Lohrei and Greig split

The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2023-24 season. Each week, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season's class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, the top five rookies in the Atlantic Division (in alphabetical order):

Zach Benson, LW, Buffalo Sabres: The 18-year-old is third among Atlantic Division rookies with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and averages 14:34 of ice time in 64 games. Benson, selected No. 13 in the 2023 NHL Draft, is eighth among all rookies with 27 takeaways and fifth among first-year forwards with 32 blocked shots. One of eight rookie skaters to earn ice time with the Sabres this season, he has a 13.6 shooting percentage (three goals on 22 shots) from the mid-range or high-slot area, which is above the League average (8.8 percent; 2 of 26), per NHL EDGE statistics. He received a bigger role after the All-Star break when Jack Quinn missed 23 games after sustaining a lower-body injury Jan. 27; Benson has nine points (five goals, four assists) with a 16.1 shooting percentage in 26 games since Feb. 5.

"He's smart," Buffalo coach Don Granato said. "He's smarter than most guys on our team in many, many areas. So, [for him], it's a little less learning and a little more acclimating. … So, it's an acclimation and I think he's well aware of it, conscious of it, and conscious of the process he needs to go through to get stronger and quicker. With other guys, there's a lot of learning that they need; this guy is a really, really smart hockey player already."

Ridly Greig, C, Ottawa Senators: The 21-year-old has missed games this season due to injury but has proven effective when healthy; he is tied for 10th among all rookie forwards with 24 points and tied for seventh with 12 goals in 63 games. The No. 28 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft has performed admirably as third-line center between left wing Dominik Kubalik and Mathieu Joseph, averaging 14:17 of ice time.

His strong play bodes well for the Senators’ future, but Greig isn't the type of player seeking the limelight. Just the opposite, in fact.

"He's the kind of guy that will text you and say, 'What’s up?' and then get back to you and he'll say nothing, just leave the conversation," defenseman Thomas Chabot told the Ottawa Sun. "But you know what? Everybody enjoys him in the room and he's a great guy.

"He's a man of few words, but he's a great player for us and a great player on the ice."

Matthew Knies, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 21-year-old, chosen in the second round (No. 57) of the 2021 NHL Draft, is first among Atlantic rookies with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists), and fourth among all rookies with 29 even-strength points in 71 games. He's capable of playing anywhere in the lineup because of his unique, workmanlike skill set while averaging 13:56 of ice time. Knies, who can chip in on the power play and penalty kill, is fourth among all rookies with 33 takeaways and fifth with 150 hits.

Born in Phoenix, Knies spent the summer training there with Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews. He signed with Toronto after his second season at the University of Minnesota, where he had 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) and was plus-46 in 40 games. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the best NCAA men's ice hockey player.

"I had to switch up [what I was doing in college to the NHL]," Knies told ESPN.com. "You're playing triple the number of games now. I had to find what works with me and I've been seeing what other guys do. I'm just picking up on them and seeing things I like and putting it in my game. It's a lot of stealing things away from other players and just adding it to myself."

Mason Lohrei, D, Boston Bruins: Lohrei is first among Atlantic Division defensemen with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and is averaging 16:58 of ice time in 40 games. The 23-year-old, a second-round pick (No. 58) in the 2020 draft, is seventh among first-year defensemen with 62 blocked shots. The Bruins had no choice but to insert Lohrei into a top-four role earlier this season when their blue line was dealing with injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort, and also a four-game suspension to Charlie McAvoy in November. Lohrei has also played on the penalty kill this season.

Lohrei played two seasons at Ohio State University (2021-23) and had 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 17 games with Providence of the American Hockey League earlier this season.

"You could see in training camp that he's gifted," Bruins captain Brad Marchand said in November. "Big kid, skates well, really smart with the puck."

Joseph Woll, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 25-year-old, selected in the third round (No. 62) of the 2016 NHL Draft, is first among Atlantic Division rookie goalies in wins (11), and second in goals-against average (2.87) and save percentage (.910) in 22 games (20 starts). He's been sharing goaltending duty with Ilya Samsonov much of this season, and it remains unclear which of the two will start for the Maple Leafs when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway in a few weeks.

Woll has excelled in denying shots from mid-range or the high slot area with a .921 save percentage (174 saves on 189 shots), which is well above the League average (.888), per NHL EDGE. It hasn't come easy for Woll since his return from a high ankle sprain on Feb. 29; he's 3-4-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .894 save percentage in seven games (all starts), but he appears to gaining more confidence with each start.

"Truthfully, just getting back into playing and it's easy to try to force things when you've been off for a bit, and sometimes the answer is just letting go a little bit, so I think that's just something I've been trying to do," Woll said. "I think it's important to reflect on the games and be able to learn from it and take those experiences forward, but at the same time keeping my focus on what's now and what's moving forward."