One of the many appreciable things about watching the American Hockey is seeing which rookies make the biggest impression and most sizeable contribution to their teams.
As recent history has shown, it’s not always the vaunted prospects and high draft selections that often impress in their debut AHL season.
The following are the top ten in rookie scoring but I’ve also included other players who made an impression during 2015/16.
1) Austin Czarnik (Providence Bruins)
The undrafted Czarnik was signed to an entry level contract by the Boston Bruins after his college career was finished. Three games late in the 2014/15 season saw the centreman notch two assists, but gave no real forewarning of what was to follow.
The Milwaukee native led all rookies with 61 points in 68 games, including one hat-trick and three short-handed goals.
It was as a provider that the 23yo flourished ,with 41 helpers, the second highest amount of assists by any rookie during the season.
He’s a smaller player, hence being overlooked by many other teams, but there’s little doubting that Czarnik is an excellent playmaker.
Though his points at even strength were less than half his overall total, his primary points tally of 45 is more of an indicator that his contributions were often crucial to Providence.
2) Mikko Rantanen (San Antonio Rampage)
Colorado’s first round pick of 2015 began the season with the Avalanche but was given limited minutes during six scoreless games.
Beginning as he intended to carry on, the Finnish native recorded a goal and an assist on AHL debut for San Antonio, in a 5-1 victory against Stockton Heat.
On a struggling Rampage team, Rantanen led the way offensively, scoring in thirteen of fourteen games and followed that streak by finishing the season by scoring in 17 of 19 outings.
Had the left-handed shot played as many games as Czarnik, there’s little doubt he would have finished top in scoring but his 60 points in 52 was certainly highly impressive for a teenager.
A total of 41 even strength points put him 5th overall in the league for that category, with three-quarters of those being primary. That trend continued on the powerplay for the 19yo, who also helped himself to a first hat-trick.
Rantanen shared the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, with Frank Vatrano for the League’s rookie of the year.
3) Brandon Montour (San Diego Gulls)
Montour led all rookie defensemen in points and was only second to T.J Brennan in all defenseman scoring.
Although technically a rookie, Anaheim’s 2014, second round selection played fourteen games during the 2014/15 season. Ten points in those late season outings proved an excellent grounding for his first full year as a professional.
A right handed-shot, likened to Tyson Barrie in his style of play, accrued more than half of his overall points tally on the powerplay. Thirty points on the man advantage was tied for the overall high, including six goals and 14 primary assists.
At even strength, 18 of Montour’s 26 points were primary markers, quite an accomplishment for a defenseman.
The 22yo Ontario native added another five assists during the playoffs and looks certain to make a big impact in the Anaheim organisation.
4) Frank Vatrano (Providence Bruins)
You could make a strong case for Frank Vatrano being one of the outstanding hockey stories as he burst onto the scene.
An undrafted college free-agent, Boston snapped him up March 12, 2015.
Roll forward to November 7 of the same year, the Massachusetts native was making his debut for the Bruins in Montreal.
Fittingly Vatrano would score in his first NHL game, after netting ten in as many outings in the American Hockey League, leading to the call-up.
The 22yo played a mere 36 times in the AHL but scored at a goal per game pace, beginning with a bang in his second outing by striking four times against Portland.
A further two hat-tricks would follow but Vatrano would spend the majority of his first professional season in the NHL, recording eight goals and three assists in 39 games.
The AHL’s leading goal scorer scored a third of his markers on the powerplay and added 19 helpers to his overall points tally, of which over 83% were primary.
5) Riley Barber (Hershey Bears)
Barber is yet another graduate of the NCAA, though he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.
Through three seasons for Miami University, the 22yo Right Winger produced at better than point per game pace before heading into his professional career.
Life with Hershey began very well, as the Pittsburgh native notched a brace of goals on debut and never looked back. His total of 26 goals as a rookie was only second behind Vatrano, while 19 goals at Even Strength was tied for sixth best overall amongst all skaters. A hat-trick against Syracuse was his first as a professional and an assist gave him a four point game.
Of Barber’s 55 points, forty were primary markers including seven power play goals and he ended the regular season as the teams second leading points producer.
The only disappointment for the young forward would have been his production through the post-season, where he managed just a single goal and three assists through 17 outings.
6) Matt Lorito (Albany Devils)
Matt Lorito is by far the oldest rookie in this list at 26yo.
A graduate of Brown University, Lorito joined Albany once his NCAA season was finished in 2014/15 and impressed with 12 points in eleven games.
Making the most of that head-start heading into last year, the Ontario native racked up 54 points for an Albany team that were one of the AHL’s lowest scorers.
With 80% of those points primary markers, the winger certainly proved his worth to the team, no more so than on the powerplay. His 24 points on the man advantage tied for 11th best in the league.
Also a big part of the Devils impressive penalty kill during 2015/16, Lorito has now signed a two-way, two-year contract for the Detroit organisation.
7) Jason Dickinson (Texas Stars)
Captain of Guleph Storm in his final junior season, Dickenson’s production and performances elevated him in the rankings of the 2013 draft.
Dallas selected the Ontario native at 29th overall and must be very pleased by what they’ve seen during his rookie year.
A two-way player who is defensively responsible and a very strong skater, Dickinson produced solidly through the season, coming up big in February when Texas were shorn of many top players.
Sixteen points in eleven games, including nine goals, of which two were game winners.
His overall production was spread through all three facets (31 ES points, 16 PP, 4 SH) and he played both Centre and Wing.
Dickinson’s NHL opportunity would come by chance, as Jason Spezza was taken ill the morning of a game against Colorado. Thrust into the action on April 7, the left-handed shooter made his mark by opening the scoring 15:13 into the first period with a backhand finish in a crucial game for Dallas.
A one game stint was he all received but the 21yo showed a lot of promise and poise on NHL debut.
8) Travis Boyd (Hershey Bears)
Amongst a plethora of exciting prospects in the Washington organisation, Boyd would have been way down the list.
A sixth round selection in the 2011 draft, the Caps would not tie Boyd to a (two year) entry level contract until March 31, 2015.
He wasn’t necessarily expected to hit the ground running but the graduate of Minnesota University flourished during his AHL rookie season, producing at a steady if unspectacular rate.
Through January and February the 22yo scored 13 goals (including a hat-trick) and put up 12 helpers through 24 games.
Of his 33 points at even strength, 27 were primary and included fourteen goals.
A further twenty powerplay points was tied for second best behind Chris Borque, and again 75% of those were of the primary kind.
The regular season left Boyd third in team overall scoring and he began the playoffs well, netting an overtime winner to knock out Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the second round.
Ultimate he struggled from thereon in, accruing just three assists in the following nine games, including Hershey being swept in the Calder Cup Final.
9) Vinnie Hinostroza (Rockford IceHogs)
A Chicago native, Hinostroza decided to forgo his last two years in college and signed an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks in March of 2015.
With the University of Notre Dame, the 22yo registered at point per game pace before joining the Rockford IceHogs at the back-end of the 2014/15 season.
Two assists in five regular season games was certainly a leg up for the diminutive forward (listed at 5’9”) who would end this past season as Rockford’s leading points producer.
It was the first time a rookie had led Chicago’s current affiliate in scoring and a record total for a freshman.
The turn of 2016 was a catalyst in his season as Hinostroza averaged a point per game through January and February combined. In April as the IceHogs looked to confirm a playoff berth, the rookie put up four goals and eight assists through nine outings.
There’s not too much flashy about this 2012, sixth round selection, who failed to hit the twine before December but would go on to net 18 times. He’s a tireless worker who was a part of Rockford’s special teams, netting 16 points on the powerplay (13 primary) and a short-handed goal.
He also made an impression with the USA team in the World Championships and recorded seven starts for the Blackhawks through two separate stints.
10) Dominik Simon (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)
A real springer in the Pittsburgh system, Czech forward Dominik Simon turned heads during his first season in North America.
A fifth round selection by the Penguins in 2015, was also selected fourth overall by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL Draft in the same year.
The 21yo has been playing professional hockey since 2012/13 in his homeland and his final year was a real breakout, gaining the attention of some NHL scouts.
He had to wait until his third AHL game to register a first point but he did in style by grabbing four assists.
It’s been an upward curve since then for a rookie who has gone from strength to strength, seizing on the opportunities handed to him with so many WBS Pens called up to the NHL.
His points tally of 48 may not seem that impressive but when you break them down, he was an impact player during 2015/16. A deeper look reveals 38 were recorded at Even Strength, 39 were primary and Simon led WBS with 25 goals.
He was also the teams leading rookie scorer and fifth overall behind some well established names.
Nor big or physical, the young Czech is fleet of foot, has great hands and shows real intelligence on the ice with his playmaking ability.
Shea Theodore (San Diego Gulls)
It’s almost unfair the depth Anaheim hold on defense and Shea Theodore is a part of that core.
You could argue the former 2013 first round pick is better known that most of the ten leading scorers due to his style of play from the blue line and having already impressed in the NHL.
The former Seattle Thunderbirds Captain introduced himself onto the professional stage with nine games for the Norfolk Admirals at the close of the 2014/15 regular season.
Four goals and seven assists gave a glimpse of what to expect this past year and Theodore did not disappoint.
The BC native racked up 37 points in 50 games, almost equally split between even strength and the power play.
Quarter backing the Gulls on the man advantage, the young defenseman recorded 18 points (4-4-10) and was involved in a third of the teams overall power play markers.
The highly skilled two-way defenseman was able to translate his AHL form into the NHL for the Ducks, notching eight points through 19 opportunities.
Jakub Vrana (Hershey Bears)
Had he not sustained a nasty injury then there’s little doubt that Washington’s 2014, first round selection would have been in the top ten scorers this past season.
A Czech native, Vrana began playing professional hockey in 2012/13 for Linköping HC of the SHL.
The Capitals loaned back their recently signed winger to Linköping for 14/15 but once his season in Europe was finished, Vrana made an impact in his first taste of North American hockey.
Five assists in three regular season games before adding a further six points in ten playoff outings.
That included a first ever AHL goal that sums up the best facets of his game. Picking up possession with speed through the natural zone, Worcester’s defense couldn’t live with the rookie as he sped toward the top of the right circle. Vrana barely broke out of stride before releasing a wicked wrist shot that beat the goaltender far side, in the blink of an eye.
A broken wrist just six games into the 2015/16 caused the rookie to miss three months of the season but he made up for lost time by registering 34 points in 36 games.
He kept that rolling into the post-season with 14 points through 21 outings, only second behind Carter Camper in team scoring.
Nic Petan (Manitoba Moose)
Petan’s 32 points in 47 games may not stand out at first glance.
The Manitoba Moose were an utter mess this past season, ending up as the third worst ranked team and the second lowest scorers.
Despite his team’s struggles, Petan was still able to shine and be one of Manitoba’s best player’s on a nightly basis. Winnipeg’s 2013, second round selection was tied for second on the Moose in even strength points despite turning out on far fewer occasions than the majority of a rag-tag roster.
The 21yo would skate 26 games in the NHL for the Jets but mustered four points in what was predominantly a fourth line role.
Devin Shore (Texas Stars)
It looked as if Devin Shore was going to have a huge breakout season, pushing for a spot with Dallas and hopefully leading the Texas charge toward a Calder Cup.
Scoring once in the opening game, Devin bagged twice in the next and a hat-trick in the third game to serve notice that he was a force to be reckoned with.
His electric beginning to 2015/16 earned him an NHL debut with Dallas and a three game stint in the NHL.
Back with Texas and the Ontario native went on a ten game point streak. Looking to extended that to eleven, Shore was rocked by a hit from Charlotte Checkers defenseman Ryan Murphy.
A injury to his right shoulder put paid to the season for the 22yo after such a promising start, with 26 points in 23 games.
It was a still a step forward for the University of Maine graduate who was able to fit in 19 games during 2014/15 season for Texas and helping himself to six goals and two assists.
With Dallas seemingly having an embarrassing amount of riches at the forward position, the rest of the AHL had better watch out should Shore recover fully and stay healthy.
Juuse Saros (Milwaukee Admirals)
Too small to be a goaltender? Juuse Saros doesn’t believe so and nor do the Nashville Predators, who selected the Finnish net minder 99th overall in 2013.
At just 5’11”, Saros bucks the trend of the bigger goaltenders teams are going for these days, but it hasn’t stopped him so far in his professional career.
He spent ten years with his hometown team HPK (Liiga) and through two seasons as a professional his average save percentage was .926%.
During 2014, he backstopped Finland to a World Juniors Gold Medal, defeating the home nation Sweden in the final.
Nashville made room for Saros in Milwaukee by making a trade and the rookie goaltender certainly stepped upto the plate.
Fourth overall in GAA (2.24), 11th overall in save percentage (.920) and 29 victories made him the best rookie in those spheres. His four shutouts was only bettered by Christian Jarry (WBS) who clinched one more.
On 28 November Juuse Saros made his NHL debut for Nashville and stopped 20 shots, but it wasn’t enough as the Buffalo Sabres won by a 4-1 final. The difference being a five minute power play during which the opposition score twice.
His performance was enough to bring praise from coaching staff and team-mates alike and this young goaltender is certainly on an upward curve.