‘Tis the season for NHL debuts and all the good-news stories that come with them.
Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar is off to a solid start with two assists in two games and has been widely considered the Calder Trophy favourite since he burst on to the scene last spring with a strong playoff stint.
Brothers Jack and Quinn Hughes will no doubt be watched closely all year, as will New York’s newest Ranger, Kaapo Kakko, as they heat up in their respective rookie seasons.
Every two weeks, we’ll highlight some of the most noteworthy rookie performances around the NHL. We’ll start 2019-20 with a look at a few of the players — some expected, others not so much — making strong first impressions with their first NHL strides.
Glass has Golden Knights teammates gushing already
Last Wednesday’s home opener in Vegas featured a couple of pretty cool firsts for the NHL’s newest team. Cody Glass, the Golden Knights’ first-ever draft pick (6th overall, 2017) stepped on NHL ice and became the first player drafted by Vegas to make his NHL debut.
The 20-year-old from Winnipeg certainly made the most of the opportunity, scoring his first career goal in his first game — and on his first shot, no less. The goal, which helped Vegas to a 4-1 win over rival San Jose, came off a gorgeous pass from linemate (and biggest fan) Max Pacioretty. Glass is currently centreing Pacioretty and Mark Stone on the Golden Knights’ second line — talk about a dream setup for a talented rookie.
Glass’s early-career success has his teammates gushing about him already, telling NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika about just what, exactly, makes the rookie such a special talent. Via Cotsonika:
Pacioretty: “He has the ultimate hockey tool, and that’s hockey IQ and knowing where to be on the ice … He’s a lot of fun to play with. He’s the future of this team, and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Nate Schmidt: “Man, I love watching him play … He’s got better vision and playmaking ability than I could ever have. I just think the way that he sees the game, and he can slow it down and understand how the play’s going to happen.”
Paul Stastny: “I think you say one thing, he kind of digests it and knows … He’s always asking, ‘Why?’ He knows we do things for a reason. So in that sense, for us smarter players that play with him, he’s easy to play with because you can talk to him and know he’s going to make adjustments.”
Mikheyev making a soup-er first impression
Toronto’s best kept secret no more, former KHLer Ilya Mikheyev has officially introduced himself to the NHL. The undrafted Russian signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs back in May after a months-long pursuit by GM Kyle Dubas & Co., and has so far looked right at home on NHL ice.
It took the 24-year-old rookie (he turns 25 on Thursday) all of one game to capture the hearts of Toronto hockey fans, thanks to two points and this gem of a quote heard ’round Leafs Land:
“What’s important for me, I don’t know why – I like soup. Yes. I like soup. I don’t know why you don’t eat soup,” Mikheyev said after his debut, talking about his adjustment to his new home away from home. “My girlfriend is cooking, and I’m very happy when I eat.”
Considering his success so far — three points in four games while quickly earning the trust of head coach Mike Babcock on the penalty kill — we’ll be hearing plenty more from Mikheyev.
Brannstrom’s debut almost ends in disaster
Erik Brannstrom‘s NHL dream came true when he made his debut last week with the Ottawa Senators, but it almost turned into a nightmare for the the young defenceman.
Right after stopping a last-second hat trick attempt by Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, Brannstrom’s face was cut by Matthews’ falling skate blade just below his eye. Thankfully, the Swedish rearguard was bloodied but OK — a few stitches, and luckily no further damage. Tough kid indeed.
Olofsson is our early rookie scoring leader
One week into the season and the rookie scoring race is underway. At the front of the pack is a face unfamiliar to most hockey fans… but already beloved in Buffalo: Victor Olofsson, a 2014 seventh-rounder who is perhaps the poster boy of patience.
Olofsson, 24, took his first NHL strides during a six-game stint at the end of last season, with two goals and two assists to show for it. Sixth months and one opening-night roster spot later, the Swedish winger is off to a hot start and proving the Sabres were right to be patient with his development.
— Ted Goldberg (@TedGoldbergTV) October 8, 2019
Just three games into 2019-20, Olofsson already has three goals and an assist, having struck some seriously strong first-line chemistry with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Fleury’s NHL debut is a family affair
When Canadiens rookie Cale Fleury hit the NHL ice for the first time in Montreal’s season opener, he did so with a familiar face across the rink — his big brother, Haydn.
While the Habs rookie didn’t get on the scoreboard, Sportsnet’s Eric Engels wrote about his strong debut performance in the loss.
Surely, one of many NHL matchups to come between the two.
Heinola’s historic goal is making us feel ancient
We’ll no doubt be hearing plenty from Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko as they get warmed up, but for now we’re highlighting another member of that 2019 draft class, who’s making us feel incredibly old right now.
Winnipeg Jets defenceman and pick No. 20 of June’s draft, Ville Heinola, scored his first career NHL goal Tuesday night in a big win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. His strong early-season play couldn’t come at a better time for the Jets, whose blue line has seen better days.
He’s the youngest Jet to score a goal in a Jets sweater, the first of his draft class to register a goal, and the first NHLer born in 2001 with an NHL goal to his name.
Feel old yet?