Stock Watch for Top NHL Rookies Early in 2016-17 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2016

Stock Watch for Top NHL Rookies Early in 2016-17 Season

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    Early in the 2016-17 NHL season, a number of promising rookies are already garnering attention. Among them are Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, the top two selections in the 2016 NHL draft. 

    Matthews and Laine are among several much-hyped rookies off to strong starts to this season. Some, such as Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi, appear to still be adjusting to the NHL pace.

    In this slideshow, we'll examine the stock of the top NHL rookies and look at the factors affecting their respective performances. Feel free to express your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

Honorable Mention

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    Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders: The 19-year-old Beauvillier has netted five points in as many games. He's among the Islanders' early scoring leaders and one of the league's leading rookie scorers.

    Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins: Injuries to Bruins veterans Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have the 19-year-old Carlo averaging 21 minutes and 58 seconds of time on ice per game. He's also the rookie leader in plus/minus with a plus-seven rating.

    Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes: Chychrun, 18, has looked more comfortable on the Coyotes blue line after being scratched from the club's second game of the season. With three points in four games, he's among their leading scorers.

    Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers: The 19-year-old Konecny is off to a good start with the Flyers. With five assists in his first five games, he's among their leading scorers. He's also tied for the assist lead among NHL rookies.

    Mitchell Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs: Marner, 19, is overshadowed by fellow Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and William Nylander. Still, he has a respectable three points in his first five games. 

    Tyler Motte, Chicago Blackhawks: The 21-year-old Motte is skating alongside Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. In six games, he's netted two goals and two assists.

    Devin Shore, Dallas Stars: Shore, 22, is among the Stars' early-season scoring leaders. With four points in his first five games, he's also among the league's leading rookie scorers

    Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs: For an NHL newcomer, Zaitsev is logging big minutes. The 24-year-old Russian's time on ice per game (22:22) leads all rookies and ranks second among Leafs skaters.

10. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers

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    Right wing Jesse Puljujarvi was selected fourth overall in the 2016 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers. At 6'4" and 203 pounds, the 18-year-old has the potential to become a top-six scoring winger.

    However, he seems to be having some difficulty adapting to the NHL.

    In his first three games, Puljujarvi tallied only one goal. He saw limited ice time and was a healthy scratch for the Oilers' next two games. Returning to the lineup on Oct. 23, he was held scoreless while seeing 12:59 of ice time.

    Puljujarvi's stock is down. He had minor knee surgery during the summer, but it appears his difficulties have more to do with adjusting to the North American game. While he has considerable upside, he could use some seasoning with the Oilers' farm team.

9. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames selected left wing Matthew Tkachuk with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. The son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk, the 18-year-old has the size (6'2", 202 lbs) and skills to become a power forward like his father.

    However, he's having some difficulties getting used to the NHL pace.

    Five games into this season, Tkachuk managed to score only one goal. He was a healthy scratch in their Oct. 22 game against the St. Louis Blues.

    Tkachuk's stock is currently down. The Flames will likely be patient with the young winger. If he doesn't significantly improve, however, he could be returned to the OHL's London Knights for the rest of the season.

8. Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers

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    Signing with the New York Rangers in August as a free agent, left wing Jimmy Vesey was the winner of the 2016 Hobey Baker Award. The 23-year-old now faces the daunting challenge of transitioning from college star into an NHL player.

    Through six games, Vesey was held scoreless in three of them. However, he tallied his first NHL goal on Oct. 17 against the San Jose Sharks. Two games later, he scored twice to help the Rangers defeat the Washington Capitals 4-2. His three goals tie him for the lead among Rangers scorers and put him among the NHL rookie leaders

    Vesey's two-goal game keeps his stock high, offering a promising glimpse of his scoring capabilities. However, he must improve his offensive consistency over the course of this season to remain among the top rookies.

7. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Selected seventh overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Ivan Provorov has the potential to become a skilled top-pairing defenseman. Possessing decent size (6'1", 201 lbs), excellent skating ability and solid all-around skills, the 19-year-old is getting used to life as an NHL blueliner.

    With three points in five games, Provorov is among the points leaders for rookie defensemen. His 20:02 of ice time per game also ranks among the rookie leaders.

    Still, he's had some ups and downs, most notably a minus-five outing during the Flyers' 7-4 loss on Oct. 18 to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Despite that shaky effort against the Blackhawks, Provorov's stock remains high. He bounced back well with a two-assist effort on Oct. 22 against the Carolina Hurricanes. It takes time for young defensemen to adapt to the NHL pace. The Flyers seem willing to remain patient with him.

6. Michael Matheson, Florida Panthers

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    Defenseman Michael Matheson was the 23rd overall pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2012 NHL draft. He played well in five playoff games during the Panthers' first-round series against the New York Islanders last spring.

    Now in his first NHL regular season, the 22-year-old looks like an experienced pro.

    In his first five games, Matheson has scored two goals and added an assist for three points. He's among the league's rookie leaders in points and time on ice per game (20:13). Matheson also leads the Panthers blueliners in goals and points, ranking among their leaders in blocked shots (four) and takeaways (five). 

    With his skills and maturity, Matheson's early-season stock is currently high. He's quickly become a key member of the Panthers' defense corps.

5. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

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    The 35th selection in the 2015 NHL draft, Carolina Hurricanes right wing Sebastian Aho is making his debut in the North American pro game. A good skater and skilled playmaker, the 19-year-old Finn seems to be adjusting well with the Hurricanes.

    Skating on the Hurricanes' second line, Aho has collected five assists in as many games. Though he hasn't yet netted his first NHL goal, he leads the Hurricanes in assists and is tied for the rookie assist lead

    Aho's rookie stock remains high. The 5'11", 172-pound winger is giving the Hurricanes an invaluable early-season offensive boost.

4. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The eighth overall selection in the 2015 NHL draft, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski has the skills to become a solid puck-moving blueliner. Only 19, he is already an effective offensive contributor for the Blue Jackets.

    In just four games, the 6'2", 218-pound Werenski has scored twice and set up three goals for five points. Three of those points came on the power play. He leads the Blues Jackets in points and shots (16) and is one of the leaders among NHL rookie scorers.

    He's seeing top-pairing minutes (21:33 per game) and is making the most of his opportunities.

    Though Werenski is perhaps not as well known as others on this list, his stock is rising. He's unlikely to maintain his current offensive pace, but his impressive skills could ensure that he gets plenty of playing time throughout this season.

3. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander, William Nylander was selected eighth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 NHL draft. A skilled playmaker, the 20-year-old can skate at center or either wing.

    After showing promise in 2015-16 with 13 points in 22 games, Nylander is now playing in his first full NHL rookie campaign. 

    Skating alongside fellow rookie Auston Matthews, Nylander is off to a strong start. Through five games, he's collected three goals and four assists for seven points. He sits second in points on the Leafs and among the NHL's rookie scoring leaders.

    Nylander's early-season stock is up. He's showing considerable potential as a playmaking star. With Matthews, he gives the Leafs a solid first-line offensive punch.

2. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

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    Selected second overall in the 2016 NHL draft by the Jets, Patrik Laine is a big forward (6'5", 206 lbs) who can skate at either wing and possesses elite offensive skills. Thus far in 2016-17, the 18-year-old has shown considerable promise as a big league scorer. 

    Five games into this season, Laine sits second among NHL rookies in goals (four). His five points have him tied with several others for third. He's also the Jets' leading goal scorer while sitting tied for second in points.

    The highlight so far was his hat trick performance, including the game-winning goal, in a 5-4 overtime win on Oct. 19 over Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Laine's stock is up at this point. He's displayed considerable scoring potential and is already skating at left wing on the Jets' top line. At this point, he's one of the early favorites to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie of the year.

1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Selected first overall in the 2016 NHL draft by the Leafs, center Auston Matthews entered this season facing the high expectations that come with being a top prospect. So far, the 19-year-old hasn't disappointed.

    Matthews skated with professionals in Switzerland's National League A last season. That experience is proving helpful in his NHL debut. After five games, the 6'3", 216-pounder leads the Leafs and all league rookies in goals (five) and points (eight).

    His first game with the Leafs made history, as he became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his regular-season debut.

    It's safe to say Matthews' stock remains high. He's having little difficulty adjusting to the NHL game and is centering the Leafs' top line. So far, he's the league's top rookie and should be considered the early favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

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