Times have changed for players taken in the NHL Draft. Few, and maybe only one special rookie, is expected to buck the trend and go directly into NHL prominence this year – Chicago's great hope.
The heavy favorite: Connor Bedard (C-CHI)
Bedard is the top choice for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded annually to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. He was dominant in the junior ranks, racking up 71 goals and 143 points in 57 WHL games last season for Regina. Bedard also notched 10 goals and 10 assists in seven playoff contests. Additionally, the 18-year-old center generated nine goals and 23 points over seven contests for Canada at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship en route to a gold medal. Bedard will likely see first-line minutes and time on the top power-play unit with Chicago after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Bedard, who is a generational talent with an exceptional shot, has point-per-game potential in his rookie year.
Newcomers in key spots: Adam Fantilli (C-CBJ), Logan Cooley (C-ARI)
Fantilli, who was chosen with the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft by Columbus, turned pro after becoming just the third freshman in NCAA history to win the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to the top men's college hockey player. The 18-year-old center produced 30 goals and 65 points in 36 outings for the University of Michigan in 2022-23. Fantilli could center the Blue Jackets' first or second line during his first NHL campaign. The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder should also provide the Jackets with some physical play, making him an option in banger leagues.
Cooley, who was taken with the No. 3 selection in the 2022 NHL Draft by Arizona, will also join the pro ranks following an impressive freshman performance in 2022-23, with 22 goals and 60 points in 39 contests for the University of Michigan, a performance that made him a Hobey Baker finalist. He stands a very good chance of landing a top-six role and a power-play spot with the Coyotes.
Intriguing returnees: Devon Levi (G-BUF), Luke Hughes (D-NJD), Brandt Clarke (D-LAK)
Levi made a strong first impression with Buffalo in 2022-23, posting a 5-2-0 record with a 2.94 GAA and a .905 save percentage in seven appearances. He became the team's go-to starter down the stretch, which should put him in the driver's seat for an increased role with the team this campaign. He'll face some competition from Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Eric Comrie, but Levi, a former Northeastern University standout, will have plenty of upside in 2023-24 if he manages to emerge with the No. 1 goalie job behind an improving Sabres roster.
Hughes earned one goal, one assist, two shots on goal, three blocks and one hit in two outings with New Jersey last season. His average ice time per game increased from 16:14 during the regular season to 19:15 in the playoffs. Hughes contributed two assists, four shots on net and three blocks during the postseason. The 19-year-old is pegged for playing time in the top four in 2023-24 and he should see time on the power play as well.
Clarke compiled two assists, 11 shots on goal and 14 hits in nine outings with LA last season. He was eventually sent back to Barrie where he amassed 23 goals and 61 points in 31 OHL games. Clarke added seven goals and 23 points in 12 playoff contests with his junior club. The 20-year-old blueliner also had two goals and six assists in seven games for Canada's gold-medal winning roster at the 2023 World Juniors. The Kings made room for him to be a regular in the lineup in 2023-24 this offseason by trading Sean Durzi and Sean Walker. Clarke's offensive ability and power-play prowess make him an intriguing Fantasy option this year.
More returnees: Matthew Knies (LW-TOR), Luke Evangelista (RW-NSH), Marco Rossi (C-MIN)
Knies made his NHL debut with Toronto last season after accounting for 21 goals and 42 points in 40 games with the University of Minnesota. As a member of the Maple Leafs, he picked up an assist, four shots on net, two blocks and two hits in three regular-season outings prior to supplying one goal, three helpers and 15 hits in seven playoff contests. Knies has plenty of upside despite the possibility of a bottom-six role off the bat due to the offseason additions of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi.
Evangelista raised some eyebrows while playing for Nashville in 2022-23 with seven goals, 15 points and 54 shots on net in 24 appearances. He averaged the second most power-play ice time per game (3:13) on the team, which could put him in a very good situation this campaign with star players Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi expected to return to full health. The 21-year-old Evangelista should also occupy a spot on one of the Predators' top-two lines out of training camp.
Rossi has been productive in the AHL for the past couple of seasons, combining for 34 goals and 104 points in 116 games. He went into the summer with some additional confidence, having posted one goal and five assists in seven appearances for Austria at the 2023 IIHF World Championship. The 21-year-old forward only has one assist and 35 shots on goal in 21 career NHL outings, but he could be in store for an increased role in 2023-24. Rossi has plenty of offensive upside and there is room for him to move up Minnesota's depth chart at center
More goaltenders: Dustin Wolf (G-CGY), Joel Hofer (G-STL), Joseph Woll (G-TOR)
Wolf starred in the AHL last season, posting a 42-10-2 record with a 2.09 GAA and a .932 save percentage in 55 games to capture the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the league's best goaltender. Wolf also made his NHL debut in 2022-23, stopping 23 shots in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. His path to more starts this year will be dependent on the play of Jacob Markstrom and/or surpassing Dan Vladar on the depth chart.
Hofer is poised for his first full NHL season after playing in six games last year and two contests in 2021-22. The 23-year-old netminder has a 4-2-1 record with the Blues to go along with a 3.22 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Hofer should be able to push Jordan Binnington, who has struggled in the past two campaigns, for playing time and could eventually become the No.1 goaltender for St. Louis.
Woll is also positioned for his first campaign as a full-time NHLer. As a member of the Maple Leafs over the past two seasons, he owns a mark of 9-2-0 with one shutout, a 2.38 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 11 appearances. Despite the offseason addition of Martin Jones, Woll has the inside track to be Ilya Samsonov's backup going into 2023-24. The 25-year-old Woll will need to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL this year, which should work in his favor in terms of sticking with the big club.
- Leo Carlsson (C-ANA) -- Anaheim defense prospects Olen Zellweger and Pavel Mintyukov could see NHL action at some point this season, but Carlsson stands the best chance of making a big Fantasy impact. The 18-year-old Carlsson could be a top-six forward after being selected second overall in the 2023 NHL Draft.
- Tye Kartye (LW-SEA), Shane Wright (C- SEA) -- Kartye was productive for the Kraken during the playoffs, collecting three goals and five points in 10 games alongside Matty Beniers and Jordan Eberle. Wright has Fantasy appeal as well after going through some ups and downs last year in the NHL, AHL and OHL.
- Tyson Foerster (RW-PHI) -- Foerster looked good in eight games with the Flyers last season, chipping in three goals, four assists, 15 shots on net, 10 blocks and 12 hits. He could be a strong fit with Morgan Frost again in 2023-24.
- Matthew Coronato (RW-CGY) - Jakob Pelletier could make an impact this year, but Coronato has the potential to play higher in the lineup. That gives the 20-year-old Coronato more Fantasy upside going into what should be an interesting season for the Flames.
- Pavel Dorofeyev (LW-VGK) -- Dorofeyev had seven goals, nine points and 40 shots on net in 18 games with Vegas last season. If he is reunited with William Karlsson in 2023-24, he will be worthy of Fantasy consideration.