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NHL at the quarter mark: Rookies making an instant impact

It's too early to project the career paths of the NHL's top rookies, but it's clear who is already making a difference at the game's highest level.

Early in the NHL season, one of the most fascinating things to watch is the new players entering the league.

While it's difficult to make an instant impact at the game's highest level, there are always a number of young — or not so young — guns who break through and make their presence felt. Some of those players are the highly-touted prospects we expect to become stars, while others are surprises who exceed all reasonable expectations.

Connor Bedard has heated up in recent weeks. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Connor Bedard is an instant star. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

At the approximate quarter mark of the NHL season, we thought it would be a good time to check in on the current rookie class and see which new faces are making a difference already.

Forwards

Connor Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks

Connor Bedard headshot
Connor Bedard
C - CHI - #98
2023 - 2024 season
68
GP
22
G
39
A
-44
+/-
206
S

Bedard entered the season with lofty expectations, and he's delivered on them. Playing on a team with virtually no scoring talent around him, he's been an offensive engine, tying for the league lead in 5-on-5 goals with nine while filling up an impressive highlight reel.

There's still plenty more Bedard has to learn about this level, but he's already one of the most dangerous players in the league and the only places he can legally drink in North America are Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta.

Bedard's production could reach a new level if the Blackhawks are able to find any kind of power-play success. Chicago has scored on just 9.2% of its opportunities and the Calder Trophy favorite has only two points with the man advantage.

Adam Fantilli, Columbus Blue Jackets

Adam Fantilli headshot
Adam Fantilli
C - CBJ - #19
2023 - 2024 season
49
GP
12
G
15
A
-21
+/-
115
S

Fantilli's overall numbers don't stand out much, as he hits the quarter mark in the midst of a slump with one point in his last eight games. That said, the big center has generally looked promising in his first taste of the NHL, which is impressive considering his dysfunctional surroundings in Columbus.

The 19-year-old still has plenty to learn. Like many young centers, he's encountered struggles in the faceoff dot (39.6%) and he's not a Selke Trophy candidate just yet, but stepping in as the focal point of a second line is impressive at his age.

Fantilli should also get more shooting luck in the months ahead, as his four goals are below his expected total (6.74), which ranks second on the Blue Jackets.

Logan Cooley, Arizona Coyotes

Logan Cooley headshot
Logan Cooley
C - ARI - #92
2023 - 2024 season
82
GP
20
G
24
A
-13
+/-
151
S

Cooley entered 2023-24 with plenty of hype, coming off an unbelievable season at the University of Minnesota and scoring an outrageous goal in Melbourne during the preseason.

He's looked like a skilled playmaker from the moment he arrived in the NHL, although the Coyotes would undoubtedly like to see him light the lamp a little more.

That will come, but even with just two goals to his name, Cooley has helped Arizona produce a respectable 10-9-2 record thanks to his playmaking — particularly on the power play, where he's done most of his damage.

Cooley was recently elevated to the Coyotes' top line alongside Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, meaning his production might be on the verge of a significant upward trend.

Matthew Poitras, Boston Bruins

Matthew Poitras headshot
Matthew Poitras
IR
C - BOS - #51
2023 - 2024 season
33
GP
5
G
10
A
4
+/-
40
S

Poitras doesn't have overwhelming offensive totals, but he's filling an important 3C role on a stellar Bruins teams.

The 19-year-old doesn't have elite size or speed, but he thinks the game extremely well for a player with limited NHL experience. It's unusual to see a second-round pick make a meaningful contribution to winning so early in his career, but Poitras is undoubtedly doing just that.

While there's probably a debate to be had about his ultimate offensive potential, Poitras deserves plenty of credit for how he's performed so far.

Matthew Knies, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthew Knies headshot
Matthew Knies
LW - TOR - #23
2023 - 2024 season
80
GP
15
G
20
A
9
+/-
115
S

Knies has relatively modest numbers, but that could change in the weeks to come considering he's currently playing on a line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

The big winger is a strong forechecker who helps extend offensive-zone possessions, but he could probably do a better job of getting his shot off — even while playing alongside two other prolific shooters.

Michael Bunting generated excellent numbers working on the Maple Leafs' first line in recent seasons, and Knies could easily do the same.

Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild

Marco Rossi headshot
Marco Rossi
C - MIN - #23
2023 - 2024 season
82
GP
21
G
19
A
-4
+/-
167
S

Rossi didn't make much of an impact in a 19-game cameo with Minnesota in 2022-23 with just one point, but the Austrian is finding his way at the NHL level this season.

The 22-year-old has found himself on a line between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, which should position him to produce at an impressive clip. Since the beginning of November, he's been skating 17:17 per night and has seven points in 11 games.

All of his points have come at even strength thus far, which means there's room for growth if he's able to earn some more power-play time in the weeks to come.

Defensemen

Brock Faber, Minnesota Wild

Brock Faber headshot
Brock Faber
D - MIN - #7
2023 - 2024 season
82
GP
8
G
39
A
-1
+/-
136
S

Faber is unlike any other defender on this list because Minnesota has thrown him into the deep end from a defensive standpoint.

The 21-year-old skates 23:14 per night on the Wild's top pair and top penalty-killing unit, while starting more than half of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone (51.9%).

Minnesota has to be encouraged by what it's seen from Faber, who hasn't looked out of place in his massive role.

It will be interesting to see what kind of offensive ceiling the Maple Grove, Minn., native ends up having, but even if he remains exactly who he's been so far for the rest of his career, the Wild have a keeper.

Pavel Mintyukov, Anaheim Ducks

Pavel Mintyukov headshot
Pavel Mintyukov
D - ANA - #34
2023 - 2024 season
63
GP
4
G
24
A
-20
+/-
88
S

While Mintyukov was a high draft pick (10th overall), he came into 2023-24 with less hype than some of the other players on this list.

Mintyukov plays on Anaheim's top power-play unit and its second pair, and starts most of his shifts in the offensive zone.

His offensive contributions are what stand out, as only two rookies have accumulated more points than the Russian. That could change over time, though, as he came into the 2022 NHL Draft earning plaudits for his two-way game.

Luke Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Luke Hughes headshot
Luke Hughes
D - NJ - #43
2023 - 2024 season
82
GP
9
G
38
A
-25
+/-
135
S

Hughes hasn't been an instant star, but he's played a significant role on New Jersey's NHL-best power play (36.8%) while working on the team's third pair.

The rookie blueliner is playing relatively sheltered minutes, but he seems to be driving play effectively. The Devils have an expected goal share of 57.70% in his 310:13 of 5-on-5 ice time, which is better than their season average of 55.10%.

Some fans may have expected more scoring fireworks considering how the rookie made his first goal count last season, but that should come with time.

Kevin Korchinski, Chicago Blackhawks

Kevin Korchinski headshot
Kevin Korchinski
D - CHI - #55
2023 - 2024 season
76
GP
5
G
10
A
-39
+/-
93
S

After posting a 73-point season in the WHL in 2022-23, Korchinski is finding it trickier to be an offensive dynamo at the NHL level, but he's demonstrating impressive potential while taking on a solid workload (19:19).

The 19-year-old's rookie campaign is about learning, and skating on the Blackhawks' second pair while quarterbacking the team's power play is giving him plenty of valuable experience. If Chicago can find its footing with the man advantage, Korchinski's offensive output could skyrocket.

The Canadian blueliner has had his lapses, but he can't be accused of not skating hard. According to NHL edge, he leads all defensemen in miles travelled per 60 minutes (9.65).

Goaltenders

Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs

Joseph Woll headshot
Joseph Woll
G - TOR - #60
2023 - 2024 season
12-11-1
Rec
0
SO
2.94
GAA
700
SV
.907
SV%

Playing goalie in Toronto is often a thankless task. The scrutiny is intense on a game-to-game basis in a way that doesn't mesh well with the natural volatility of goaltending.

That said, Woll has been solid after posting some excellent numbers in a limited showing last season. The 25-year-old out of Boston College has vastly outperformed Toronto's other netminder, Ilya Samsonov, and the team is incentivized to give him a chance to earn more and more work as the season goes on to see if he can be a remarkably cheap starter in 2024-25 with a $775,000 cap hit.

The Maple Leafs have not played strong defensive hockey this season and have a blue line that's been hit hard by injuries. The team asks a lot of its goaltenders, and Woll has delivered more often than not.

Joel Hofer, St. Louis Blues

Joel Hofer headshot
Joel Hofer
G - STL - #30
2023 - 2024 season
15-12-1
Rec
1
SO
2.65
GAA
758
SV
.913
SV%

Hofer hasn't stolen the crease from Jordan Binnington — who is in the midst of a stellar season — but he has provided approximately league-average goaltending behind him.

That doesn't sound particularly exciting, but it's excellent in the context of this underwhelming rookie crop. Of the seven rookie netminders who've appeared in at least six games this season, Hofer's save percentage ranks behind only Woll's.

Standing at 6-foot-5, Hofer has the kind of size NHL teams prize, and he's coming off a solid 2022-23 campaign with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL (.921 SV%).

The Blues are in the Binnington business for the foreseeable future, but Hofer looks like a floor-raiser who could help keep St. Louis in the playoff hunt.