Youth continues to be served in the NHL, as almost every team has a first-year player making an impact. For this week’s ESPN NHL Power Rankings — voted on as always by ESPN’s panel of experts — we take a look at some of its best freshmen (or, in some cases, middle schoolers waiting to get the call-up to the big school) of the 2018-19 season thus far.
Previous ranking: 1
Eeli Tolvanen. There was a time when this talented Finnish winger was being chatted up as a potential Calder Trophy contender, before being demoted to the AHL in the preseason. So far, he has eight points in 14 games with Milwaukee, with four of his seven assists coming on the power play.
Previous ranking: 2
Anthony Cirelli. The Lightning forward has four points in 15 games, skating 13:50 per night, with a minus-4 goal differential at 5-on-5.
Previous ranking: 5
Igor Ozhiganov. The 25-year-old KHL import doesn’t have a point in 12 games while skating 13:50 per night. As Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star wrote: “He hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy — no big goals, or memorable passes. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, and that in itself is often praise-worthy of a defenseman.” So, congrats on not being noteworthy, Igor.
Previous ranking: 3
Vladislav Kamenev. Acquired from the Predators as part of the Matt Duchene trade, Kamenev had his arm broken by defenseman Brooks Orpik last season, limiting him to just three games. He’s played nine games this season with a goal and an assist, skating just 9:05 per game as a fourth-line center.
Previous ranking: 6
Antti Suomela. The 24-year-old Finnish center has two goals and three assists in 14 games. His 1.91 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is third best on the Sharks this season.
Previous ranking: 7
Ryan Donato. One of the most surprising demotions of the season thus far. Donato had one goal in 11 games and was sent down to AHL Providence to work on his offensive game. That’s after his incredible nine points in 12 games debut for the Bruins in 2017-18.
Previous ranking: 8
Brendan Lemieux. The most notable accomplishment for the spawn of Claude Lemieux this season has been a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Vincent Trocheck. Otherwise, he’s averaged 5:32 per game and is a minus-17 in shot attempts at 5-on-5.
Previous ranking: 10
Travis Boyd. The depth forward, 25, was injured in the preseason and returned on Nov. 5 with two assists against the Oilers.
Previous ranking: 4
Juuso Riikola. Injuries on defense for the Penguins gave the 24-year-old Finn some early-season chances. He’s been a bit overwhelmed, to the tune of minus-39 in shot attempts, worst among Pittsburgh defensemen. Yes, including Jack Johnson.
Previous ranking: 9
Jordan Greenway. The promising winger was sent down to the AHL after a rough start, playing a couple of games for Iowa. He returned with a rediscovered confidence, and has a goal and two assists in his last four games.
Previous ranking: 15
Juuso Valimaki. Another Finn! Valimaki, a first-rounder for the Flames in 2017, is skating 14:46 per game. He’s on the plus side of possession but has a minus-5 in goal differential.
Previous ranking: 24
Elias Pettersson. The Canucks star rookie became the first player to record 16-plus points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat. You heard it here first: Elias Pettersson, the new Nikolai Borschevsky.
Previous ranking: 16
Josh Ho-Sang. As usual, interesting things are happening around Josh Ho-Sang. He was on fire for the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, including a 12 points in 12 games run. At the same time, he had to apologize for comments he gave to the New York Post about his lack of premium ice time.
Previous ranking: 14
Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He’s 18 years old, the No. 3 overall pick in June, and has seven points in his first 15 NHL games for the resurgent Habs.
Previous ranking: 17
Calvin Thurkauf. He’s missed a bit with an undisclosed injury, but the former Swiss world junior team captain had 24 points in 75 games with Cleveland last season. He’s got some upside, and the Jackets will have an eye on the AHL to see what the winger does in his second pro season.
Previous ranking: 19
Miro Heiskanen. He’s 19 years old and the third overall pick in 2017, and he’s leading all NHL rookies with 22:08 average ice time per game. Oh, and he has six points in 15 games. So far, so good for the coveted rookie.
Previous ranking: 11
Henri Jokiharju. Oh hey look, another talented young Finn. The 19-year-old Jokiharju is second to Heiskanen in ice time among rookies at 21:34. He also has eight points in 15 games.
Previous ranking: 22
Previous ranking: 20
Nick Merkley. A knee injury truncated his season in 2017-18 in the AHL, and he’s still recovering from surgery. A dynamic playmaking center, he had 39 points in 38 games last season with the Tucson Roadrunners.
Previous ranking: 21
Rasmus Dahlin. So, how’s the first overall pick faring? He has five points in 15 games, averaging 18:11 per night with a plus-27 in shot differential. As good as advertised, and he’s just getting started.
Previous ranking: 12
Andrei Svechnikov. The 18-year-old No. 2 overall pick from June is doing fine, even though he has just three goals and two assists in 15 games. He’s a plus-99 in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 and is averaging 1.88 points per 60 minutes.
Previous ranking: 18
Kiefer Sherwood. The Ducks have had upwards of nine rookies make appearances this season, including this Columbus native, who has six points in 15 games.
Previous ranking: 25
Previous ranking: 29
Filip Chytil. One of the team’s building blocks for the future, Chytil has three assists in 15 games this season playing a depth role for coach David Quinn.
Previous ranking: 13
Jean-Sebastien Dea. In 13 games, the 24-year-old rookie has three goals and two assists. But that’s deceiving: Dea had three straight games with a goal in mid-October and a two-assist game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 5. Other than that, nada.
Previous ranking: 23
Tomas Hyka. The Czech winger has one assist in 10 games, having seen time on a few different lines. The speedy 25-year-old has played professionally in Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Previous ranking: 26
Robert Thomas. Whether he’s in the NHL or somewhere else not burning a contract year, Thomas has shown flashes of the offensive flourish the Blues believe he can add to the roster. He had four assists in his first nine NHL games.
Previous ranking: 27
Colin White. With five goals and four assists in 15 games, for a points per 60 minutes of 2.04. Best of all, it appears he favors Lyft as his ride-share service of choice.
Previous ranking: 28
Henrik Borgstrom. A surprise cut in the preseason, he’s answering the challenge for AHL Springfield, with 11 points in nine games.
Previous ranking: 30
Austin Wagner. A 21-year-old from Calgary who was recently shipped to the minors after playing a depth forward role and being one of the few Kings under the age of 25.
Previous ranking: 31
Dennis Cholowski. The defenseman has been stellar for the Wings, posting eight points in 13 games and skating 20:41 per game.