In this article, I would like to outline some of the second year players who have caught my eye. They are not ranked by skill, and some key players may be left off the list. The purpose is not to compare, but rather to analyze players which will be highly discussed entering their second year.
1. Aaron Ekblad: Defense ; ( 81 GP, 12 G , 27 A , +12) Age: 19
I believe that Ekblad is the most complete of all the players in his rookie class. His size, physicality, and responsible play really stood out for me. Unlike all the other rookies, he was expected to contribute in the defensive end first and foremost. He is a shut down player and he proved that he is already capable of doing that against the worlds best players. Ekblad is entering into his second season at the age of 19. He will only improve from here, and I expect that he will take on a larger role offensively as he develops. It would not surprise me if Ekblad takes over the captaincy of the Panthers within the next five years.
2. John Klingberg: Defense ; ( 65 GP , 11 G , 29 A , +5 ) Age: 22
In his first NHL season, Klingberg proved to many that he is a lot better than his draft selection would indicate. He was chosen in the fifth round, 131st overall by the Stars in 2010. Klingberg played the majority of his career in Sweden up to this point, but exploded into the NHL quite unexpectedly. He was a fantasy steal last year, racking up 40 points in just 65 games. Moving forward however, he will have to make the defensive side of his game a priority. He weighs just 180 pounds at the most, and relies far too heavily on his skating and vision to carry his game. If he can put on some muscle and work on his defensive skills, I could see him becoming a real cornerstone on the Dallas back-end.
3. Mark Stone: RW ; ( 80 GP , 26 G , 38 A , +21 ) Age: 23
Stone was another draft steal, getting picked in round 6, 178th overall by Ottawa in 2010. This was his first full season in the NHL. Despite playing a small number of games the previous two seasons, this was by definition his rookie season. He has always been an extremely hard worker who never backs down from the tough areas of the game. He is a very opportunistic shooter who consistently pucks the puck on net when given the chance. He is a real character guy, who brings a great attitude into the locker room. This energy and contagious determination was a huge part of the Senators late season surge. I expect that Mark will be working hard on his skating stride and foot speed this off-season. It is the only weakness I have noticed in his game thus far.
4. Johnny "Hockey" Gaudreau: LW ; ( 80 GP , 24 G, 40 A , +11) Age: 21
Johnny Hockey may be the most purely offensive player on this list. He weights a startling 150 pounds and is only 5'9". What he lacks in size, he makes up for in stick-handling, vision, and ability to make defenders miss. He tied for the rookie lead in points this past season, helping the Flames reach round 2 of the playoffs. He is a very shifty player, and I was quite impressed with the way he uses his body to shield the puck against defenders. His quickness is unparalleled, and I cannot imagine how good Gaudreau would be if he can put on some size. I am not certain if Gaudreau can replicate last seasons point production, though. A guy his size is very vulnerable in a big, strong Western conference which can really wear down smaller players. I am very impressed with what he was able to do, but I do not anticipate him eclipsing the 60 point mark in the 2015-16 season. That is not to say he will not have a great career in the NHL. I expect him to have a wonderful career, but he will need to develop certain areas of his game if he wants to continued his success.
5. Filip Forsberg: LW ; ( 82 GP , 26 G , 37 A , +15 ) Age: 20
Forsberg was drafted quite high by the Capitals in 2012, going 11th overall. Despite the high pick, the Capitals elected to trade the young Swede to the Predators in exchange for Michael Laata and Martin Erat; Both players who have had mediocre success since the trade. Forsberg however, has showed the league that he is a young star well on his way to an outstanding career. He put up 63 points playing alongside Mike Ribeiro and James Neal. I will be the first to admit that Forsberg and his team were a big shocker to me this season. I never expected this kind of success, especially from that first line. Early in the season, it appeared that Forsberg was a lock for the Calder Trophy. As the season progressed, the rookie class of 2015 began to turn up the heat. Nonetheless, I expect Forsberg to have another spectacular season. He has been criticized for being too flashy, but many ignore how well rounded his game really is. He skates well, has great puck skills and outstanding vision. He is responsible in both ends and helps drive puck possession for the team. He possesses a big frame for such a young guy, but could use a little bit more strength and grit, especially in the corners. These weaknesses are so minute; I do not expect them to hinder his ability to develop as a player whatsoever.
Matt Hoffman (Senators - 48 PTS in 79 GP )
Kevin Hayes ( Rangers - 45 PTS in 79 GP)
David Pasternak (Bruins - 27 PTS in 47 GP )
Jonathan Drouin ( Lightning - 32 PTS in 70 GP)
Anders Lee ( Islanders - 41 PTS in 76 GP)
Jake Allen ( Blues - 22-7-4 .913 save% 2.28 GAA )
Petr Mrazek ( Red Wings - 16-9-2 .918 save % 2.38 GAA)