The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2021-22 season. Each week, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.
This week, the top six rookies capable of combining offense and physical play (listed alphabetically).
Michael Bunting, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The 26-year-old left wing is fifth among NHL rookies with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 31 games. Bunting (6-foot, 186 pounds), who has averaged 14:48 of ice time per game while playing on Toronto’s top line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander, is first among NHL rookies in penalties drawn (17), seventh in takeaways (12) and 23rd in hits (28). Originally selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round (No. 117) of the 2014 NHL Draft, Bunting is in his first season with Toronto after signing a two-year contract July 28.
“He’s just gaining more and more confidence, both in himself and his role playing with Auston,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said in December. “He’s playing with lots of urgency, lots of competitiveness. He keeps finding ways to generate offense and keep getting points. So, we’re feeling good about his game.”
Brandon Duhaime, F, Minnesota Wild: The right wing made a solid impression during training camp to earn his spot in the lineup. Duhaime, chosen in the fourth round (No. 106) of the 2016 NHL Draft, is tied for 15th among NHL rookies with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 31 games, is third with 73 hits and tied for eighth with seven penalties drawn. He’s averaging 11:10 of ice time in a checking role. The 24-year-old (6-2, 200) from Coral Springs, Florida, scored 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) and had 103 penalty minutes in 87 games for Iowa of the American Hockey League the past two seasons. He played three seasons at Providence College, scoring 72 points (22 goals, 50 assists) in 117 NCAA games from 2016-19.
Martin Fehervary, D, Washington Capitals: The second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2018 NHL Draft earned a spot in the lineup after the Capitals waived defenseman Michal Kempny and assigned him to Hershey of the American Hockey League on Oct. 10. The 22-year-old (6-2, 199) has averaged 19:01 of ice time while earning top-pair minutes with John Carlson. He ranks second among NHL rookies with 85 hits and is tied for third with 46 blocked shots in 31 games and is tied for seventh among rookie defensemen with six points (three goals, three assists). Fehervary has scored one shorthanded goal and is averaging 1:31 in ice time on the penalty kill.
Tanner Jeannot, F, Nashville Predators: The 24-year-old left wing (6-2, 208) leads NHL rookies with 102 hits and is second among rookie forwards with 21 blocked shots in 33 games. He is tied for first (Lucas Raymond , Detroit Red Wing) among NHL rookies with 10 goals and tied for second with two game-winning goals and 10 penalties drawn. He is fourth with 20 points and is averaging 14:48 in ice time. Jeannot, who was undrafted, played 15 games for the Predators in 2020-21 (five goals, two assists) and had 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 107 American Hockey League games with Milwaukee and Chicago. He opened the eyes of scouts during his fourth season with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, scoring 80 points (40 goals, 40 assists) in 72 games as an alternate captain in 2017-18. Nashville signed him as a free agent April 2, 2018.
Jacob Middleton, D, San Jose Sharks: Middleton (6-3, 219) is third among NHL rookie defensemen with 50 hits and tied for second with 47 blocked shots. He is averaging 18:55 in ice time in 27 games in a second-pair role with Erik Karlsson. The 26-year-old, selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the seventh round (No. 210) of the 2014 NHL Draft, has scored eight points (three goals, five assists) and has 35 shots on goal. Signed as a free agent by San Jose on Sept. 7, 2017, Middleton played 228 games with San Jose of the American Hockey League from 2016-21 and has earned the trust of coach Bob Boughner this season.
“Some guys take longer than others,” Boughner said. “Jake is a man who has paid his dues and put in his time. He is having the time of his life.”
Moritz Seider, D, Detroit Red Wings: The 20-year-old, selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft, leads all rookie defensemen in assists (18) and points (21), and is first among all rookies in power-play points (eight), blocked shots (58), and average ice time (22:27) in 33 games. He’s also third among all rookies in points. Seider (6-4, 197) is second among NHL rookie defenseman with 14 takeaways, and fourth with 46 hits. In 41 games with Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League last season, he scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists), led the club with 91 hits and was third with 45 blocked shots.
“He’s got a definite toughness to him, physicality side to him,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “If you search the internet, you’ll see a loop of huge Niklas Kronwall-type hits he had last year in the Swedish Hockey League. I think he’s got to get stronger and thicker to do that in the National Hockey League still, but he’s got that edge to him for sure. He can punish people from a physical standpoint, so he definitely has that in him.”