Every year new groups of young players make their way into NHL lineups whether it be through sheer skill and making their respective teams out of training camp or by being called up after developing their game in the minors. Excluding Rasmus Dahlin, lets examine three rookies who could have breakout seasons in the upcoming 2019 season.
Casey Mittelstadt has been on the radar of many Buffalo Sabres fans since he was drafted 8th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. Mittelstadt spent the majority of this past season as a freshman at the University of Minnesota where he dominated finishing second on the team in scoring tallying 11 goals and 30 points in 34 games. After finishing up his first year of collegiate hockey Mittselstadt signed his three year entry level contract with the Buffalo Sabres on March 26th, 2018 and appeared in 6 games for the Sabres scoring 1 goal and 5 points. On top of his promising stint with the Sabres, Mittelstadt excelled on the international stage as well leading Team USA to a bronze meal along with capturing the tournament’s MVP honors with 4 goals and 11 points in 7 games.
With the departure of Ryan O’Reilly there’s no reason why Mittelstadt shouldn’t be able to come in and earn himself a permanent spot in the Sabres’ top six. At just 19 years old Mittelstadt could do some real damage and be a nice addition to Buffalo’s offense. If he can continue his scoring touch it wouldn’t surprise me if Mittelstadt has around 20-25 goals by the season’s end and is one of the year’s best rookies.
While Mittelstadt was turning heads at the collegiate level, Elias Pettersson was turning heads overseas in Sweden. After being selected 5th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2017 NHL Draft, Pettersson played the entirety of the 2017-18 season with the Vaxjo HC in the Swedish Hockey League, the highest division in the Swedish ice hockey system. To call Pettersson’s season sensational is an understatement. Not only did Pettersson lead Vaxjo to their second championship in franchise history, but he won a trio of awards including SHL rookie of the year, best forward and league MVP. The 19 year lead his team in both goals and points tallying 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games along with adding on 10 goals and 19 points in 13 playoff games en route to winning the Le Mat Trophy. This is truly impressive because by scoring a combined 34 goals and 75 points in 57 games (regular season and playoffs combined) Pettersson officially has the all time record for most goals and points for a junior in the SHL putting him ahead of players such as Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Nicklas Backstrom.
— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) April 22, 2018
After his incredible year Pettersson signed his three year entry level contract on May 25th, 2018 and Canucks General Manager Jim Benning believes that Pettersson is ready to play in the NHL.
“I think he’s ready to play in the NHL,” Canucks GM Jim Benning told Vancouver 650’s The Playbook on Friday. “I think he understands he needs to have a good summer and work out hard and keep getting physically stronger. I expect him to come into training camp and have a good camp and challenge for a spot on the team.”
With the departure of the Sedin twins due to retirement and the lack of depth that Vancouver boasts at center, I would almost guarantee that Pettersson makes the team out of training camp and could find himself as the team’s second line center behind Bo Horvat. It’s unrealistic to assume that Pettersson will be able to immediately replicate his dominant season while playing in his first season in North America, but Pettersson has the potential to be an excellent player in the NHL and one of the league’s better rookies next year.
Filip Zadina may have been one of the most interesting stories to come out of the 2018 NHL Draft. After being ranked as one of the draft’s top prospects throughout the entire year, Montreal picked Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick due to their lack of center depth. Although that seemed like a potential move, almost no one saw the Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes skipping over Zadina and allowing him to fall 6th overall to the Detroit Red Wings. By allowing Zadina to fall into their laps Detroit may have got the best pure goal scorer out of the 2018 NHL Draft. After playing in the Czech Repulic for the 2016 and 2017 seasons Zadina made the jump to North America last season playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Zadina finished his 2018 campaign leading the Mooseheads in goals netting 44 goals and 82 points in 57 games along with adding on 5 goals and 12 points in 9 playoff games. After being drafted by the Red Wings Zadina had a personal message for the teams that chose to pass over him.
“I’m telling my agent if they will pass on me, I will fill their net with the puck,” Zadina said. “Yeah, it’s just I want to prove [to] them that they have done, like, bad decision. But I’m so glad that I am in Detroit right now, so I just want to prove to Detroit that they have got a pretty good decision.”
On July 7th, 2018 it was announced that Zadina was signed to his three year entry level contract and due to him technically being on loan to the Halifax Mooseheads, Zadina will be allowed to play for the Red Wings AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapid Griffins, if he doen’t stick with Detroit in the NHL. With how well and incredible Zadina has looked so far I believe he’s going to prove to the Red Wings why he should be in the NHL and essentially force his way into the lineup. If he can replicate his goal scoring ability that he’s put forth on both the junior and international level in the NHL, than Detroit may have the NHL’s next great sniper.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) June 28, 2018