NHL Rookies Cementing a Roster Spot Early in 2016-17 Season

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistOctober 19, 2016

NHL Rookies Cementing a Roster Spot Early in 2016-17 Season

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    Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

    There are over 60 players—about two per team—classified as rookies so far this season in the NHL. Not all rookies are created equal—Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs may lead the Calder Trophy race from wire to wire—but each of them has a chance to make an impression at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.

    Some rookies may be back in junior or the minors by the end of the month, but there are several who look like they are already on solid footing. One thing is news: Junior players such as Jakob Chychrun, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov appear to be here for the duration.

    Here are 10 NHL rookies cementing roles with their respective teams this season.

Brandon Carlo, D, Boston Bruins

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Stats: Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins is the most surprising of the top rookie performers early this season. He has posted a goal and an assist in three games while playing over 21 minutes a night.

    Analysis: Carlo was drafted in 2015 and is eligible to play junior hockey this season, although he will turn 20 in November. He is regarded as an ideal modern prototype defenseman, as he combines size—6'5'', 201 pounds—with very good foot speed. This is the player type NHL teams are looking for to play the modern game.

    Outlook: The Bruins are badly in need of help on defense and may have hit the motherlode with Carlo. It is far too early to say for sure, but any defenseman who can play 21 minutes effectively in the NHL at 19 is going to get a lot of opportunities.

Sebastian Aho, LW, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Jason Halstead/Getty Images

    Stats: Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes has two assists in three games so far in 2016-17.

    Analysis: Aho is a fast, intelligent two-way player who makes himself known all over the ice. More than just a pure offensive player, he can play center or wing and is more responsible than most NHL rookies.

    Outlook: The Hurricanes are young in almost every position, save goal, so Aho's two-way ability is an important element for such an inexperienced club. Natural Stat Trick reveals that Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen are his current linemates, and early indications are positive.

Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Stats: Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets has scored a goal and an assist in two games while playing almost 22 minutes a night.

    Analysis: Werenski was a highly touted prospect in his draft year, going No. 8 overall in the deep 2015 draft. He possesses a complete range of skills, including wonderful skating ability and offensive acumen, and could be a cornerstone defenseman for a long time.

    Outlook: The Blue Jackets are putting together a substantial defensive group that will eventually be built around Werenski, Seth Jones and Ryan Murray. Based on early performances by Werenski in 2016-17, the future may be now. The time-on-ice totals will be a key indicator. If he can flourish in 20 minutes a night with no NHL experience, the results should be formidable when he acclimates to the speed of the league.

Devin Shore, C, Dallas Stars

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    Stats: Devin Shore of the Dallas Stars is off to a quick start, scoring a goal and three points in three games.

    Analysis: Shore plays a power forward game, combined with excellent passing skills and offensive acumen. He is not a speed-burner but his goal-scoring ability gives him an edge over other emerging prospects in the system.

    Outlook: The Stars have some issues on the roster, including cap problems—the team has less than $3 million in cap space currently. Dallas badly needs value contracts and needs those players to deliver, and early returns on Shore are positive. Natural Stat Trick shows his most common linemates are Lauri Korpikoski and Brett Ritchie, meaning he is playing in a secondary spot and has a chance to grow into an NHL role. Things are looking good for Shore to stay in the NHL.

Jimmy Vesey, LW, New York Rangers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Stats: Jimmy Vesey has a goal in three games for the New York Rangers this season.

    Analysis: Vesey is a winger with skill who can play a grinding game—something the Rangers value in wingers. It will take some time for him to develop as a two-way forward at the NHL level, but he has shown an ability to contribute in the offensive end, and that puts him in the NHL now.

    Outlook: The Rangers are a veteran group badly in need of young and talented forwards. Vesey should receive plenty of support and so far he looks like he belongs. New York has played him in a feature role with Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan, and if he can remain on that line, the scoring numbers should be impressive by the end of the season.

Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Stats: Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers has been productive in his first three NHL games, posting four assists.

    Analysis: Konecny is a very skilled winger with a great deal of creativity and a rugged style. Despite a lack of size—5'11'', 175 pounds—Konecny is a brilliant passer who can create offense at a high level. Although he was drafted later in the first round of the 2015 draft—no one questioned his grit and skill.

    Outlook: The template for the classic Flyers forward—gritty, skilled, dogged—are all apt descriptions for Konecny. There is no surprise to see him having NHL success, although the fact he is delivering at age 19 is a bit of a surprise. If he can continue to deliver at current levels—on a feature line with Sean Couturier and Jakob Voracek—Konecny may be a candidate for the Calder Trophy.

Ivan Provorov, D, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Stats: Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers has one point in three games and is playing close to 20 minutes a night.

    Analysis: Provorov is a dynamic player from the back line, with good speed and outstanding puck-moving skills. He has great passing ability and offensive imagination while being an impact power-play quarterback. He plays with a bit of an edge, although at the young age of 19, being able to have an impact physically against NHL players is not possible.

    Outlook: The Flyers have several young defenders pushing for NHL jobs, and it is a reflection of Provorov's considerable ability that he won the early-season nod. He will need to prove himself throughout the fall in order to stay during winter and spring, but he has the skills to do it. His passing and speed make him a terrific defensive option now and in the future.

Mitch Marner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Stats: Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs has one goal in two games so far in 2016-17.

    Analysis: Marner is a brilliant offensive player, a puck wizard with extreme offensive creativity. He is also a demon on the forecheck and uses his speed to pursue puck-carriers and disrupt play. He is a handful with the puck, as his elite vision and passing ability make every touch a potential scoring play.

    Outlook: The Maple Leafs are trying to work three impact rookies in the everyday skill lineup, something that is very rare. It is also rare to have a trio of talents such as Toronto boasts currently, so there is every chance coach Mike Babcock will be very patient with all of his young players. Marner is not yet 20 and may be more vulnerable than Auston Matthews or William Nylander, but his outstanding skills will be very valuable to the Maple Leafs if the club can find a way to keep him in the lineup.

Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    Stats: In two games this season, Auston Matthews has scored four goals. He is the first player in the game's history to score four goals in his NHL debut.

    Analysis: Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs enters the NHL with several huge advantages. He wisely chose to play pro hockey in Switzerland in his draft season, meaning an easier adjustment to the speed and skill of the NHL game. He is a young center with a complete range of skills and could have a big offensive season.

    Outlook: Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock listed Matthews as the team's third-line center entering the season, but that has not been the case. He is playing 17 minutes a night for Toronto, ranking him No. 2 among forwards so far this year. He is a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy and plays the game at an outstanding level even as a rookie.

William Nylander, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Stats: William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs has picked up two assists in two games this season.

    Analysis: Nylander is a slick and creative pivot who can also flourish on the wing. An expert passer, he can find seams and has no fear with the puck—allowing him to make aggressive, risky plays and create offense. He played 22 games a year ago, so while he remains a rookie, he has some experience in the NHL.

    Outlook: The Maple Leafs have a trio of impact rookies this season, and that might create a problem at some point. Young impact prospects need playing time and often require power-play time to get results. In the case of Nylander, he seems to have found a home on a line with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman. Toronto has an outstanding future ahead, and Nylander should be a big part of it.