2020-21 NHL Season: 4 Under-the-Radar Rookies to ‘Keep An Eye On”by Dom Lunardo January 19, 2021 0 comments
When the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup high above their heads in late September, that officially ended the 2019-20 NHL Season which included a pandemic (which is still ongoing), a four-and-a-half month halt in play, and two “NHL bubbles” inside Edmonton, Alberta’s Rogers Arena, and Toronto, Ontario’s Scotiabank Arena. Die-hard hockey fans from coast to coast have been without the beautiful game for over three-and-a-half months but that all changed when the puck officially dropped on the 2020-21 campaign last week.
Although the NHL contains a laundry list of names who are in contention for the Calder Memorial Trophy this season as the league’s most outstanding rookie, there are indeed some other viable candidates who could certainly be in the running. Without further ado, here are four under-the-radar rookies to keep an eye on this season.
Josh Norris, Center, Ottawa Senators
First up is one of the crown jewels in Canada’s capital city and a (hopeful) future stud-in-the-making, Josh Norris. Selected in the first round, 19th overall in 2017 by the San Jose Sharks, Sens fans from coast to coast fans can finally get a glimpse of the talented center from Oxford, Michigan. At the tender age of 21, Norris can be described as a pass-first type of player with a complete and extensive skill set. He’s fast, big (6’2, 190 pounds), possesses good hands, and should fit in like a new glove alongside Ottawa’s talented crop of youngsters which includes Tim Stutzle, Nick Paul, Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot.
A two-time member of Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2018 and 2019, Norris has scored at every level and for every team he has played for. Last season with the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL) saw him tally 31 goals, 30 assists and 61 points (1.09 points-per-game pace) over the course of 56 games. It’s safe to say this kid is more than ready for the rigors of the National Hockey League, albeit it in a shortened 56-game schedule. Although the Senators have appeared in only two games this season, Norris finds himself anchoring the top-line and has notched two assists averaging 15:50 worth ice time thus far. Stay tuned, Senators fans.
Owen Tippett, Right-Wing, Florida Panthers
Next up, is one of the most promising young wingers in the newly formulated Central Division-Owen Tippett. Drafted in the first round, 10th overall by the Florida Panthers back in 2017, the time is now for Tippett to really show what he can do at the NHL level on a full-time basis. Born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Tippett is the prototypical high-flying winger who loves to score goals and make plays. As a player, he always knows where to be on the ice and is lethal with the puck on his stick. Not only can he finish off plays, but he’s also one of those players with a real high work-rate which should be music to the ears of Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville.
What I really admire most about Tippett in addition to his elite puck skills is his uncanny ability to “grind” away in the corners and along the boards to retrieve loose pucks. Tippett brings speed, skill, presence, and youthful exuberance to a Florida team that should be in contention for a playoff berth in 2020-21. He’s a good teammate, a fierce competitor, and should be a welcome addition to a Panthers team that includes the likes of Grigori Denisenko, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov upfront. Over the course of 56 games this season, I expect Tippet to flirt in and around the 35-point mark (15 goals, 20 assists). This kid has all the tools and confidence to be a bonafide star in the NHL. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Drake Batherson, Right-Wing, Ottawa Senators
Last, but certainly not least, is yet another promising Senators youngster-his name is Drake Batherson. Although the past few seasons have seen him bounce back and forth between the NHL and AHL, it certainly appears as though he can finally call the city of Ottawa home after securing a full-time role amongst Ottawa’s top-nine forward core. At the tender age of 22, Batherson has worked hard on his game to (hopefully) become a well-rounded, super-skilled, and trustworthy everyday player at the NHL level. He’s an excellent skater, good on special teams, and plays a high-octane style that should bode well for the up-and-coming Senators.
At 6’3, 205 pounds Batherson is also really coming into his own as a physical specimen who can score goals. He loves to get in on the forecheck, “mix it up” with the opposition, and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Not only does he possess super-slick hands, but he also brings that physical element which is music to the proverbial ears of Senators fans from coast to coast. For someone who just keeps getting better and better, the sky really is the limit for the Fort Wayne, Indiana native. It’s taken a few years, but it definitely appears as though the Senators and their rampant fan base have a real bright future ahead of them.
Ty Smith, Defenseman, New Jersey Devils
Last, but certainly not least is New Jersey Devils standout defenseman, Ty Smith. Man, oh man, do the Devils ever have themselves a top-tier blueliner here, folks. Selected in the first round, 17th overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Smith has quickly emerged as one of the organization’s most prized possessions. He’s intelligent, crafty, quick-thinking, and silky-smooth in all three zones. A strong skater, with a real eye for offense,
Smith has been a welcome addition on the Jersey defense core who will look to make significant strides this season after a porous 2019-20 campaign.
Born and raised in Llyodminster, Alberta, Smith has gotten off to a stellar start this season with one goal and one assist in two games to go along with a plus-three rating and 17:09 worth of ice time after a phenomenal junior career with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Not too shabby for a 20-year-old, wouldn’t you say? Not only does he possess an elite-level skillset, but Smith is also one of those players who’s uber-competitive and loves to “battle”. Fans of the Devils should be licking their chops at his ceiling, approach to games, and his all-around game. Look for number 24 in red to have one heck of a rookie season in 2020-21.
Honorable Mentions: Gabe Vilardi (LAK), Nick Robertson (TOR), Connor McMichael (WAS)