Wednesday night was the day we’ve all been waiting for. The preseason felt like an eternity and the excitement had just about left our collective bodies until that magical moment hit. The fantasy lineups were set, every team was undefeated, and for a few young lads, their moment to dress in an NHL game had come.
We were not left disappointed.
10 rookies made their debut on Wednesday evening. The youngest, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, is just barely 18 years old. The eldest, Par Lindholm turns 27 on Friday. The results were varied but let’s cover the highlights.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Elias Pettersson put on a show. The wildly talented Swedish forward has made a habit of gaining attention and rave reviews the last few seasons. His preseason did nothing to slow down the hype train.
His first career NHL game against the Flames threw some more coal into the fire. Less than a period into the game, and on his first NHL shot, the 19-year-old ripped a wrister off the back bar and out in a hurry. I’m pretty sure Mike Smith is still looking for that one.
Despite playing under 10 minutes due to a dearth of Canuck power plays and a glut of Vancouver PKs, Pettersson didn’t stop with just the one highlight. He found Nikolay Goldobin in the slot on a gorgeous one-touch, cross-ice dish. His Russian winger wasn’t able to bury it, but it was a sign of things to come.
Less than two minutes into the third period and the fifth overall selection from the 2017 draft found Goldobin again. This time the former Sharks’ prospect didn’t miss.
The end result: one goal, one assist, one shot, and one excited fanbase. The Canucks won the game 5-2, but few will care or remember that. Vancouver is desperate for hope. They are bursting with hope for The Alien.
Across the ice, the Flames had two of their own Fiddler’s Green prospects suiting up. A couple of WHL alumni in Juuso Valimaki and Dillon Dube were welcomed into the fold.
Dube made the squad after a terrific camp and exhibition season. He brings speed, tenacity and some offensive upside. the 20-year-old saw nine minutes of action, had two shots on net and was on the receiving end of a thunderous hit from Erik Gudbranson. He came oh so close to hitting the scoresheet when he found himself breaking in all alone but was unable to beat Jacob Markstrom.
He skated on the third line next to Derek Ryan and James Neal. Not a terrible place to be but not one where you’d expect much production.
Dube will be a cross-category asset in fantasy leagues but lacks the high-end ability to be a true piece to target.
Meanwhile, the 19-year-old, Valimaki was also used sparingly on the team’s bottom pairing. He skated 10:19, was minus-two and had a single shot on goal.
Valimaki should be considered an Ivan Provorov-lite asset moving forward. He has a skill set that will be quite useful in multi-cat leagues and owns a solid offensive upside. Finding time on the top power-play unit will be the issue but at least he doesn’t have a Gostisbehere to deal with.
As the third overall selection in last June’s draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has already been pegged as the future top line pivot in Montreal. Few predicted that the future would begin this season. But here we are.
The NHL’s youngest player has managed to already separate himself from the rest of the so-called centres in Hab-land. And looked very strong in his debut. He played 15:05 as his Habs and Leafs went into the extra frame. The dynamic Finn found his way onto the scoresheet with a secondary power play assist in the middle period.
At 18 years and 89 days old, he’s the second youngest Canadiens’ player to ever record a point.
Here’s a real-time photo of the young man
Heading into his draft-plus one season, there’s little reason to believe that this player can’t develop into a serious fantasy asset. He’s a gifted two-way player with speed, smarts and skill. 70-plus-point upside is completely reasonable.
Anaheim sent out three rookies on opening night, two of which have a future as fantasy assets. Centre, Sam Steel played 13:07, with no shots and a minus-one. He played between Andrew Cogliano and Pontus Aberg on the third line. He saw some power play action on a kid-unit next to Troy Terry and Maxime Comtois.
Steel had the monster WHL season a couple years ago and owns high-end speed and processing skills. He may never be an elite point-producer but should be looked at as the heir to Ryan Getzlaf at this point.
Meanwhile, Comtois was something of a surprise to make the team. The 19-year-old is ineligible to head to the American league so the nine-game threshold will be one to watch for him.
He didn’t waste long making his mark though. Another first NHL shot and first NHL goal guy. In fact, it was just the first shot of the year for the Ducks as the QMJHL star buried a breakaway just 49 seconds in.
The former second-round selection from 2017 is already a load to handle. As he continues to develop, he’ll be looked at as a possible multi-cat stud. He’s already looking comfortable on the second line. He’s one to watch.
Thursday night will host a plethora of first timers as well. Some to keep an eye on include the Carolina boys – Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele. Buffalo will wheel out Rasmus Dahlin. Arizona will give Barrett Hayton a look. The Blackhawks will look to Henri Jokiharju to help solidify their backend. Brady Tkachuk gives the Sens a glimpse of the future, and Miro Heiskanen begins his bid for a Norris-trophy calibre career in Big D.
It should be fun to watch!
That’s all for now. Happy Hockey, everyone. Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson