Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit 2019: Seven rookies ready to contribute

Check out this goal from New York Rangers 2019 2nd overall pick Kappo Kakko, showcasing his serious skills at the prospects tourney.

Every year, there are a few players who jump into the league and make a real splash. Sometimes you see it coming… other times? Not so much. It can be tough to project just how big an impact some rookies will make, which makes drafting them in fantasy leagues a bit of a gamble at times.

We’ve got a strong rookie class coming in this year, with plenty more breakout candidates who will surely fly under the radar and onto their clubs’ rosters.

But if you’re looking for safe ways to add some fresh faces to your made-up lineup, here are seven youngsters who look like they’re ready to make their mark in the pros — and earn fantasy GMs some points.

CALE MAKAR, COLORADO AVALANCHE

SN Rank: 126
Position eligibility: D

We got an impressive glimpse of what Makar is capable of this past spring as the 20-year-old made his NHL debut during the Avalanche’s two-round playoff run. Fresh off a Hobey Baker Award-winning campaign with the University of Massachusetts, the NCAA standout scored on his first shot in his first pro game in Round 1 of the post-season and finished the playoffs with six points in 10 contests while fitting in seamlessly on Colorado’s budding blue line. The departure of Tyson Barrie this summer means this young playmaking rearguard will no doubt be relied upon for big minutes in 2019-20 and will likely quickly factor into special teams, too.

ALEXANDRE TEXIER, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: C/LW

The Columbus Blue Jackets roster took some hits this summer, but the mass exodus of big names — Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene among them — isn’t all bad news as it clears space for the club to call up the next kids in line who look ready to make the jump from the franchise’s deep prospect pool to being full-time NHLers. At the front of that line is Texier. You might remember him as the kid who sunk the dagger into the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 — his first two career playoff goals helped complete Columbus’s sweep of the Stanley Cup favourites.

The 19-year-old’s rise through the ranks in 2018-19 was quite remarkable. After leading KalPa of the Finnish Elite League in points (41 in 55 games), Texier got a small — but extremely successful — taste in the AHL (five goals, seven points in seven games) before being summoned by the big club to help them clinch a playoff spot, stick around for the post-season and earn himself a full-time gig with the Blue Jackets.

The native of France will likely suit up as a top-six winger, though he’s versatile enough to be slotted in at centre if needed, and looks like a top candidate for power-play minutes. Savvy fantasy GMs would be wise to scoop up Texier in the late rounds.

KAAPO KAKKO, NEW YORK RANGERS

SN Rank: 85
Position eligibility: LW/RW

Kakko kept things interesting in a draft year that featured Jack Hughes atop every ranking from wire to wire, and while he didn’t steal the top spot from Hughes on draft night, the No. 2 overall pick might wind up being selected ahead of his top-ranked peer in fantasy leagues. The speedy, playmaking winger is about as NHL-ready as they come, and while there are sure to be a few speed bumps along the way as he hits his NHL stride, the transition to playing in big games amongst grown men won’t be one of them.

The teenager spent the 2018-19 playing in Finland’s top professional league and not only did he lead his team in goals (22) and game-winners (7), he also set a new Liiga record for most goals scored by an under-18 prospect, surpassing Aleksander Barkov’s previous record of 21. And just in case we weren’t convinced already of his scoring ability, he went and led Finland’s men’s team to gold at the 2019 World Championship with a team-high six goals. Pair him up opposite Artemi Panarin with Mika Zibanejad down the middle in New York, and… well, this could be fun.

Psst: Keep an eye on fellow Rangers rookie Vitali Kravtsov, too. The 2018 first-rounder is expected to make the jump from the KHL and is flying under the radar — for now — with Kakko in New York’s rookie spotlight.

JACK HUGHES, NEW JERSEY DEVILS

SN Rank: 84
Position eligibility: C

One look at Hughes’ resume and elite skillset and it’s clear this kid is going to be a star as a franchise centreman for many years to come. He may not be a game-changer on fantasy draft boards just yet, but the No. 1 overall pick’s versatility makes him extra appealing for fantasy GMs. Just think of the lineup opportunities: slot him between a rebounding-from-injury-while-in-his-contract-year Taylor Hall and a Wayne Simmonds on a one-year, show-me deal, then watch him thrive on the first power-play unit with P.K. Subban’s playmaking from the blue line. Oh, the possibilities.

FILIP ZADINA, DETROIT RED WINGS

SN Rank: 224
Position eligibility: LW/RW

The Red Wings are in the midst of a full-on youth movement, and Zadina looks like the next piece of this rebuilding puzzle. Patience will be needed as the rookie finds his stride, but GMs picking him late on draft night could be rewarded. The 19-year-old registered a goal and three points in a late-season NHL stint after a 35-point AHL campaign in Grand Rapids. When surrounded by Detroit’s growing corp of young forward talent like Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha, Zadina’s potential skyrockets.

QUINN HUGHES, VANCOUVER CANUCKS

SN Rank: 147
Position eligibility: D

The first Hughes brother to hit the NHL made his highly-anticipated debut late last season and lived up to expectations. The 2018 seventh-overall pick registered a trio of assists in a five-game call-up to close out the 2018-19 season once his NCAA campaign with the University of Michigan ended. A few growing pains are to be assumed when you’ve got a team that underwent as much change — and has as much youth — as the Canucks, but expect Hughes to get plenty of minutes as he progresses through his first full pro season. The addition of right-shot Tyler Myers could prove to be the especially beneficial for Hughes — and his fantasy owners.

RYAN POEHLING, MONTREAL CANADIENS

SN Rank: N/A
Position eligibility: C

This kid knows how to make a first impression. Remember his NHL debut? The power-forward-in-the-making, who turned heads during the 2019 world juniors as the best forward at the tournament, tallied a hat trick in the Habs’ season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs to close out 2018-19 and then went and scored the shootout winner for good measure.

Fast forward a few months and he had hockey fans drooling over his NHL-size and pro-ready skillset at Montreal’s rookie camp, with the biggest takeaway being that he looks like he’s ready to make the jump to the bigs full-time. It’s still unclear where in the lineup he’ll start — he’ll likely be a depth piece at first — but he’s certainly worth watching.

Psst: The jury’s still out on whether Nick Suzuki will start the season in the NHL or with the AHL club, but he’s another Canadien to watch once he cracks that lineup.

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