6. (6) Max Domi, LW, Arizona Coyotes
Drafted in the first round (12th overall) in 2013
Max Domi, like McDavid and Eichel, is putting up big numbers as a rookie despite the fact that his team is likely to miss the playoffs. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Arizona Coyotes have been carried by the likes of Domi, fellow 20-year-old Anthony Duclair and rookie Jordan Martinook.
While Arizona will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season since reaching the Western Conference finals in 2012-13, the progress made by the youngsters has been encouraging. Domi is the leader in that group.
Short but thickly-built and combative in small areas, Domi is the Coyotes’ second-leading scorer behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. In 68 games, he has scored 17 goals with 27 assists, has an even plus/minus with 54 penalty minutes, and is averaging 16:11 minutes of ice time.
In 14 games in February, Domi scored four goals with six assists and had a +3 rating.
7. (7) Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues
Drafted in the third round (86th overall) in 2012
Colton Parayko continues to provide a solid two-way presence as a part of one of the NHL’s top defensive groups. With the Blues’ depth, he is not called on to do all the things that Gostisbehere does with the Flyers, but instead is a presence at both ends of the ice while using his size to his advantage.
A third-round pick in 2012 who was expected to need time in the AHL after signing out of Alaska-Anchorage following his junior season, Parayko made the Blues out of training camp and has not looked back.
In 68 regular season games, Parayko has scored seven goals with 21 assists and is +20 with 22 penalty minutes. Battling Dallas and Chicago for the top spot in the Central Division after finishing first a year ago, St. Louis is intent on making amends for last year’s first round playoff exit.
With a much deeper blue line this year, they should be a formidable team in the playoffs.
Parayko scored one goal with seven assists and was +2 in 13 games in February.
8. (NR) Sam Reinhart, C/W, Buffalo Sabres
Drafted in the first round (2nd overall) in 2014
The second player taken in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sam Reinhart was returned to the WHL in 2014-15 and has been in Eichel’s shadow in terms of attention. His steady offensive production and chemistry with Eichel have started to gain notice, however.
Tied with Evander Kane for second on the Sabres with 19 goals, Reinhart also has 15 assists in 67 games and is a strong, two-way player who can play center or wing. A key player for the Canada U20 team that won a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, he does not have the offensive flair of some of the other rookies but he plays a complete game.
A dominant scorer in junior hockey, Reinhart had 36 goals and 105 points for Kootenay in 2013-14 and had 65 points in 47 games for the Ice last season. He may not score at the same pace at the NHL level but Reinhart’s well-rounded game is expected to play a big part in the Sabres’ turnaround.
In 13 games in February, Reinhart scored six goals with two assists and had a -2 rating.
9. (4) Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall) in 2012
With a healthy Ondrej Pavelec back in the lineup for the Winnipeg Jets, Connor Hellebuyck was re-assigned to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose on February 12th. But his play with Winnipeg while the veteran was out impressed our staff. A bit of an unknown when he was drafted out of the North American Hockey League by Winnipeg in 2012, Hellebuyck has come a long way in four years and could have a bright future.
After two outstanding seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Hellebuyck had six shutouts for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps in 2014-15 and then was 7-1 for the USA at the 2015 IIHF World Championship tournament, so expectations were raised.
With Pavalec out with an injury, Hellebuyck seized the starter’s role for the Jets after being recalled in late November. In 26 NHL games he was 13-11-1 with two shutouts and had a 2.34 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
After last year’s late run to make the playoffs, the Jets are in last place in the Central Division and 11 points out of the final playoff spot. Like the Jets, the Moose are in last place in their division in the AHL’s Central Division and will miss the playoffs in their first season as a Jets’ affiliate.
Things have not gone as well for Hellebuyck after returning to the AHL, as he was 1-6 in his last seven games following three straight wins when he first returned to the Moose.
His play with the Jets opened eyes, however, so the Winnipeg staff will have some interesting decisions to make in camp next season.
10. (NR) Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Drafted in the first round (ninth overall) in 2014
Nikolaj Ehlers continues to defy critics who felt the 19-year-old from Denmark was too light and not strong enough to compete at the NHL level. A fast skater with off-the-chart offensive technical skills and rare mobility, Ehlers has been an effective playmaker.
The Jets, after last year’s late run, were expected to take the next step this season, but instead it was the Dallas Stars making a big jump. Like Arizona and Buffalo, however, the Jets have a young lineup, with twelve players who were 22-years-old or younger when the season started. That group should only improve as they gain experience and mature physically.
Ehlers is a key leader for Winnipeg who posseses an exciting style of a play and a skill set that is fun to watch. In his first 63 games he has scored 13 goals with 18 assists and is -1 while averaging 15:31 minutes of ice time. After a breakout month in January, he cooled a bit in February, scoring one goal with seven assists while posting an even plus/minus rating in 12 games.
Others receiving votes (in order): John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks; Sam Bennett, C/W, Calgary Flames; Ben Hutton, D, Vancouver Canucks: Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes; Mattias Janmark, C, Dallas Stars; Anthony Duclair, LW, Arizona Coyotes; Joonas Donskoi, RW, San Jose Sharks; Robby Fabbri, C, St. Louis Blues.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way