NHL Rookie Roundup: Top Rookies Through Preseason Play

Matty Beniers prepares for a faceoff. STEPH CHAMBERS/ GETTY IMAGES

By Gracie Davenport

Outside of the NHL Global Series held this past weekend, the 2022-23 NHL regular season officially kicks off this week. After two weeks of preseason play, here is a recap of who has stuck out thus far. 

Kraken Down

After an unsuccessful inaugural season, the Seattle Kraken have rejuvenated their roster and look to become competitive out west. They made some key offseason acquisitions, but all eyes will be on their star rookie centers: Matty Beniers and Shane Wright. 

Matty Beniers

Beniers, taken second overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, instantly improves the Kraken offense. In his sophomore year at the University of Michigan last season, he led the team with 43 points (20g, 23a) in 37 games. After making the jump to the NHL late in Seattle’s season, his production did not slow down. In his 10-game stint, he posted nine points (3g, 6a)—four of them coming on the power play. During this year’s preseason, the 19-year-old played in four games and scored a goal in each outing. If Beniers can remotely keep this pace over a full 82-game season, the young star could run away with the Calder Memorial Trophy. 

Shane Wright

In addition to Beniers, fans from around the league will surely be tuned in to watch Shane Wright. The once unanimous top prospect dropped to fourth during this year’s NHL draft and turned heads in the process. Wright appeared in Seattle’s final five preseason games and played invaluable minutes as he transitioned from the Ontario Hockey League. Despite his young age, the 18-year-old exudes confidence and will certainly fit into this Kraken lineup. 

Blue Line’s Best 

Brandt Clarke

Staying out west, a player that has stood out is 19-year-old defenseman Brandt Clarke. Taken eighth overall by the Los Angeles Kings in last year’s draft, Clarke has proved he can hang around the pros. It has been confirmed he will make the King’s opening night roster—a decision made after his impressive preseason run. The Ottawa native played in all but one of LA’s preseason games and played top minutes in each. Clarke was paired with a defenseman twice his age in Alex Edler. The two showed great chemistry, and Edler will undoubtedly play a mentor role for Clarke.

Through six preseason games, Clarke picked up three assists. He showcased this two-way play last season as he captained the Barrie Colts of the OHL. He led the team in points with 59 (11g, 48a) in 55 games. The energetic defenseman is not afraid to jump in on the rush and demonstrate his play-making abilities. As evident in his preseason stint, he also likes to get creative along the boards. It is unclear how many NHL games Clarke will play this season, but his work ethic has already extended his stay. 

Jake Sanderson

Heading north of the border, Jake Sanderson is another defenseman that will take a huge step this season. Ottawa Senators’ 2020 fifth overall pick has had quite the year. Riddled with two hand surgeries, Sanderson still managed over a point per game with the University of North Dakota and made Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics. During this year’s preseason, the 20-year-old played in five games, picking up two assists. He slotted in on both the first and second pair, mostly playing with the experienced Travis Hamonic. Sanderson’s smooth skating, clean entries and ability to handle the puck make him stand out. 

Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion was aggressive this offseason in his forward and goaltender signings, but the blue line remains a weak point in this roster. Sanderson will be tasked with playing top minutes as fans see him as an emerging cornerstone of their franchise. 

Point Producers

Marco Rossi 

It would be unfair to discuss the preseason without mentioning Minnesota Wild’s Marco Rossi. The 20-year-old center led the league in preseason points with a whopping nine (2g, 7a) in six games. Three of those assists came on game-winners. Having only played in two previous NHL games, Rossi looked comfortable on the ice and played hard every shift. 

Rossi was taken ninth overall by the Wild in 2020 and had to take a year off amid COVID-19 health complications. The Austrian native spent last season with the AHL’s Iowa Wild and broke the franchise record for most points as a rookie (53). Overall, his preseason play made him a no-brainer choice to make the opening night roster. He will start at center on Minnesota’s fourth line, but will eventually be a top-six guy.

Shane Pinto 

Lastly, another center with a strong offensive preseason was Ottowa’s Shane Pinto. In his five-game run, he put up 8 points (4g, 4a). Pinto showed his potential on the power play as five of those eight points came on the man advantage. In the Senators’ first preseason win, he had his most notable game. The 21-year-old scored a pair of power play goals from the slot. The second goal sent the game to overtime before he assisted on the game-winner. 

Pinto was the last pick in Round 1 of the 2019 draft. He has made appearances in two previous Ottawa seasons, but he is still classified as a rookie. A string of shoulder injuries knocked out Pinto early last season and kept him out for the remainder of the year. With Tim Stützle and the addition of Claude Giroux, Pinto is projected to center the Senators’ third line on opening night.