checking ability. After winning a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in the spring, Brown impressed at the Ottawa Senators’ training camp, earning a spot on the opening-night roster after finishing second in team scoring during preseason.
Coach Guy Boucher will start Brown in a fourth-line center role. If he can find a way to keep putting up points while also playing a reliable defensive game, he’ll stick with the team beyond his nine-game trial rather than being sent back to Windsor for a fourth junior season.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Preseason Stats: 6 GP, 1-2-3
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper has a knack for successfully integrating young players into important spots in his lineup. Last season, he put rookies Brayden Point and Jake Dotchin in positions to succeed.
This year in training camp, Cooper matched up his best defense prospect, Mikhail Sergachev, with Anton Stralman. The savvy veteran will make the transition to the NHL easier for the young Russian—and Cooper’s deployment suggests that he does plan on keeping Sergachev around.
The Lightning acquired Sergachev and a conditional second-round draft pick last June in exchange for Jonathan Drouin and a conditional sixth-round pick. The condition is that if Sergachev plays in 40 or more NHL games this season, the draft picks are dropped from the deal.
If Sergachev shows that can play effectively on a Tampa Bay defense that’s not particularly deep, the Lightning will gladly make that sacrifice.
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Rich Lam/Getty Images
Position: Right Wing
Preseason Stats: 5 GP, 4-3-7
After two strong seasons at the University of North Dakota, including an NCAA Division I championship in his freshman year, Brock Boeser showed he was NHL-ready when he scored four goals in nine games with the Vancouver Canucks at the end of last season.
Boeser isn’t an elite skater, but his shot is world-class. A wrist issue slowed him down last season and eventually required surgery, but it didn’t cause any issues in preseason, when he showed he can find the net with dazzling accuracy.
A Minnesota native, Boeser is AHL-eligible. After finishing 29th in the league in scoring last season, the Canucks will keep him around—and give him an offensive role—in hopes that he’ll eventually emerge as one of the league’s top snipers.
Stats courtesy of FoxSports.com. Line combinations from Left Wing Lock.