The 2015-16 NHL rookie class could wind up being one of the best in recent memory.
Heading the pack are Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel. The 18-year-olds forever will be linked after they were chosen first and second, respectively, in the 2015 NHL Draft, and each has been projected by scouts as a generational talent. They should be able to contribute immediately, and barring injury are expected to be in the running for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
It might be a stretch to believe McDavid and Eichel will have rookie numbers similar to what Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins produced as rookies in 2005-06, but watching it unfold figures to be a lot of fun nonetheless. Ovechkin, winner of the Calder Trophy that season, led all rookies with 52 goals and 106 points, and Crosby was second with 39 goals and 102 points.
Ovechkin and Crosby were in good company as first-year players; Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, Thomas Vanek, Duncan Keith, Dion Phaneuf and Brent Seabrook also were rookies that season.
There will be a host of rookies this season garnering attention throughout the League in addition to McDavid and Eichel. Here are nine others to watch in 2015-16 (listed alphabetically):
Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames: The versatile Bennett (6-foot-1, 186 pounds) had shoulder surgery last October; after rehabilitation, he had 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League. The highest draft pick in Flames history (No. 4 in 2014) played one regular-season game and 11 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Calgary, scoring three goals. He turned 19 in June and is projected as the Flames' second-line center.
Max Domi, C, Arizona Coyotes: Domi, 20, learned Sunday he made the Coyotes' opening-night roster. He had 32 goals and 102 points in 57 games with London of the OHL last season. In four OHL seasons, the 5-foot-10, 198-pound forward improved his point total each season, and finished his junior career with 126 goals and 331 points in 244 games, a 1.36 points-per-game average. He also showed some of the grit his father, former NHL forward Tie Domi, was known for with 275 penalty minutes.
Anthony Duclair, LW, Arizona Coyotes: Duclair (5-foot-11, 185) was acquired from the New York Rangers as part of the Keith Yandle trade March 1. He had one goal and six assists in 18 games with the Rangers last season. Duclair and Domi were linemates for gold medal-winning Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and could start the season together with the Coyotes. Duclair, who turned 20 on Aug. 26, had 15 goals and 34 points in 26 games with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets: Ehlers, the ninth pick of the 2014 draft, dominated the QMJHL with Halifax last season, when he had 37 goals and 101 points in 51 regular-season games before scoring 10 goals with a league-high 31 points in 14 playoff games. He also had one goal and four points in five games for Denmark at the 2015 World Juniors, and helped his country to its first win in the event, a 4-3 victory against Switzerland in the preliminary round. The Jets are in need of some help on left wing, meaning Ehlers, 19, could fill a top-nine role.
Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings: The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-shot forward was the second-leading scorer at the University of Michigan last season and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. After signing an entry-level contract May 21, it was thought Larkin would spend 2015-16 developing in the American Hockey League with Grand Rapids. But with Pavel Datsyuk likely out until early November because of ankle surgery, that plan seems to have changed. Larkin, 19, made the opening-night roster with three goals, four points and a plus-3 rating in five preseason games, showcasing his ability in all situations while performing admirably on faceoffs.
"All the steps and levels he's been taking, he's been proving that he can handle it," captain Henrik Zetterberg told the Red Wings website. "He looks like he's been playing here for a couple of years. Obviously, there's going to be steps for him, and you have to take them."
Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks: Panarin agreed to a two-year contract May 1 and could be a top-six forward to start the season. The 23-year-old had 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games for St. Petersburg SKA in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, and has drawn comparisons to Blackhawks teammate Patrick Kane with his speed and agility. Panarin (5-foot-11, 170) had five goals, 10 points and a plus-4 rating in 10 games for silver medal-winning Russia at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.
Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues: If there is a long shot on defense capable of taking the League by storm, it's Parayko (6-foot-5, 214), who was selected by the Blues with the 86th pick of the 2012 draft. Parayko served as captain for the Blues at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and had two goals, two assists and 15 shots on goal. The 22-year-old has spent the past three seasons with the University of Alaska and had 17 goals and 49 assists in 104 games. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract March 10 and had four goals and three assists in 17 games last season with Chicago of the AHL.
"He's an NHL player," Chicago coach John Anderson said. "We got him late last year, and he fit right in right away. I think he's probably going to stick with St. Louis [this season]. He's big and strong, he carries the puck, shoots the puck very hard and is physical. He's the complete package."
Sergei Plotnikov, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins: The 6-foot-2, 202-pound left-shot forward had good chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist in the preseason. Plotnikov, 25, signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Penguins on July 1. He played six seasons in the KHL, the past three with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. He had 68 goals, 78 assists and 146 points in 300 KHL regular-season games with Lokomotiv and Amur Khabarovsk. He had six goals and 18 points in 32 KHL playoff games and played in his second KHL All-Star Game in 2014-15. He also helped Russia win the gold medal (2014) and silver medal (2015) at the past two IIHF World Championships. His 12 points in 10 games at the 2014 World Championship tied for third.
Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres: Reinhart (6-foot-1, 189) wasn't NHL-ready last season after he had one assist in nine games with the Sabres. He was returned to Kootenay in the Western Hockey League, where he had 19 goals and 65 points in 47 games. He also had five goals and six assists in seven games to help Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship. The Sabres are loaded down the middle with Ryan O'Reilly, Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, David Legwand and Cody McCormick, meaning the right-shot Reinhart, who turns 20 on Nov. 6, could begin the season on the wing in a top-nine role.
"I've played everywhere, including defense, in my career, so I'm comfortable at any position," Reinhart said in July. "It's not a strange thing for a young guy to come into the League and have to play wing."
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer