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Nick Wass/Associated Press
The NHL’s rookie class of 2017-18 lacks a true franchise player such as Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, winner of the 2017 Calder Memorial Trophy. However, there is a crop of young newcomers, such as Nico Hischier and Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils, already making waves this season.
Hischier and Butcher, along with winger Jesper Bratt, have the rebuilding Devils perched among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They’re among a handful of rookies that include Vancouver Canucks winger Brock Boeser and New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal showing considerable potential as future stars.
The following is a ranking of this season’s best NHL rookies thus far. Individual statistics and effect upon team performance factored into this compilation. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion on this subject in the comments section below.
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Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
Skating alongside veterans Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, Connor’s tallied 10 goals and 19 points in 28 games. He’s fourth among the Jets’ goal scorers and sits amid the top-10 rookies in that category.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets
Dubois’ production has spiked since being moved to the top line between Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson. Of his 14 points, nine came in his last 10 games.
Robert Hagg, Philadelphia Flyers
A physical shutdown defenseman, Hagg leads all NHL rookies in hits (107), blocked shots (45) and plus/minus with plus-15.
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Called up to fill the backup role behind Matt Murray, Jarry’s won five of nine starts, with a 2.49 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and one shutout.
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings
The 21-year-old Kempe is fourth among the Kings scorers with 10 goals. He’s also one of the top-10 rookie goal scorers.
Alexander Kerfoot, Colorado Avalanche
Prior to being sidelined by a foot injury on Dec. 11, Kerfoot was having a solid rookie season. He’s tied for third in goals (nine) with Miko Rantanen among Avs scorers and sits fifth in points with 21.
Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights
Despite missing a month with a groin injury, Subban’s put up solid numbers this season. He’s won eight of 10 starts with a 2.30 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals
Skating alongside playmaker Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vrana’s tallied 10 goals. He’s tied with T.J.Oshie for third among Capitals scorers and is also among the top-10 rookie goal scorers.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Winner of the 2017 Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. college hockey player, Butcher signed last summer as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old defenseman is having little difficulty so far adjusting to the NHL pace.
A skilled puck-moving blueliner, Butcher leads the Devils with 12 power-play points. He’s also tied for second in points (21) with teammate Jesper Bratt. His 19 assists in 32 games rank second among Devils’ scorers and NHL rookies. He’s second in points to Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev among rookie blueliners.
The 5’10”, 190-pound Butcher isn’t a physical defenseman, recording just 11 hits and 28 blocked shots. He’s rarely on the ice in shorthanded situations. However, his offensive skills are a contributing factor behind the rebuilding Devils’ improvement this season.
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Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press
The oldest rookie on this list, 26-year-old Yanni Gourde has 22 games of NHL experience with the Tampa Bay Lightning over two seasons prior to 2017-18. He’s now established himself full-time with the Lightning, proving to be an invaluable all-around forward.
With 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 32 games, Gourde sits among the Lightning’s leading scorers. He’s also second in plus/minus among league rookies (plus-13) and sits among the top-10 in goals and points.
Gourde’s lack of size (5’9″, 172 lbs) hasn’t proven a hindrance at the NHL level. A hardworking, swift-skating player, he can play all three forward positions. His two-way ability makes him a welcome addition to the Lightning’s special teams, averaging two minutes and two seconds of power-play ice time and 1:32 in shorthanded ice time per game.
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Paul Vernon/Associated Press
At the start of 2017-18, New Jersey Devils winger Jesper Bratt was overshadowed by highly touted rookie teammates Nico Hischier and Will Butcher. However, the 19-year-old Swede is shining as brightly as his counterparts.
A sixth-round selection (162nd overall) in the 2016 NHL draft, Bratt has become a pleasant surprise for the Devils this season. He is tied for second with Butcher among Devils’ scorers with 21 points. He’s also among this season’s top-10 rookie scorers.
Though small by NHL standards, the 5’10”, 170-pound Bratt has had little difficulty adjusting to NHL play. His ability to skate at either wing proved invaluable after left wing Taylor Hall was sidelined, enabling the Devils to move him on the left side. His versatility and ability to adapt have contributed to his club’s improvement this season.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
The diminutive (5’7″, 165 lbs) Alex DeBrincat is garnering increased attention and responsibilities with the Chicago Blackhawks. A highly skilled offensive forward who can also play at center, the 20-year-old right winger steadily moved up the ranks to become a first-line forward.
With 23 points in 33 games, DeBrincat sits second among Blackhawks scorers and fourth among their leading goal scorers. He’s also tied with Arizona’s Clayton Keller for second among the rookie goal-scoring leaders and perched amid the top-10 in points.
DeBrincat’s earning praise from his teammates. On Dec. 13, the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Skrbina reported Hawks captain Jonathan Toews complimented the youngster’s skills with or without the puck, while winger Brandon Saad admired his composure. Those traits, along with his offensive abilities, put DeBrincat among this season’s best rookies.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Clayton Keller showed some promise during his brief NHL debut last season with the Arizona Coyotes, tallying two assists in three games. In an otherwise miserable 2017-18 campaign thus far for the Coyotes, the 19-year-old forward’s performance is among their few bright spots.
Despite his slender 5’10”, 170-pound frame, Keller leads the Coyotes with 12 goals and 25 points. He’s also tied for second with Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat among rookie goal scorers and sits third in points. He’s on pace for over 25 goals and 55 points.
Keller’s strong start to this season made him appear the favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. However, he’s tailed off since Oct. 31, netting just 10 points in 22 games and moving off the Coyotes’ top line. Despite this decline, Keller’s offensive skills make him an invaluable part of the rebuilding Coyotes and one of this season’s best rookie players.
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Christine Cotter/Associated Press
Acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a trade last June with the Montreal Canadiens, Mikhail Sergachev is wasting no time having a positive effect on his new club. The 19-year-old defenseman is quickly becoming a valuable member of their blue-line corps.
A big, all-around defenseman, the 6’3″, 215-pound Sergachev leads all Lightning defensemen with eight goals, 10 power-play points and 23 total points. He’s also the leading scorer for rookie blueliners and sits among the top-10 in the overall rookie points race.
Sergachev earned many of those points getting sheltered minutes. However, as his confidence grows he’s being rewarded with more playing time. On Dec. 14, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported the young rearguard is earning more ice time and responsibilities from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Sergachev’s overall performance should only improve as the season progresses.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
As the first-overall selection by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL draft, Hischier entered this season facing considerable pressure to prove himself. So far, the 18-year-old center is proving he’s up to the challenge.
Despite his NHL inexperience, Hischier is centering the Devils’ first line. A skilled playmaker, he’s third among Devils’ scorers with 15 assists and tied for fourth in points (20) with Brian Gibbons. Hischier is also tied for third in assists among rookie scorers with Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev.
Hischier’s production stalled in December, tallying just two assists in eight games. However, Devils head coach John Hynes isn’t concerned. On Dec. 16, he sang Hischier’s praises to NHL.com’s Jesse Spector, citing the youngster’s solid two-way play. It’s only a matter of time until he regains his scoring touch.
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Making his NHL debut during the 2017 playoffs with the Boston Bruins, defenseman Charlie McAvoy acquitted himself well with three points in six games. Now in his first full NHL regular season, the 19-year-old blueliner is playing with an all-around skill that belies his youth and big-league inexperience.
McAvoy’s 16 points in 30 games are respectable numbers, ranking among the top-15 for rookie scorers. However, those stats tell only part of the story. He leads all rookie skaters in time on ice per game (23 minutes and 23 seconds) and sits among the top five in hits (73) and blocked shots with 34.
Skating on the Bruins’ first defense pairing with captain Zdeno Chara, McAvoy has obviously earned the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy. His quick adjustment to the NHL pace is contributing to the improvement of the Bruins’ blue line this season. McAvoy’s splendid play could put him in serious contention for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Barzal scarcely made much of an impression during his brief two-game NHL debut with the New York Islanders in 2016-17. It’s a different story this season, as the 20-year-old is settling in nicely as the Isles’ second-line center.
With eight goals and 21 assists in 29 points in 33 games, Barzal is tied for second with John Tavares among the Isles leading scorers in assists and sits fourth in points. He’s also the assist leader among NHL rookies and second in points. Centering veteran wingers Andrew Ladd and Jordan Eberle, Barzal’s on pace for over 50 assists and 70 points.
A natural playmaker, Barzal provides the Islanders’ offense with invaluable depth at center behind Tavares. Should the Isles captain depart next summer as an unrestricted free agent, Barzal has the skills to slide into the first-line center role. If he can keep up his current level of play, he should be a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Boeser gave a tantalizing glimpse of his potential last season with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring four goals and adding an assist in nine games. Now a full-fledged NHL rookie, the 20-year-old right wing swiftly emerged as the Canucks most valuable player so far this season.
A gifted offensive winger, Boeser put up impressive numbers in his first 31 games. With 17 goals and 30 points, Boeser leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in both categories, as well as in power-play points with 14. Unfortunately, a foot injury suffered during Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames could derail his chances of winning the Calder Memorial Trophy.
On Dec. 14, the Vancouver Province‘s Ben Kuzma reported Canucks captain Henrik Sedin called Boeser the most natural goal scorer he’s ever played with. High praise indeed for the youngster, who is on pace for a 40-goal, 80-point season. Despite the injury, Boeser must be considered the top NHL rookie so far this season.
Player stats (as of Dec.17, 2017) via NHL.com.