Surprise NHL breakouts? Zach Benson, Brock Faber and top 10 under-the-radar

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Hockey fans are being treated to a ridiculously stacked NHL rookie class.

From Connor Bedard, Logan Cooley, Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson to Luke Hughes, David Jiricek, Marco Rossi and so many more — the list of stud first-year players seems endless.

With most of the buzz focused on the biggest names, there’s still plenty of exciting rookie talent slipping under the radar.

I wanted to shed light on some of those players in this piece. This story isn’t necessarily about the “best” rookies so far, although there’s some overlap.

These players instead fall into one of two categories: Under-the-radar rookies who are playing much bigger roles than expected or rookies fighting tooth and nail to stay in the NHL, especially the ones teams have to decide whether to send back to junior or not before their 10th NHL game (an 18- or 19-year-old’s ELC can slide an extra year if they appear in nine or fewer games before being sent back to junior).

The overall point is to identify rookie experiments and see how they’re turning out so far. We’re also focusing solely on skaters, so no goaltenders. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Age: 19

Draft status: No. 54 pick in 2022

Stats: 6 GP, 3G-1A-4P, 14:11 ATOI

How he’s looked: It’s rare for a 19-year-old second-round pick to immediately become an impact player but Poitras looks like the real deal through six games. He’s already scored three goals, all of them in the last two games. There have been highlight-reel plays, like blowing past Corey Perry for a breakaway goal.

But on a shift-to-shift basis, it’s his patient, high-IQ playmaking that I’ve loved most. He’s an impressive puckhandler in tight quarters and always has his head up to survey options. Poitras is cerebral and slippery — he waits for the right lanes to open up and then makes the perfect play. Here’s a dazzling rush play that sets up a high-danger chance.

Poitras’ shifty, elusive edge work paired with his intelligence (his hockey sense is his best overall trait) is a scary combination for opponents. He already knows how to manipulate NHL defenders.

In the clip below, watch how he intentionally holds the puck in a way to bait the Kings defender to close on him. As soon as L.A.’s defender gets tight, Poitras explosively spins off, creates space and sets up a high-danger scoring chance.

Boston’s schedule has been soft to start the year (it has played Chicago twice, San Jose and Anaheim already) so it’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. And there are, of course, areas of his game that look a little raw. But Poitras has moved up from third-line center to 2C and if he keeps this play up, there’s no way Boston can send him back to junior.

Age: 19

Draft status: No. 10 pick in 2022

Stats: 6 GP, 1G-2A-3P, 19:26 ATOI

How he’s looked: Mintyukov already looks like a workhorse all-around defenseman the Ducks can build around with his excellent four-way skating, long size/defensive…

Read More: Surprise NHL breakouts? Zach Benson, Brock Faber and top 10 under-the-radar 2023-10-26 19:05:27

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