In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking a look at the second year players that are set to have the biggest seasons.
A few things to keep in mind.
• This is not a ranking of the best rookies from a year ago, or even necessarily a list of who will have the best overall career. This is simply a projection as to which rookies from 2019-20 are going to have the best performance this season.
• Only players who were eligible to win the Calder Trophy in 2019-20 are eligible. That is who we are considering “second year” players. We had to draw the line somewhere and make a uniform requirement. This is the line.
So, for example, even though Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood played 20 games two years ago, it did not qualify as his rookie season. He was still eligible for the Calder this past season (he finished in sixth place in the voting). That puts him on the list.
Conversely, Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin is still eligible for the Calder because he is considered a “rookie” (he only appeared in 12 regular season games last season). So he is not eligible for this list.
Those are the rules.
Now that you know them. Who makes the list?
To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!
1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Already an outstanding player with superstar potential. A great talent that is surrounded by a Stanley Cup caliber roster. He should have a massive season.
2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. He was neck and neck with Makar in the Calder race and quickly became Vancouver’s top defenseman. The two will be competing for the Norris Trophy for years. Given his position and role, Hughes might end up being the most impactful player out of Vancouver’s big-three.
3. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. The Rangers defense has some big question marks but Fox is not among them. The Makar-Hughes race hid how impactful he was in his rookie season, but he was not far behind them.
4. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. He will share the net with Henrik Lundqvist, but Samsonov is still the future of the position in Washington. He will also take the primary role in the present. And he will be excellent.
5. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. The Max Pacioretty trade has turned out to be a huge win for Montreal. Suzuki was one of Montreal’s best forwards a year ago and is in position for a breakout season.
[Related: Looking at five potential breakout players]
6. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets. Probably the most surprising rookie from the 2019-20 class, but he was a huge part of Columbus’ success. Expect a little regression from that .923 save percentage, but he should still be a strength for the Blue Jackets.
7. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins. Nobody paid attention to it when the Penguins traded a sixth-round pick for him. Then he went and became one of the top rookies in the league and will be a major part of their defense for the foreseeable future.
8. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. A 24-year-old rookie that scored on 20 percent of his shots is a small red flag for me. That shooting percentage is going to regress. Nobody scores that efficiently in the NHL every year. Still a very good player, but if you are expecting a 37-goal pace over 82 games again you are probably expecting too much. Maybe 25-30 per 82 games is more realistic.
9. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres. Would like to see a little more even-strength production from him, but he has become a real weapon on Buffalo’s power play.
11. MacKenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils. With Blackwood and Corey Crawford in net the Devils’ biggest weakness from the past two years might turn out to be their biggest strength this season.
12. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. One of the many young players the Hurricanes are building around. Not quite on the level of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, but still a significant part of their long-term outlook.
13. Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks. He had the kind of inconsistencies and growing pains you would expect from a 19-year-old rookie, but he took on a bigger role in the postseason and did not look out of place. Of all the young players on the roster, he is the one that I would be most excited about for the future.
14. Joel Farabee, Philadelphia Flyers. A very strong rookie season and impressive postseason for the Flyers. Farabee has top-line potential and could be in line for a breakout year.
15. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Not every No. 1 overall pick is going to immediately be a star. Hughes struggled a lot in his rookie season, but there were still flashes of what is ahead for him and the Devils. Expect significant improvement with a season under his belt. That is the hope.
16. Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers. Speaking of growing pains, Kakko produced some of the worst underlying results of any player in the NHL a year ago. He struggled. A lot. But he is still an enormous talent and is going to be playing alongside a pretty talented group of forwards. I like that combination. He is one of the big “what ifs” in New York that could help power a breakthrough season.
17. Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings. A real bright spot in an otherwise lousy Kings season. Roy was sensational defensively and should continue to be a solid top-four defenseman.
18. Philippe Myers, Philadelphia Flyers. He was one of the Flyers’ most effective defenders a year ago and should get an even bigger role this season following the retirement of Matt Niskanen.
[Related: Which NHL team has best defensemen?]
20. Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are counting on him to be a core player, and the potential is there. With 28 games a year ago he barely makes the cut for this list. His 82-game pace at the NHL level was for 23 goals and 45 points, solid for a rookie, and he was very good in the AHL. This season could be a big step for him.
21. Cody Glass, Vegas Golden Knights. A lot of this might depend on just how big of a role he gets. The Golden Knights have some depth issues at center following the departure of Paul Stastny. Can Glass help fill that? He has big offensive potential and showed flashes of it before an injury cut his season short.
22. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets. I had high hopes for him entering his rookie season, and it got off to a fine start right up until he joined the rest of the Blue Jackets roster on the injured list.
24. Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks. He did not make a huge impact offensively, but he is one of the Ducks’ most promising young players. They need him to take a big step forward.
25. Blake Lizotte, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are loaded with young talent, and Lizotte seemingly came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent and put together a solid rookie season. He may not be a star, but he has a strong future.