Rookies are always difficult to assess in fantasy drafts. You never want to spend too high of a pick on a rookie that might not do well and get sent down to the minors, but you also don’t want to miss out on potential superstars by waiting too long.
Just a few years ago, Elias Pettersson wasn’t even getting drafted as a rookie—and is now a consensus top player in the NHL. On the contrary, Casey Mittelstadt was projectd by Yahoo! to score over 70 points in his second season in the NHL—and didn’t even come close.
It’s a tough balance to strike, but in this early season, there are several rookies that need to be on your radar, and in some cases added right away.
Lucas Raymond – LW/RW – Detroit Red Wings – 48% Rostered
Of course, the first player on this list is Red Wings winger Lucas Raymond. A fourth overall pick in 2020, he’s bust onto the scene with eight points in seven games for the Wings. He registered a hat-trick in his second career game, and is truly exciting to watch on the ice. the Red Wings haven’t had all that much to brag about the past few years, but Raymond is definitely something impressive.
He’s 48% rostered in Yahoo! leagues which means he’s likely already owned in any deeper leagues, but on the off chance he isn’t, don’t sleep on Raymond. He’s currently on Detroit’s top line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, and playing the coveted point position on the first power play unit.
He’s leapfrogged Filip Zadina on the depth chart and will continue to rise in fantasy rankings as the season goes on. He’s legit.
Anton Lundell – C – Florida Panthers – 14% Rostered
Anton Lundell is the second player from the 2020 NHL draft class on this list. He was taken 12th overall by the Florida Panthers, just eight spots after Raymond was taken by the Wings. It’s a shame Lundell got hurt because he started the season on a very high note. With five points in five games, and excellent peripheral coverage in shots, hits, and blocks, Lundell definitely had the stats to be fantasy relevant. What makes his start even more impressive is how he’s being deployed by the Panthers.
On a stacked Panthers team, Lundell was given power play time, and actually cashed in with a power play assist. At 5v5, he actually got hammered with defensive zone starts, currently sitting at just over 17% OZS on the year. It’s extremely impressive that he’s put up these numbers with that deployment, and it’s a testament to how good he is that he can play a primarily defensive role at the NHL level.
His ability to translate defense into offense will help the Panthers and your fantasy team for years to come.
Jonathan Dahlen – C/LW – San Jose Sharks – 11% Rostered
The San Jose Sharks are not going quietly into the night. With the Evander Kane situation still hovering over the organization, and with their core aging at what feels like a rapid pace, it’s a true surprise to see the Sharks keeping pace in the Pacific Division. Leading the charge is a dynamite top line led by captain Logan Couture, youngster Timo Meier, and rookie Jonathan Dahlen.
Dahlen was a highly touted prospect originally drafted in the second round of the 2016 NHL draft by the Ottawa Senators, and has finally broken onto the scene. He absolutely torched the Allsvenskan in Sweden, and put up a very solid 14 goals and 29 points as a rookie in the AHL back in 2018–19. He’s doing very well at 55.4% CF this season, and is averaging 14:25 in ice time so far.
If the Sharks can keep scoring the way they have, Dahlen will quickly become one of the most valuable rookies in fantasy. As a bit of an older rookie, he knows what it takes to be a consistent player at a high level and shouldn’t be as prone to the big ups and downs other rookies often face.
Moritz Seider – D – Detroit Red Wings – 38% Rostered
If you don’t know about Moritz Seider yet, your league isn’t deep enough. Seider might just be the best rookie in the NHL right now, very impressive with the likes of Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, and the rest of the players on this list also in the league.
Seider has exploded onto the scene this season and has been the Red Wings’ most important player to open the year, ascending to the top defense pairing and top power play unit. There really isn’t much that needs to be said about Seider. He’s going to be a stalwart on the Wings’ blueline for many, many years, and will be ultra-reliable in fantasy. It is criminal that Seider is only 38% rostered in Yahoo leagues. Go add him.
Filip Gustavsson – G – Ottawa Senators – 5% Rostered
If goalies are voodoo, I don’t even want to know what rookie goalies are. This season has featured several impressive rookie netminders already. Spencer Knight has been incredible in the Panthers’ net, Alex Nedeljkovic is the starter in Detroit, and Karel Vejmelka has carried the load for the Arizona Coyotes. Knight and Nedjelkovic are owned in most leagues, and you really shouldn’t turn to Coyotes’ goalies if you can help it. A more attractive option is Filip Gustavsson, who has started in two straight games for the Ottawa Senators.
Gustavsson had a very good run with the Senators last season winning nine games, and putting up a 2.16 GAA and sparkling .933 SV%. It’s a risky play, but Gustavsson has the skill to steal a game or two. That’s the type of streaming option you should have in your back pocket just in case.
Daniel Vladar – G – Calgary Flames – 2% Rostered
Acquired by the Flames from the Boston Bruins in the offseason, Daniel Vladar put together a very solid preseason for the Flames, and has opened the season 2–0–0. The Flames are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and while Jacob Markstrom will get the lion’s share of the load this season, Vladar will get the chance to play more games than people may have expected.
At just 25 years old, Vladar is an up-and-coming goalie and has done extremely well in his years leading up to the NHL. He was the odd man out in a crowded Bruins crease, and is finally getting a chance to show what he can do at the NHL level. He’s playing behind a defensive system run by Darryl Sutter which will help limit the grade-A chances he has to face. Vladar won’t play all that often, but if you’re really in need of a goalie start, he’s an excellent option for a daily stream. The Flames have 14 back-to-backs this season so expect to see Vladar start around 20-25 games.
Start them early
Whether these early season starts will earn any of these players the Calder Trophy by season’s end is yet to be known, but it’s clear that some of the NHL’s youngest players are making their mark on their teams and are also doing so in the realm of fantasy hockey. Keep your eyes on them for now and for the rest of the season to make your strategic moves count.