Coming into the season, the NHL’s rookie class was expected to be a good one. Top prospects such as Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres were expected to change their franchises fortunes from day one. But the depth of the class has also been measured. Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks and Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings have been standouts for their respective teams. And who can forget about Max Domi? Son of former NHL enforcer and psychopath Tie Domi has been lightning in a bottle for the Arizona Coyotes.
As mentioned, McDavid and Eichel were the supposed stars of the future. Unfortunately, McDavid is missing serious time due to injury. In 13 games McDavid had 12 points and was only getting better in every outing. Eichel has 12 points in 25 games, but has still been playing well. He’s seen some time on the penalty kill. Eichel is tied for third in rookies in goals with eight.
The player who leads rookies in goals is Dylan Larkin. Larkin was picked in last years draft, and after a season in the AHL, he looks like a bonafide star. Larkin also leads the Red Wings in goals. He has 10 goals and eight assists through 25 games. The rookie from Michigan also leads all rookies and Red Wings in +/- at 14. Playing with veteran leaders such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will help Larkin develop his game even more.
Max Domi has had to live up to the name on the back of his jersey for quite some time now. His father Tie played 16 years in the NHL, mainly as an enforcer and aggravator to other teams. His son Max, however, is much more skilled than his father. The younger Domi was drafted 12th overall in 2013, but has burst onto the scene this season for the Arizona Coyotes. Max ranks second in points for rookies with 21 in 24 games and leads his team in points. The minute forward possesses great speed and stick handling that leaves defenders looking lost. Him and fellow rookie teammate Anthony Duclair (eight goals, six assists) are a solid young duo for Arizona. They have been key parts in Arizona’s turnaround this season. With third overall pick Dylan Strome rising through the ranks, Arizona’s future looks bright.
But the biggest surprise this season might be the emergence of Artmei Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks. Panarin might as well be an elder statesmen to these rookies, as he’s already 24 years of age. The undrafted Russian import leads rookies in points (23) and assists (16). He starred in the Russian hockey league called the KHL, even outscoring former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk and is now showing his talents to the American audience. Panarin ranks second on the Blackhawks in points, behind runaway MVP to this point Patrick Kane. He’s like Domi in the fact that he’s a bit undersized but makes up for it with dangles and skating ability.
The entire rookie class for 2015 has been impressive. The star power that everyone expected has been there, but the overall depth of the class is what makes these kids special. Some other impressive rookies have been Oscar Lindberg of the New York Rangers (nine goals, seven assists, third in rookie points), Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues (five, eight and a +/- of 11), and Sam Bennett of Calgary, who also has five goals and eight assist for the Flames. Even some players who weren’t expected to make NHL rosters have impressed. Colin Miller of the Bruins has 10 points, Jared McCann of the Vancouver Canucks has nine and Robby Fabbri of St. Louis has seven points.If NHL franchises can keep developing star talent like they have the last few years, we could be coming across a golden age of NHL hockey.