It’s time to look at the hot rookies debuting in the upcoming NHL season, and the impacts these players may have on their respective clubs.
To start, I’m not including Auston Matthews on my list because he will play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he will succeed. Every season or so, a drafted player is tagged with the "Superstar" tag before taking a shift in the NHL, and the 2016 draft gave us Matthews. The hot skater took his skills to the Swiss Elite League last season instead of playing NCAA or in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). But it is the other rookies--the skaters who you won’t have to reach for and can take late round fliers on--that we can take a look at. These rookies are going to be fantasy relevant sooner rather than later, so you should know their names now.
Zach Werenski (Defenseman, Columbus Blue Jackets): The eighth overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, Werenski has nothing left to prove at the NCAA or American Hockey League (AHL) levels. First, Zach was a point-per-game player, scoring 36 points in 36 games at the University of Michigan. He then signed with Lake Erie in the AHL and finished second among defensemen in playoff scoring as Lake Erie won the Calder Cup as AHL Champions. No defenseman on the Blue Jackets roster is better than Werenski save Seth Jones, and with a thin blue line, Werenski is ready. I can see Werenski starting in the second pairing and working his way to the first unit by season's end, especially on the Power Play. The former Wolverine is a John Tortorella-style player, who is a great skater and excellent puck mover with a physical edge to his game.
Mitch Marner (C/LW, Toronto Maple Leafs): The Toronto Maple Leafs have been filling the cupboards the last few seasons with prospects, and these guys are all ready to take their place on the previously thin Maple Leafs roster. Marner is an absolute stud who will play among the Leafs' top six forwards along with Matthews. Drafted fourth overall in the 2015 Entry Draft, Marner has nothing left to prove in the juniors, and the way he racked up the hardware last season, his point was clear. Marner was the Ontario Hockey League's (OHL) outstanding player, OHL playoff MVP, CHL player of the year, and Memorial Cup MVP. I think if the Leafs send Mitch back to London for another year, they are insane. Marner is so worth a mid-to-late round grab in your fantasy drafts, so grab him before others do.
Matt Murray (Goaltender, Pittsburgh Penguins): Yes, that Matt Murray of the Stanley Cup winning Penguins is just a rookie, and can qualify to win the Calder Trophy as league’s best rookie this upcoming season. That’s because Murray hasn’t played 25 regular season games yet in the NHL, after a 13-game call-up last season (he also almost won the Conn Smythe Trophy). Murray will compete with mainstay Marc-Andre Fluery for the top spot this fall in the Steel City. The 22-year-old posted solid numbers during his debut in 2015 with a 2.08 GAA and .923 save percentage. The tide is turning in favor of Murray, but he will have a battle on his hands against Fleury for the top spot. Still, he's well worth a grab in all leagues with a good chance at being the Pens' top net minder.
Dylan Strome (Center, Arizona Coyotes): Drafted #3 overall in the 2015 Draft, Strome destroyed the OHL the last two seasons, and the 19-year-old seems ready to make the jump to the desert this year. The Coyotes youth movement began last season with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair will continue this season. At 6’3”, Strome added 10 pounds of muscle this off-season, bringing him to 195 pounds, to strengthen his chances at playing in Arizona. I will be drafting Strome in all the leagues I play in and you should too.
There are many more rookies who could do damage this upcoming NHL season besides the four mentioed. Patrick Laine, the number two pick this past June, is everything the Winnipeg Jets need. At 6’4" and 210 pounds, he's a dominant scorer with nothing left to prove after tearing up the Finnish Elite League.
Kyle Conner, also a Jets rookie prospect, played the end of last season with the big club. Conner absolutely dominated beforehand at the University of Michigan with 35 goals and 71 points over just 38 games. This pair gives the Jets two of the top five rookies this season and should both be drafted in all fantasy leagues. A few other names to draft late are Nick Schmaltz (Chicago), Anthony Mantha (Detroit), Jimmy Vesey (Buffalo), Pavel Zacha (New Jersey), Mathew Barzal (N.Y. Islanders), Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia) and William Nylander (Toronto).