After a year long shutdown the NHL is set to begin a new season and a new era of hockey. But without a year of hockey this years rookie class will be better than ever. Not only is it really a double entry year combining would-be rookies from last year with this years ‘usual’ rookie class, but last years rookies are more developed and more ready for NHL with an extra year of development time. Here are some of the top rookies to watch for this season:
Sidney Crosby – Everywhere you look there is an article on Sidney Crosby so I don’t need to go into too much detail about him. He’ll play on Pittsburgh’s top 2 lines with guys like Lemieux, Palffy, Recchi, and Leclair and he is very talented so he will rack up points. My predictions is he ends the year around 65-70 points. Preseason Stats: 4gp, 1g, 3 points
Kari Lehtonen – Lehtonen is Atlanta’s goalie of the future, and the present. To me he is the best goalie prospect around and his numbers in the AHL season back that up. For the Chicago Wolves he had a 38-17-2 record with a 2.27 goals against average and a .929 save %. In his brief stint with Atlanta at the end of 2003-04 he was 4-0-0, 1.25 goals against average and a .953 save % including one shut out. He’s real good. He’s my rookie of the year pick. He should get ~30 wins and post very good goals against average and save percentage. Preseason stats: 1gp, 2.00gaa, .946 save %.
Alexander Ovechkin – Ovechkin is pretty much the only reason you would ever consider watching a Washington Capitals game this year. They simply do not have a lot of talent there and that is too bad for Ovechkin. He’ll be the best player on a horrible team and that is not a good thing for a young players confidence. On the positive side he will get a ton of ice time which will help him learn to play all facets of the game, even strength, power play, and maybe even penalty kill. But the lack of skilled teammates will limit his offensive output. Consider 20-25 goals, 50-55 points as a good season for him. Preseason stats: 3gp, 3goals, 4 points
Mike Richards – The Philadelphia Flyers have let so many players go from when they last played and one of the guys they expect to step up and fill those holes is Mike Richards. Richards is very talented and will be given the opportunity to play with some very talented players on a very good team. That should benefit him in both his statistics and his personal confidence. Prediction: 20 goals, 60 points. Preseason statistics: 6gp, 4goals, 9 points.
Thomas Vanek – This goal scoring machine will be given every opportunity to play on Buffalo’s top line with center Daniel Briere. Vanek has scored goals at every level he has played and there is no reason not to expect he can do it at the NHL level as well. He is a finisher, not a playmaker so he’ll get as many goals as assists. Prediction: 20 goals, 40 points. Preseason stats: 6gp, 5goals, 8points
Corey Perry – The one thing Anaheim doesn’t have is an abundance of skilled, veteran forwards so they will depend on a couple of rookies to step up. The first is Corey Perry who led the London Knights to a Memorial Cup last year. Perry has a bright future but it is difficult for a player to jump from Junior to the NHL without a stop in the AHL. I expect him to play for the Ducks this year but his point totals will be affected. Prediction: 15 goals, 40 points. Preseason stats: 7gp, 3goals, 7 points.
Ryan Getzlaf – Getzlaf will also attempt to make the jump from Junior to the NHL. As a center he will be playing behind Fedorov and Joffrey Lupul so there won’t be a lot of pressure on him. That will give him a chance to develop should he stick with the Ducks for the whole season, but his point totals will be limited because of that. Prediction 12 goals, 30 points. Preseason stats: 7gp, 0goals, 7 points.
Brandon Bochenski – Few people really thought that Bochenski would make the Ottawa Senators team let alone play on their top line. But it appears he might just do that after an incredible pre-season. And it kind of makes sense. He had an incredible year in the AHL last season playing on a line with Jason Spezza. Jason Spezza will be the Senators top centerman this year and since the Spezza- Bochenski pair worked last year, why not try it again this year with Dany Heatley put on the other wing. So far in pre-season it has worked and it appears they will start off the season together. But Bochenski has to produce or he will be quickly bumped for Alfredsson or Havlat. Prediction: 15g, 40 points, eventually getting bumped off the first line. Preseason Stats: 5gp, 5 goals, 9 points.