Who will be NHL's top rookies in 2016-17?

When Finland won the World Junior Championships this year, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sebastian Aho was one player who didn’t act surprised to be there.

“Everyone was excited and his reaction was like, ‘We are supposed to win this,’ ” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis recalled.

Aho’s professional approach and his seven goals and 14 points was enough to persuade Francis that it was time to give the 19 year old a shot at the NHL shot. And Aho’s seven points in 10 games against NHL competition at the World Championships only strengthened that decision.

As of Tuesday, Aho, 19, was playing preseason games on a line with Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen and should be on Carolina’s roster at the start of the regular season.

Given Aho’s elite hockey sense and deceptive, quick release, he could be among front-runners for Rookie of the Year.

“He is a low-key, serious kid,” Francis said. “He does what he is supposed to do.”

Aho’s father, Harri, is manager of Karpat in the Finnish Elite League. His son had 20 goals in 45 games there last season. “He understands how to play the game,” Francis said.

Other top rookies heading into this season, which begins Oct. 12:

2. Center Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: He’s an American versio of Peter Forsberg. Matthews is skilled, strong on his skates and drives the net with authority.

3. Right wing Patrick Laine, Winnipeg Jets: He’s a 6-4 winger with the potential to blossom into an 50-goal scorer.

4. Center William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs: He showed offensive flair last season with 13 points in 22 games, and should be good for 50-60 points this season.

5. Defenseman Mike Matheson, Florida Panthers: He was named most valuable defenseman at the World Championships before playing a full NHL season.

6. Defenseman Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets: After leaving the University of Michigan last spring, he posted 14 points in 17 games to help the Lake Erie Monsters win the American Hockey League championship.

7.  Defenseman Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers: The young Russian could be one of Philadelphia’s top two defensemen by mid-season.

8.  Center Dylan Strome, Arizona Coyotes: He came close to making the roster last season. The Coyotes look forward to the day when the 6-3 center can match him up against the Western Conference’s big centers.

9. Center-wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets: He’s 6-3 and has a scoring touch. The Blue Jackets need a No. 1 center.

10. Center Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils: He’s a big center who had 97 points in 51 games in the Ontario Hockey League, perfect for for a team in search of more offense.

11. Left wing Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets: A steal with the 17th pick in 2015, he scored 35 goals in 38 games in his one season at the University of Michigan.

12 Forward Pavel Buchnevich, New York Rangers: He’s a versatile forward who records points at the most opportune times.

13. Left wing Jimmy Vesey, Rangers: When Vesey became a free agent last summer, he was coveted by every NHL team. The former Harvard standout should score 20 as a rookie.

14. Center Christian Dvorak, Coyotes: He’s a smart, well-rounded center who can help a team in many ways.

15.  Right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers: He had 17 points in seven games at the WJC.  That put him in the company of Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros on the all-time list.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY Sports


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