2021-22 Fantasy Preview: Top 10 Rookies

2021-22 Fantasy Preview: Top 10 Rookies

Predicting a successful rookie class is a notoriously difficult task. For example, the player who finished third in Calder Trophy voting in 2020-21 (Detroit's Alex Nedeljkovic, then of the Hurricanes) was on waivers early last year. However, that doesn't mean you should shy away from young players come draft day, as there always seems to be plenty of collective production among the league's freshmen by season's end.

All of the guys below make for high-upside fantasy stashes this coming season...

Cole Caufield (F, MTL): Any 2021-22 rookie class has to start with Caufield. The University of Wisconsin product joined the Habs late last season, posting four goals and five points in 10 games. He then dressed for Montreal's final 20 playoff contests, finishing with four goals and 12 points. Caufield isn't the fastest player in the league and certainly isn't the biggest, but you can count on one hand the amount of NHL players that shoot the puck as well as he does. Auston Matthews is the only player that immediately comes to mind. Caufield's offensive instincts are outstanding. He's seemingly always in the right position and buries most every scoring chance he gets. The 20-year-old should pot 25-30 goals this coming season. 

Trevor Zegras (F, ANA): Zegras is in a similar spot to Caufield in the sense that he should have a chance to produce right away. Caufield is a sniper, though, and Zegras is a playmaker. He can make even the most difficult passes seem routine, and

Predicting a successful rookie class is a notoriously difficult task. For example, the player who finished third in Calder Trophy voting in 2020-21 (Detroit's Alex Nedeljkovic, then of the Hurricanes) was on waivers early last year. However, that doesn't mean you should shy away from young players come draft day, as there always seems to be plenty of collective production among the league's freshmen by season's end.

All of the guys below make for high-upside fantasy stashes this coming season...

Cole Caufield (F, MTL): Any 2021-22 rookie class has to start with Caufield. The University of Wisconsin product joined the Habs late last season, posting four goals and five points in 10 games. He then dressed for Montreal's final 20 playoff contests, finishing with four goals and 12 points. Caufield isn't the fastest player in the league and certainly isn't the biggest, but you can count on one hand the amount of NHL players that shoot the puck as well as he does. Auston Matthews is the only player that immediately comes to mind. Caufield's offensive instincts are outstanding. He's seemingly always in the right position and buries most every scoring chance he gets. The 20-year-old should pot 25-30 goals this coming season. 

Trevor Zegras (F, ANA): Zegras is in a similar spot to Caufield in the sense that he should have a chance to produce right away. Caufield is a sniper, though, and Zegras is a playmaker. He can make even the most difficult passes seem routine, and I imagine the Ducks will run their power-play through him on the half-wall from the start of the season. Zegras, who was MVP of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, played 24 games for Anaheim last season, generating 10 assists, 13 points, and a plus-six rating.

Spencer Knight (G, FLA): I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Knight tops this list when all is said and done, but it's going to take a leap of faith and some luck to get there. Knight is clearly the best goaltender in the Panthers organization. He showed that late last season in a brief cameo. The issue for Knight is that Sergei Bobrovsky (or more specifically, Bobrovsky's contract, which pays him $10 million per season through the 2025-26 campaign) is still around. Bobrovsky's salary will likely create an interesting dynamic here, since I doubt Florida coach Joel Quenneville will remove him from the proceedings entirely – even if Knight deserves the No. 1 spot.

Anton Lundell (F, FLA): Lundell will turn just 20 about a week before the regular season begins, but he's played the last three years in the top men's league in his native Finland. He's also played in countless international tournaments. Lundell may not end up a true top-flight center in the NHL, but I'd be pretty surprised if he's anything less than a solid No. 2. The issue for Lundell in terms of immediate production is that he plays for a loaded Panthers team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, which could push him down the depth chart.

Alex Newhook (F, COL): Newhook is in essentially the same situation as Lundell. He, too, is ready to help the Avalanche in a significant way right now, but Colorado's forward depth will likely limit him to a depth role to start the season. Newhook is just 20 and was a healthy scratch for the Avalanche multiple times in last season's playoffs, so it remains to be seen if the team feels comfortable running him out there on a consistent basis to start the year.

Nils Lundkvist (D, NYR): The Rangers' brass keeps insisting that Lundkvist isn't a lock to make the team – let alone assume a significant role in his first season in North America. With each passing day, though, the likelihood of him not playing this year seems low. The team signed fellow Swede Patrik Nemeth in free agency with the intention of helping ease Lundkvist's transition. It was something they didn't do with Kaapo Kakko a couple seasons ago and seem determined not to make the same mistake. I expect Lundkvist to play with Nemeth on the team's third defensive pairing while also running the No. 2 power-play unit.

Shane Pinto (F, OTT): The Senators wanted Pinto signed following his sophomore season at North Dakota, so they inked him to a deal and immediately agreed to bring him to the NHL, thus burning a year off his entry-level contract. Pinto responded by racking up seven points and a plus-six rating in his first dozen NHL games. I wouldn't be surprised if Pinto flirted with the 40-point plateau if Ottawa keeps him in the NHL all season.

Vitali Kravtsov (F, NYR): Kravtsov's numbers with the Rangers were pretty ugly last season (two goals, four points in 20 games), but he played almost exclusively on the fourth line and got next to no power-play time (0:11 on average). But on many nights, he was one of the team's most noticeable players. New head coach Gerard Gallant has stated he doesn't want talented offensive players like Kravtsov playing depth roles, which is a positive for his future. He should be given every chance to win a spot on one of the top three lines in training camp and ultimately play in a scenario that sets him up for success.

Bowen Byram (D, COL): Byram is supremely talented, as is the case for a player drafted No. 4 overall, but his first NHL season was inconsistent. He missed a bunch of time with an upper-body injury and didn't play a single playoff game for Colorado despite being available for roughly the team's final 10 postseason contests. Byram is an offensive defenseman and should provide late-round fantasy value regardless of role, but his upside will be limited if his power-play time suffers with Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Samuel Girard ahead of him on the depth chart.

Vasili Podkolzin (F, VAN): Podkolzin makes for a tough evaluation. Some are convinced he's a sure-fire top-six forward, while others aren't quite as sold on his skill set and think he's better suited for a depth role. I'm interested in seeing how Podkolzin, who spent the last two years in the KHL, transitions to North American hockey. I would take a wait-and-see approach from a fantasy perspective, but I could easily see Podkolzin posting a dozen goals and a boatload of hits in his NHL debut.

JUST MISSED

Jamie Drysdale (D, ANA)

Connor McMichael (F, WSH)

Zac Jones (D, NYR)

Nick Robertson (F, TOR)

Philip Tomasino (F, NSH)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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