Making a Name: The Best NHL Rookies You've Probably Never Heard Of
We know about John Tavares, Victor Hedman, and Matt Duchene and the impact they are going to have on their respective teams this year.
We know about Evander Kane and Nikita Filitov and the expectations that rest on the rookies' shoulders coming into the NHL.
But it's not always the big name prospects coming into the league that make a splash for their teams.
Across the league there are rookies galore cruising around NHL rinks trying to make a name for themselves in one of the toughest professional sports to crack a roster.
Each of these players is in a fight to stay up with the big club, trying to earn that roster spot before the team has to decide whether they stay up or go down after the nine-game window.
They don't always play for the best teams, in the biggest markets, with big-name linemates, but these rookies do have a chance to prove that they belong, and in doing so, mark their spot as one of the best young rising stars in the game.
Here now are some of the best rookies you've probably never heard of in the NHL right now.
Artem Anisimov—New York Rangers
Drafted in the second round, 54th overall, this Russian sniper has burst onto the scene under the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Coming over to North America from Russia in 2007, Artem Anisimov played two seasons with the AHL's Hartford Wolfpack, scoring 53 goals and 124 points in that time. In his first opportunity to crack an NHL lineup this season, Anisimov has not only played well, but has excelled beyond his coach's expectations.
He showed his pristine offensive talent early in the preseason, scoring not one, but two, highlight-reel goals. One of them saw him speed past a Bruins' defender before making reigning Vezina trophy winner, Tim Thomas, look silly. (See below).
Doing it in the preseason in one thing, but Anisimov has kept up his great play right through into the regular season as well. He has four points through his first five games, and has turned into an integral part of the Rangers offensive attack.
The Rangers had high hopes for the rookie when they drafted him, but not in their wildest dreams did they ever imagine him stepping onto the scene this good, this fast.
With the Rangers looking to be a serious Cup contender this season, keep your eye on this young gun, because the highlight reels will be making room for his moves quite often from here on in.
Jamie Benn—Dallas Stars
Jamie Benn was taken 129th overall in the 2007 draft, and went on to score 79 goals in the next two seasons as a member of the Kelowna Rockets. His offensive upside is seemingly unlimited, but the 20-year-old was widely unknown around the league, as well as Dallas, coming into this season.
In the 2009 Memorial Cup, he captured the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the top scorer with five goals and nine points in the four games, and led his team to the Championship game.
After a few games with the big club, people are sure going to know about him soon as he's been one of the Stars' best players in the first five games of this young season, potting a goal and adding four assists.
Playing on a team where the lineup isn't too difficult to crack, don't be surprised if you see Benn staying with the team throughout the year, as well as being a major part of the future in Dallas.
Peter Regin—Ottawa Senators
The winds of change are blowing in Ottawa this year, with star players leaving and new talent coming in, and the Sens looking for a new identity as a team. A big part of that new look could include Danish rookie Peter Regin.
Playing in Sweden until last season, Regin started his North American career in the AHL with Ottawa's farm team, the Binghamton Senators. He appeared in 54 games, netting a sturdy 18 goals and 47 points. But that's the last of the AHL this third-round pick from 2004 wants to see.
He begins the season with the Sens as an "old" rookie at 23, finally getting a shot because of all the changes on the team. And he's certainly making the most of his opportunity.
Through the first four games, he has three points, two of them goals, and has shown that he can be a solid center for his team. He has gotten a chance to show his stuff, too, playing in over 11 minutes in three of the four games so far—which is saying a lot on a team that has some good talent up the middle (Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly).
Needless to say, with the Senators hoping to have all their players clicking on all cylinders in order to make the playoffs, Regin could be that solid third or fourth line center that does the little things to get them there.
Time will tell how things go for this kid, but time is something that he is certainly going to enjoy in the NHL.
Jason Demers—San Jose Sharks
In what might be one of the most shocking rookie cases this season, Jason Demers has landed a spot on the massively talented blue line of the San Jose Sharks.
Demers was taken 186th overall in 2008, and is now a member of a defense core that consists of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, which is certainly going to be beneficial to the young man who is looking to make a name for himself in the tough Western Conference.
Coming out of the QMJHL, Demers played with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL and tallied 33 points and was a plus-15 through 78 games last year.
So far as a member of the star-studded Sharks, the rookie has fit right in, averaging over 17 minutes per game with three assists through the first six games.
Time will tell whether his stay on the blue line will be permanent, but he is sure taking advantage of the chance he's got, and looks to be a strong addition to an already powerful defensive unit.
And if all else fails for the kid, he can always look over his shoulder and quickly get the puck to one of many teammates who have already booked their spots on various Olympic teams this year.
Not a bad gig for a 21-year-old from Dorval, Quebec.
Michael Del Zotto—New York Rangers
Michael Del Zotto is not only one of the best rookies in the NHL this season, but he might just be the most surprising player in the whole league right now.
The 19-year-old came into the season hoping to get a spot on the talented Rangers roster, but has turned out to be their best offensive defenseman so far, and has most assuredly won a season-long spot with the team.
He is at the top of rookie scoring with superstar-to-be John Tavares with seven points through his first seven games, and it's not the only time he's been linked with Tavares.
Last year, as a member of the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, he was a part of the package in the big trade that sent Tavares to the London Knights. The midseason trade was hyped up big time because of the players involved and the talent that London had acquired, but most of the talk was about the first overall pick in last year's draft, and Del Zotto was largely lost in the mix.
He's not lost anymore, and has certainly found his game two weeks into the season. With the Rangers finally looking to the draft to build their team, rather that focus mainly on buying their talent, look out for this kid to make a splash in the NHL this season and help the Rangers make a push in the postseason.
Ryan O'Reilly—Colorado Avalanche
It's tough to make a name for yourself on a team that has a rookie who plays the same position as you, and happens to be the third overall pick in last year's draft, but this is the situation Ryan O'Reilly finds himself in.
Playing second-fiddle to the highly-touted sniper Matt Duchene, O'Reilly will be in tough to have people talking about him as one of the best rookies in the league, let alone on his own team, but he'll be doing his best.
He is averaging over 14 minutes per game, and has three assists in six outings. Able to make it on a very young Avalanche team, O'Reilly is going to get his chances to become a solid role player, and a stud for Colorado in years to come.
He might not be the next Joe Sakic, but Colorado thinks they have one of those in Duchene already, so the pressure is off for the kid.
But the spotlight is always on.
Viktor Stalberg—Toronto Maple Leafs
Some say drafting Viktor Stalberg is the only good thing former GM John Ferguson Jr. ever did for the Leafs. Harsh for the GM, but great news for Stalberg and the Leafs now, as the rookie has turned out to be quite the player so far.
He was drafted in the 2006 draft in the sixth round after playing in Sweden.
He played eight preseason games, and scored six goals and nine points in those games, cementing his spot on the new-look Leafs.
In the third game of the regular season, he fell victim to a fierce hit by Senators defender Anton Volchenkov and missed two games, but has returned to the ice where he is needed the most. With his mind-boggling speed and vision around the net, Stalberg should be an offensive threat for years to come in Toronto.
While playing for the University of Vermont the past two seasons, he was not seen as a constant threat up front, only managing to score 38 points over the two campaigns. As soon as he got his shot in the NHL, though, he seemed to jump at the chance and hasn't looked back since.
The Leafs are excited about the future for this kid, and needless to say, the fans sure hope he can help end the drought of Stanley Cup woes.
Dmitry Kulikov—Florida Panthers
The fact that Dmitry Kulikov was taken in the 2009 draft 14th overall probably means you've heard of him, but this rookie is one that people will most definitely be talking about after this NHL season.
He is only 18-years-old, but given the chance on the Panthers, he just might be the replacement franchise defender they are now looking for since losing Jay Bouwmeester to free agency.
In 57 games last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, he had 62 points. That point total not only won him the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in the QMJHL, but he also received the Defenseman of the Year and Best Professional Prospect.
Did I mention he is a defenseman?
He is a seriously offensive-minded player who just happens to play on the blue line, and the Panthers are happy he happens to play for them. They are no doubt excited about the future of this young gun on the blue line, and time will only tell if he can help fill the void that was left with the departure of Bouwmeester.
He might see his season finish in the minors due to his young age, but if he gets a chance to stay up with the big boys, Kulikov is primed to turn some heads this season.
Keep your eyes on the score sheet.
Nicklas Bergfors—New Jersey Devils
Gone are the days of the complete defensive game in New Jersey. The Devils are aiming to score this season, and with the young talent that they've been able to draft, the addition of this next rookie could help in the long run.
Nicklas Bergfors was taken 23rd overall in the 2005 draft and has been playing for the Lowell Devils in the AHL since then. But this could be the breakout year for Bergfors, who is looking to seal his spot on the Devils and play alongside snipers like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias.
The 22-year-old winger scored 22 goals and 51 points last season in the AHL, and even though scoring in the NHL is a much different game, he looks to be primed and ready for his chance at a permanent spot on this team.
Then he'll worry about working his way up the offensive chart on the Devils.