With about a third of the season in the rear-view mirror, theScore's Josh Wegman evaluates 10 notable members of the 2018 rookie class, taking age into consideration.
C Elias Pettersson, Canucks
Draft: 5th overall, 2017
Draft assessment: Nobody questioned Pettersson's high-end talent and hockey IQ, but there were concerns about his frame. Dobber Prospects applauded his "deft puck skills" and "terrific vision," but called him "a work in progress" with some "serious filling out to do."
NHL assessment: Had Pettersson played in the NHL as an 18-year-old, the knocks on him might have been accurate - but a year spent tearing up Sweden's top professional league gave him the experience and confidence to silence the doubters. He's become one of the NHL's most dangerous, creative, and must-see talents in his rookie season.
LW Brady Tkachuk, Senators
Draft: 4th overall, 2018
Draft assessment: An anonymous NHL scout raved to ESPN about Tkachuk's will to win, saying the forward's "competitive urge is stronger than everyone else's on the ice." Despite a similar skill set to his brother Matthew, who found success playing for the Flames right out of his draft, this scout thought Brady was a year away from the NHL. There was also some worry about his lack of goals (eight in 40 games) at Boston University.
NHL assessment: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in the Tkachuk family. Size, offensive versatility, and the toughness and physicality that allow him to be effective when he's not scoring are all traits he shares with Matthew and their father, Keith. Playing with better, smarter players has helped him produce at a higher rate in the pros than he did in college due to an advanced understanding of the game.
D Rasmus Dahlin, Sabres
Draft: 1st overall, 2018
Draft assessment: Dahlin was the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft from the get-go, earning comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson in the same breath. The Swede was praised for his world-class skating ability, shiftiness, confidence with the puck, creativity, physicality, and just about every other characteristic you'd want to see in a potential franchise defenseman.
NHL assessment: The standard numbers may suggest Dahlin isn't living up to lofty expectations, but defensemen take longer to develop. Only two - Bobby Orr and Phil Housley - have ever reached the 40-point mark as 18-year-olds. Dahlin has done the little things right and drastically improved the Sabres' blue line, even if he's nowhere near his sky-high ceiling yet.
D Miro Heiskanen, Stars
Draft: 3rd overall, 2017
Draft assessment: Every scouting report on Heiskanen contained the same collection of adjectives: calm, confident, smooth, and smart. He was praised for his skating ability and poise with the puck, and he appeared to have the makings of an elite, new-age, two-way defenseman. He was, however, knocked for his lack of offensive upside.
NHL assessment: An effortless skater, Heiskanen's puck-moving skills are already elite. He's mature beyond his years in his own end but, as the scouting reports suggested, hasn't quite wowed offensively. That doesn't mean it won't come with time. For now, he's a major reason why the Stars hold a playoff spot despite John Klingberg missing the last month.
C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Canadiens
Draft: 3rd overall, 2018
Draft assessment: Kotkaniemi finished as Central Scouting's seventh-ranked European skater, but as a center with high-end skill and an advanced hockey IQ, he shot up the draft ranks. "He sees the game differently. He tries to make a play in every situation. He sees only upsides, and no downsides, and that’s why his game is sometimes a little bit risky," said Finland U18 coach Tommi Niemela.
NHL assessment: Kotkaniemi wasn't necessarily expected to make the Canadiens roster as an 18-year-old, but he left them no choice after a strong training camp and preseason. He still needs time to develop physically, but he hasn't looked out of place because he's so advanced mentally. Kotkaniemi's kept the risks to a minimum - due in large part to head coach Claude Julien, who's primarily deployed his young pivot in offensive situations.
C Colin White, Senators
Draft: 21st overall, 2015
Draft assessment: White is the lone 2015 draftee on this list. Prior to being selected by the Senators, Dobber Prospects applauded his "quick feet and impressive agility," along with his "blue-collar determination and the hockey sense to excel on both ends of the puck." He was viewed as a high-floor selection, but with perhaps a lower ceiling than most first-round picks.
NHL assessment: It may seem hard to believe, but the NHL is a lot different than it was at the time White was drafted. His intelligence, quickness, competitiveness, and 200-foot prowess are well-suited to today's game. He's been placed in a nice spot too, centering a line between two towering, skilled, smart wingers in Tkachuk and Mark Stone. White's been getting more ice time of late - a clear sign of increased trust from his coach.
D Dennis Cholowski, Red Wings
Draft: 20th overall, 2016
Draft assessment: Cholowski played in the BCHL in 2015-16, and was a late riser on most draft boards. While there's certainly good hockey in the BCHL, it pales in comparison to the CHL or professional leagues in Europe, where the bulk of first-rounders play their draft year. Despite his lower quality of competition, he was viewed as a mobile, intelligent, two-way defenseman, according to Dobber Prospects.
NHL assessment: Cholowski has injected some much-needed mobility and youth into the Red Wings' defense corps. He's already proven to be an effective power-play quarterback, as he leads the team with seven points with the man advantage. His overall game still needs some fine-tuning, but his decision-making and poise are impressive for a rookie blue-liner.
RW Andrei Svechnikov, Hurricanes
Draft: 2nd overall, 2018
Draft assessment: Svechnikov was viewed as the complete package, and likely would've been selected first overall in 2017 if he were a year older. NHL Central Scouting said: "Svechnikov plays a responsible game without the puck, has a strong stride with good top-end speed, (and) good instincts at reading the play to set up or be open for chances. He also has an excellent finishing touch."
NHL assessment: Pegged as a prolific goal-scorer, the biggest disappointment of Svechnikov's game so far has been his inability to capitalize on chances. Though he's third in the NHL in individual high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes, he's only scored six goals. However, he's displayed a strong 200-foot game and hasn't shied away from physicality - both great signs considering he's one of the youngest players in the league.
C Brett Howden, Rangers
Draft: 27th overall, 2016
Draft assessment: Howden's size (6-foot-3), skill, work ethic, and leadership qualities lifted him into the first round of the 2016 draft, but the major concern was whether his weak shot would cap his pro potential.
NHL assessment: Howden wasn't necessarily expected to make the Rangers out of training camp, but he earned a shot with a strong preseason and hasn't looked back. While he could still stand to add to his somewhat lean frame, he's already displaying strong puck protection skills and winning 51.7 percent of his faceoffs. The knock on his shot seems to be correct, but he knows his limitations, as he's averaging just one per game.
C Casey Mittelstadt, Sabres
Draft: 8th overall, 2017
Draft assessment: Mittelstadt was tougher to evaluate than most prospects because he spent half of his draft year playing high school hockey in Minnesota - and, of course, he dominated. The traits that stuck out were his soft hands, heavy shot, and great vision. Dobber Prospects said he "could be the prospect with the highest skill in the 2017 NHL draft." However, there were question marks about his strength and worries about his defensive ineptitude.
NHL assessment: Mittelstadt has only occasionally flashed his high-end skill so far in his rookie season. He disappears for long stretches and hasn't consistently displayed the patience and poise he demonstrated in the USHL, college, or world juniors. There's likely still a bright future ahead, but a trip to the AHL may help him regain his confidence.
(Advanced stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)
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