First-year players getting a shot to impress in the NHL has become an annual breath of fresh air, provided in part this season by the burst of wind trailing New York Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal as he blazed past another defenseman.
The 2017-18 rookie class was once again deep and talented, bringing optimism for ailing fan bases, filling holes on playoff-bound teams and taking on leading roles far earlier than should have been expected.
No one did that more emphatically than Barzal, who was a ray of light in an otherwise disappointing Islanders season. He will easily win the Calder Trophy after leading all rookies with 85 points as a possession-driving center who is just 20 years old.
He is also one of only five rookies since 2005-06, the year Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby came into the league, to finish the season averaging more than a point per game while appearing in at least half of his team's games. Of those five, Barzal is the only one to appear in all 82 games of his rookie campaign. The company Barzal keeps in that group shows how special his accomplishment this season is. The center averaged 1.04 points per game, which puts him behind only Ovechkin (1.31), Crosby (1.26), Evgeni Malkin (1.09) and Connor McDavid (1.07), who appeared in 45 games in his injury-shortened rookie campaign.
While Barzal is in a class all his own this season, he was far from alone as an impact player in Year 1. The many immediate contributions are great signs for the teams that are drafting and signing these guys, and it's great for the league that the players coming into the NHL seem to keep getting better.
Here's a look at my top 10 rookies for the 2017-18 season.
1. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders