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Welcome back to my bi-weekly Prospect Ramblings! This week we will be taking a look at some of the debuts around the NHL for the first couple days of the season. The NHL season began on Wednesday and there were plenty of rookies making their debuts around the league. From defensemen showing poise in the face of danger to smiles from forwards scoring their first NHL goals, the NHL season has started hot with rookies and prospects making a big impact. Rookies can make-or-break your fantasy teams and these guys have gotten off on the right foot!
Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
One of the early season Calder favourites, Kaapo Kakko made his debut on Thursday night. He didn’t score or have any points in his first NHL game but he was effective and made some good plays. He had the puck on his stick in the offensive zone for 36 seconds which may not seem like much but it was second-highest among all New York Rangers forwards. He generated scoring chances and his transition play was good as well.
Kaapo Kakko’s debut came with much fanfare and aside from not scoring, he lived up to the hype. He stepped into an NHL lineup and more than fit in. He was engaged and showed off his speed and strength on a regular basis. He was creating offensively and played a solid 200-foot game. Kakko showed exactly what made him a top prospect and he didn’t even have one of his strongest games.
Rasmus Sandin, LHD, Toronto Maple Leafs
The surprise addition to the Maple Leafs blueline looked like a ten-year veteran in his limited playing time. Due to a constant flow of power plays, Rasmus Sandin was forced to sit on the bench for well over the first ten minutes of the first period after being pumped up from the pregame ceremony with player introductions and the team naming a John Tavares captain. The extended break wasn’t an issue for Sandin. He looked poised, collected and efficient. He was able to play his game, playing in control and making smart plays on every shift. Watch below as Sandin shows just how relaxed he was in his NHL debut.
The young Swede also had his first point (below), a secondary assist on a shot from the point where Sandin picked up a loose puck at the top of the circle and then firing a low shot to create a rebound which was directed back in front for Trevor Moore to score a goal. He was consistently active in the offensive zone, making good plays every time he touched the puck. Whether it was a good pinch or a pass in transition, Sandin looks like a veteran in just his first NHL game. Sandin looks like a solid two-way defenseman who will play the full year on Toronto’s backend if he keeps playing at a high-level and continues to display the hockey sense that has made him one of the most intriguing prospects in the league.
Cody Glass, C, Vegas Golden Knights
There’s nothing better than the smile a player has after scoring his first NHL goal. Cody Glass may have had one of the all-time “first goal smiles”. On Wednesday, Cody Glass made his NHL devut as the first Vegas Golden Knights draft pick to play for the team. He is centering the second line, which is really just a 1B, between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty and the chemistry that the three have shown has been a sight to behold.
You can see Glass’ reaction to his goal above, but it was the overall play between the three gifted players that could be a difference-maker for the Golden Knights. If that line gets going, Glass should be a must-have in fantasy and his pre-season projections could be blown out of the water. It is just a one-game sample but if the lines play in the preseason and their first regular season game indicates anything, its that the Vegas Golden Knights will just keep getting better.
Ville Heinola, LHD, Winnipeg Jets
One of the surprises of the NHL preseason, Ville Heinola made the Jets roster just months after being draft 20th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. He is a smart, safe two-way defender whop skates well and makes good decisions with the puck. He is the epitome of a player who isn’t great at anything, but he’s good at almost everything. In his NHL debut, he had a 55.81 CF% and a 1.58 xGF, second among all Jets defenders.
Heinola was arguably the Jets best overall defenseman on Thursday night. He was good at both ends of the ice and was able to make good first passes in transition. Heinola looked poised and confident in a game where the Jets probably should have won if not for sub-par goaltending.
Thank you for joining me for another edition of prospect ramblings. The NHL is yet again being infused with high-end youth. The league is leaning more towards young, skilled and high-pace players. These rookies, among many others still to make their debuts this season, are going to continue making the league more entertaining. Let me know who stood out to you in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter @TheTonyFerrari. Until next time, enjoy the start of the NHL season!