Kirill Kaprizov highlights the 12 best rookies to watch for in fantasy hockey

Steven Psihogios
·8 min read

The crop of rookies in the NHL for the 2020-21 season haven’t had the most impactful start. Minnesota Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov has commanded much of the Calder Trophy discussion, and rightfully so. He’s tied for first in the freshman points race with a goal and five assists through his first six games. The generally slow start from first-year players isn’t something that should come as a shock, however, as it usually takes the “new guy” a little bit of time to acclimate.

With that being said, here are 12 rookies to monitor in the NHL for fantasy hockey.

1 - LW Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (79% rostered on Yahoo)

Minnesota Wild rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov is taking the NHL by storm. (Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Minnesota Wild rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov is taking the NHL by storm. (Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As mentioned above, Kaprizov is the clubhouse leader for rookie of the year. Although he has slowed down since his opening night three-point performance, he has picked up three points in the other five games. A two-time KHL goal leader and an Olympic gold medalist, Kaprizov has achieved much success before ever stepping foot on an NHL rink. On a Wild team that is desperate for offense and creativity, the 23-year-old is currently playing on the first line and top powerplay unit. He will have every opportunity to blossom into an elite forward in the NHL.

2 - G Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (89% rostered on Yahoo)

It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the netminder that posted an absurd .932 save percentage across 12 starts last year. Through four games in 2020-21, he owns a .886 mark and still hasn’t picked up a win. His impressive prospect profile — which includes dominating the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg over the past three seasons — suggests he’ll be able to bounce back, but it doesn’t help that the Rangers have a very green blueline that won’t do its goalies many favours. If Shesterkin doesn’t begin to turn his season around, he could be at risk of losing starts to Alexandar Georgiev, who is a solid goalie in his own right.

3 - D Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens (51% rostered on Yahoo)

Romanov has proven to be a category stuffer in the early going for the Canadiens. The 21-year-old spent the last two seasons playing for CSKA Moscow of the KHL and held his own in Russia’s premier hockey league. Romanov’s hot offensive start in the NHL - one goal and one assist in his first three games - was a little surprising considering he combined for just 11 points through 86 games in the KHL. He’s a solid skater and he’s demonstrated thus far that he’ll be a solid source of hits, blocks, shots on goal and plus-minus.

4 - D Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils (16% rostered on Yahoo)

Despite playing a somewhat limited role on the Devils to start this season, Smith has been very impressive through his first five games. The talented two-way blueliner has recorded six points with one point coming on the powerplay. Smith was the Devils’ first-round pick in 2018 and he posted three-straight seasons of more than a point-per-game with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He’s proven to be an elite offensive producer in junior and the 20-year-old’s game seems to be translating very well to the next level.

5 - C/LW Pius Suter, Chicago Blackhawks (5% rostered on Yahoo)

It was against the Detroit Red Wings, but Suter potted his first-career hat-trick in just his sixth career NHL game. Suter was signed by the Blackhawks this offseason after being named the MVP of Switzerland’s National League, an award Blackhawks teammate Dominik Kubalik has also won. He notched 53 points in 50 games with ZSC Lions and now finds himself playing alongside Patrick Kane on Chicago’s top line due to the absences of Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. At 24, he’s further along in his development than most rookies which makes it increasingly likely that he can make an instant impact in the NHL.

6 - C Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators (10% rostered on Yahoo)

The future of the Senators is on full display this season as Norris, Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson make up the team’s top line. Although Ottawa will likely finish right near the bottom of the North Division, Norris will see ample ice-time at even strength and on the powerplay which makes him fantasy relevant given his prospect profile. A 2018 first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, Norris showed off his offensive upside last season in the AHL, recording 31 goals and 61 points across 56 games with the Belleville (BelleVegas, baby!) Senators. He’s also thrown his body around a decent amount to start the campaign, as his 10 hits are tied for the fourth-most among freshmen.

7 - G Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild (25% rostered on Yahoo)

Kahkonen has been very good for Minnesota to begin the 2020-21 season. He received his first loss on Sunday, but he still owns a 2-1 record and a sparkling .921 save percentage. The Finnish puck stopper had a pair of solid seasons with Lukko in SM-Liiga before coming over to North America. In his second season with the Iowa Wild, Kahkonen registered a ridiculous 25-6-5 record thanks to his .927 save percentage and seven shutouts. Cam Talbot, who sustained an injury on Friday, has been good to start this season as well and it’s likely the two continue to split starts when he is healthy, but Kahkonen’s early performance has been extremely encouraging.

8 - D Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche (13% rostered on Yahoo)

It’s only been three games, but Byram’s role on the Avalanche has greatly expanded. In his first contest with the club, the rookie blueliner logged 11:19 in ice time. In his most recent game, however, the 19-year-old saw 18:32 of time on ice. Colorado has a lot of talented reaguards, so powerplay minutes won’t come easy, but there’s a lot to like about Byram. He’s a smooth skating defenseman that recorded 123 points over his past two seasons with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. He’s someone who you add now knowing there’s more to come.

9 - G Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (38% rostered on Yahoo)

Sorokin’s NHL career hasn’t started off well, as the 25-year-old has literally received zero goal support across two NHL appearances. His first NHL start was rocky, as the Russian goaltender was lit up for five goals on 32 shots. His second start was much better, however, as he only allowed two goals on 24 shots. It’s not helping his case that teammate Semyon Varlamov has been beaten just once through three games, but Sorokin’s unbelievable .930 save percentage and 44 shutouts across 244 KHL games is more than enough to keep me interested. It also helps that the Islanders are one of the strongest defensive teams in the NHL under head coach Barry Trotz.

10 - LW Nils Hoglander, Vancouver Canucks (12% rostered on Yahoo)

It’s been a rocky start for Vancouver, but I’ve actually been impressed by the play of Hoglander. He’s picked up a point in each of his last two games and his eight blocked shots are tied for the most amongst rookies. He’s currently pencilled into the Canucks’ top-six, playing alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Vancouver’s second-round pick in 2019, Hoglander played in Sweden’s premier hockey league, the SHL, recording five goals and 19 points across 23 games while loaned to Rogle BK during the club’s 2020-21 campaign. He’s a smaller forward that plays the game with a lot of energy, and that should help him as the year progresses.

11 - G Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (27% rostered on Yahoo)

Through four games, three of which have come against the Buffalo Sabres, Vanecek owns a 2-0-2 record and a decent .912 save percentage. The Czech goaltender has been thrust into the starter’s position while Ilya Samsonov misses at least four games due to the NHL’s health and safety protocols. Vanecek was Washington’s second-round pick in 2014 and posted a solid .917 save percentage with the Hershey Bears in the AHL last season. If he continues to play well while Samsonov is sidelined, there’s a chance he could earn some starts as Samsonov didn’t do much to seize the crease over his first two games.

12 - LW Tim Stutzle, Ottawa Senators (35% rostered on Yahoo)

Don’t forget Stutzle! He was recently placed on IR but he can be activated at any time. The young German star scored a beautiful goal in just his second NHL game but hasn’t played since. He’ll likely return to his spot on the team’s second line when healthy. In 2019-20, the 19-year-old recorded 34 points in 41 games with Adler Mannheim in Germany’s premier hockey league, the DEL, while following that up with an impressive 10-points over five games at the World Juniors. I left him off of the top-10 for now as he’s only played two games, but there’s a good chance he climbs up the rankings when he returns.

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