Predicting the 10 Best Rookies for the 2014-15 NHL Season

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Predicting the 10 Best Rookies for the 2014-15 NHL Season

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    USA TODAY Sports

    NHL teams have learned over the years that patience is a virtue when it comes to draft picks. Looking ahead to the 2014-15 season, most of the best rookies have been in their organization for a year or more.

    Some are high picks from this June, others are draftees from a year ago and still others have arrived from Europe and are looking to make an impact.

    Here are the 10 highest-rated rookies for 2014-15's NHL season.

10. Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The Numbers: 45 GP, 4 G, 17 A with the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

    The Back Story: Griffin Reinhart capped his outstanding junior career by helping the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup Championship. He played huge minutes and was a rock on the blue line.

    The Future: Griffin is one of two Reinhart brothers who have a chance to win the Calder Trophy in 2014-15. Arthur Staple of New York Newsday wrote about the large number of defensemen graduating to the Islanders and suggests Reinhart is the top candidate for NHL employment.

9. Johnny Gaudreau, C, Calgary Flames

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Numbers: 40 GP, 36 G, 44 A with Boston College (NCAA)

    The Back Story: Johnny Gaudreau missed out on an ESPY Award recently, as this Calgary Sun story notes. It was a surprising result after such a dominating season, but it doesn't diminish Gaudreau's amazing year.

    The Future: Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun suggests Gaudreau is in the mix for a role on left wing in 2014-15. He's an undersized player, but if he gets the chance to play in the NHL, expect a lot of offense and a strong run at the Calder Trophy.

8. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The Numbers: 64 GP, 38 G, 67 A with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

    The Back Story: Leon Draisaitl is an outstanding prospect with tremendous potential. How good can he be? Based on his season in Prince Albert, Draisaitl is comparable to some of the quality big men in hockey over the last couple of decades. Scott Reynolds of Copper and Blue suggests Draisaitl's best-case scenario is elite level.   

    The Future: The Edmonton Oilers traded Sam Gagner this summer and have not replaced him via trade or free agency. Combining the team's history of elevating its draftees in the same year it selected them, and Draisaitl's impressive resume, he's a good bet for NHL employment this fall.

7. John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Numbers: 45 GP, 2.34 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage with the Norfolk Admirals (AHL).

    The Back Story: John Gibson played three regular-season games and then four more in the playoffs for the Anaheim Ducks. His strong performance puts him in the conversation for the starter's job in Anaheim this fall. 

    The Future: Gibson spoke to Adam Brady on the Ducks' website about his season, the summer, and the future. He told Brady about conversations he's had with Anaheim about the coming year:

    "We’ve had some good conversations, but obviously nothing is ever set in stone. I just want to come into training camp and play my game and hopefully have a good season."

6. Teuvo Teravainen, C, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Numbers: 49 GP, 9 G, 35 A with Jokerit Helsinki (SM-Liiga)

    The Back Story: Teuvo Teravainen won't turn 20 until September, but he's already been an impact player at the pro level. Teravainen led his Jokerit team in scoring last year and finished in a tie for second in league assists.

    The Future: Seth Gruen of The Chicago Sun-Times details the roadblocks in front of Teravainen, including recent free-agent addition Brad Richards. The Chicago Blackhawks can afford to keep Teravainen in the minors for an entire season, but he has the talent to break through and win the Calder Trophy given the chance.

5. Curtis Lazar, C, Ottawa Senators

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Numbers: 58 GP, 41 G, 35 A with the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

    The Back Story: Curtis Lazar led his Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup, displaying a wide range of skills and two-way play. Lazar's passion for the game and infectious enthusiasm promise to make him a crowd favorite in Ottawa.

    The Future: Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun details the items that conspired to improve Lazar's chances of making the team, including the trading of Jason Spezza. The Ottawa Senators have added David Legwand via free agency, but there's a very good chance Lazar will play the season in the NHL.

4. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The Numbers: 58 GP, 23 G, 30 A with the Barrie Colts (OHL)

    The Back Story: Aaron Ekblad is the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since Erik Johnson in 2006, as this article in The National Post by Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press indicates. He enjoyed a strong season and displays a complete range of skills.

    The Future: Ekblad's chances of making the Panthers are very good. Florida has quality and depth on their NHL roster, but Ekblad can push his way onto the team with a strong training camp. He may spend time being paired with veterans Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell.

3. Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Numbers: 60 GP, 36 G, 69 A with the Kootenay Ice (WHL)

    The Back Story: Corey Pronman gave a very good description of Sam Reinhart's skills at ESPN (subscription required):

    Reinhart is the best pure passer in this draft class. His ability to dictate the tempo of a hockey game, in terms of increasing or decreasing pace and making plays at all those speeds, elevates his game to a distinct level. Reinhart can make all kinds of plays with the puck, and his elite hockey sense stands out regularly in terms of the passing lanes he sees.

    The Future: reported Reinhart's signing with the Buffalo Sabres, and it looks like he'll be in the NHL for 2014-15. Buffalo's popgun offense badly needs an elite passer, and Reinhart should get every opportunity to be an impact rookie.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    The Numbers: 31 GP, 8 G, 13 A with Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL) and 17 GP, 3 G, 6A with the Washington Capitals.

    The Back Story: Evgeny Kuznetsov is a skilled center with above average passing and scoring ability. His bio in The Hockey News suggests Washington has a potential elite-level forward on their hands.

    The Future: Adam Vingan of describes the Washington Capitals' summer as an organizational refresh from last year. The club has added a lot to its defense and will need its best young players to help create offense behind Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Kuznetsov is the top candidate among the youngsters to emerge for the Capitals.

1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Numbers: 46GP, 29 G 79 A with the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

    The Back Story: Jonathan Drouin was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2013 entry draft. He went back to junior in the days leading up to the 2013-14 season. Lightning coach Jon Cooper is quoted in Tal Pinchevsky's article talking about Drouin's development:

    "It was by no means to send him a message. Jonathan Drouin is not someone we’re investing in for one year. We're investing in him for a decade or more. Why would we want to rush the finished product?"

    The Future: Drouin followed up his incredible regular season in the QMJHL with 41 points in 16 playoff games. He's close to a lock for the team and is the early favorite for the Calder Trophy for the NHL's top rookie.