With so much hype and chatter about the 2015 top two draft picks 1)Connor McDavid and 2) Jack Eichel, one would never know there were any other rookies making a name for themselves early on in the 2015-16 NHL season.

While Eichel won the race and scored his firstNHL goal in his first game against the Ottawa Senators on October 8th, it took McDavid a little longer. Notching his first and definitely not last goal of his young career on October 13th against the Dallas Stars. Not taking anything away from either of these two phenoms to be, let’s not forget that there are other budding stars making their imprint on the league.

Forwards:

Dylan Larkin

When it comes to the Detroit Red Wings, they are known for letting their players over ripen in the AHL, Dylan Larkin drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 entry draft has already left his mark. Not only has he cracked the team as a 19 year old, but he putting up the points (1G, 4A, 5Pts) in his first 4 NHL games. Larkin has proven to be a winner early on in his hockey career, most notably being captain of Team USA’s gold medal team in the U-18 World in 2014. Playing on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, they have combined for 18 points. Barring injury, there are no signs of them slowing down. I’m expecting a big year from Larkin and he should be a front runner in the race for rookie of the year.

Another rookie to keep an eye on; Mr. highlight reel  of the Arizona Coyotes, Max Domi. He was drafted 12th overall in the 2013 Entry Draft. This 5’ 10” winger is all heart, playing well above his height. Max was upset when he did not crack the line up last season and was sent back down to the London Knights where he continued to develop under head coach Dale Hunter. The Coyotes strategy of keeping Domi in the OHL an extra year proved quite successful early; Max has raked up (3G, 3A, 6Pts) in his first 4 games played at the highest level. Part of his success can be attributed to his line mate Anthony Duclair (who was picked up at the trade deadline last year as part of a deal that saw Keith Yandle head to the new York Rangers.) This deadly duo has started off the season on the right skate accumulating 12 points in 4 games. The duo played together along with Sam Reinhart for Team Canada at the WJC U21 tournament in 2015, where Team Canada won gold. Domi was named Most Outstanding Forward in the tournament. Max Domi is son of former Maple Leaf Tie Domi and is A Type-1 diabetic but has not and will not let it affect his game.

Defensemen:

It is very rare for an 18 year old defenseman to step in the league and be successful at an early age. We are always told that defensemen take “longer to develop” and they should not be rushed in the league. Last year we saw Aaron Ekblad prove that theory wrong. The Florida Panther’s first overall draft pick in the 2014 Entry Draft was not only e rookie of the year, but he put up 12G, 27A for a total of 39 poi
nts as well. His stats were not the only exciting part of his game. The 6’ 4” Panther averaged 21:49 minutes a game and was often on the ice against opposing teams top forwards.Ekblad

Another rookie looking to replicate what Ekblad did last year is the Carolina Hurricane’s 5th overall pick in this year’s entry draft; 6’ 3” Noah Hanifin. He often gets overlooked for many reasons. Primarily being drafted in the same year as McDavid and Eichel. As well, he is playing for the Carolina Hurricanes, which is not considered a “big market” hockey club and does not get a lot of press coverage. Lastly, Hanifin plays defense. He may not be a candidate for rookie of the year or put up big numbers like other rookie forwards, but Noah Hanifin is definitely one to watch going forward projecting to be a top pairing defenseman in the league for many years to come.

It seems as though every year the St-Louis Blues introduce a new player to their line-up who falls from the sky and is quickly picked up in fantasy hockey leagues. In previous years, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera or Jaden Schwartz, have done just that and play a significant role on the team. This year’s addition to that list is Colton Parayko. The 6’ 5” monster of a defenseman is known for his incredibly hard shot. He may not be well known in the hockey world yet, only being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012 , Parayko is surely making his mark early on this year. Averaging almost 18 minutes a game, the 22 year old rookie is expected to pickup minutes with a lower body injury to teammate Kevin Shattenkirk. The blue liner is already a +/- 3 and has 2 goals in 5 games this season. Keep an eye out for Parayko to help the Blues compete for the Presidents trophy this year.

Some early season notable mentions are Teemu Pulkkinen, Artemi Panarin and Nikolaj Ehlers.

With technological advancement in equipment, year round training and a hard salary cap the NHL has become bigger, faster, stronger and a “young mans league.” With all that being said, keep an eye out for the young guns to dominate the league for years to come.

Daniel Pancer

Spark Sports NHL Analyst

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