This season has brought the NHL some outstanding rookies. Notables include 1st overall pick Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Travis Konecny, and Zach Werenski. Each of these players started their hockey careers in different parts of the world but have all made it to their ultimate destination: the NHL. I will be looking at how some of these rookies started their hockey careers and where they have been along the way.
This Arizona-native was picked first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft. His amateur career started when he decided to play on the US National Development Team, which is a program specializing in training U18 & U17 players. Matthews trained with the team for two seasons, scoring an outstanding 116 points in 60 games while he was on the U18 team.
Instead of continuing to play with USA hockey, Matthews decided to take his skills to Europe to play in the Swiss National League with the ZSC Lions on a one-year contract. He tallied 46 points in 36 games and won the NLA Rising Star Award. In 2016 Auston became eligible for the NHL draft and ever since then, he has lived up to expectations and has become a rookie sensation.
Laine began his professional hockey career at only 16 years-old in the Finnish Liiga. He made his debut on Tampereen Tappara in the 2014-15 season, playing six games and recorded 1 point due to being on loan to the second-division Mestis league in Finland for 36 games.
The next season, Laine returned to Tappara for a full season, playing 46 games and recording 33 points. His team won the Liiga Championship in six games, defeating HIFK. He participated in the 2016 WJC in his native country of Finland and went home with gold. Laine made a name for himself at the end of his season with Tappara and challenged Auston Matthews to be the first overall pick in the NHL draft. He was picked second overall by the Winnipeg Jets and is tied with Auston Matthews with 37 points, leading all other rookies.
The London, Ontario native started his junior career as the first overall draft pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, going to the Ottawa 67’s. He totaled 70 points in 63 games in his first season on the 67’s. The following season, Konecny was named the 67’s team captain and finished with 68 points in 60 games.
That summer, he was drafted 24th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. Konecny did not make the team out of training camp and was sent back to the 67’s, playing for half the season before he was then traded to the Sarnia Sting. Combined, he totaled 101 points with both teams. The 2016-17 season is Konecny’s first in the NHL and is putting up decent numbers for a rookie with 21 points in 45 games.
Son of Keith, Matthew was born in Scottsdale, Arizona while his dad played on the Phoenix Coyotes. Because of his father being traded, he grew up in St. Louis. Like Auston Matthews, Tkachuk played on the US National Development Team until 2015, putting up 96 points in 65 games on the U18 team. Instead of committing to a NCAA team for college hockey, Tkachuk signed with the London Knights of the OHL, who picked him in the 2013 Priority Selection Draft. His 107 point season was helped by fellow 2016 NHL rookies Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak. Matthew made this year’s Calgary Flames roster, and he currently has 27 points in 42 games.
Zach Werenski’s path to the NHL is a little different than the players previously mentioned. He started on the US National Development team in 2013 on the U17 team, finishing second overall in defenseman-scoring on his team with 31 points in 47 games. Werenski made the decision to play for Michigan in the NCAA rather than sign with the London Knights, who drafted him in 2013. Werenski played two seasons at Michigan, starting in 2014. As a freshman, he totaled 25 points in 35 games and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. He was a point per game player in his following season with 36 points.
Werenski was drafted 8th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. After his season with Michigan, he played for the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. The Monsters would go on to win the Calder Cup. Werenski started the 2016 season on the Blue Jackets and has been the most notable blue liner this season. He was named November’s Rookie of the Month and is 6th overall in rookie scoring with 26 points.
This Russian-born defenseman was both an offensive and defensive powerhouse in the WHL after being drafted 30th overall by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL Draft. In his first season, Provorov recorded 61 points in 60 games and led the league in assists.
Drafted by the Flyers in the 7th spot in the 2015 NHL Draft, Provorov was sent back to the WHL after Flyers training camp to dominate once again. In that season, he led all defensemen with 73 points in 62 games and led the league in plus/minus with a +64. He seems NHL capable with 3 goals and 17 assists in 46 games and is sure to be a thorn in the side of opposing teams’ forwards.
Andrew Ostrosky is the “Global Puck” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @HockeyGuyfromSL.