SportsPulse: USA TODAY’s NHL insiders Peter Barzilai, Jimmy Hascup and Kevin Allen discuss some of their picks.

It’s difficult to watch Arizona Coyotes rookie Clayton Keller and not wonder if he could be another Patrick Kane and do for the Coyotes what Kane does for the Chicago Blackhawks.

“He is as talented as they come,” Arizona general manager John Chayka said. “But talent doesn’t always equal production and wins. What makes Patrick Kane Patrick Kane is that he has led the league in scoring and won Stanley Cups.”      

Keller, 5-10, 175 pounds, posted 21 goals and 45 points in 31 games for Boston University last season. He creates offense by darting in and out of traffic, much like Kane does.


The fact that Keller has Kane-like potential makes him the favorite to win 2018 Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Here are others on USA TODAY Sports’ top 15 rookies list for the 2017-18 season:

2. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins): At 19, he made his NHL debut in the 2017 playoffs and didn’t look overmatched. He plays with remarkable confidence for a teenager.

“The biggest reason (the Bruins) fell in love with him and drafted him is the way he plays,” Boston goalie Tuukka Rask said. “It doesn’t matter if he is in college, or in the Stanley Cup playoffs, he plays the same. He’s looking for ice, making plays and moving up ice.”

3. Right wing Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks): There’s considerable buzz about the 2015 first-rounder’s potential. He owns the quick release and sizzling shot necessary to be a dangerous scorer. He showed that potential last season when he netted four goals and five points in his first nine NHL games.

“Obviously, he has a nose for the net,” Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev said. “He put up big numbers in college and he’s done that his whole life. Don’t imagine he would do any different playing with us.’

Boeser had 43 goals and 94 points in 74 college games at North Dakota before turning pro.

4. Center Nico Hischier (New Jersey Devils): The mesmerizing Swiss scorer was the No. 1 pick in the June draft because of his creativity and scoring touch. He registered 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

“Nico has been really good,” Devils general manager Ray Shero said. “His hockey sense is so good. He’s elusive, quick and he has real good hockey strength.”

5. Right wing Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins): Last spring, there was talk that Bjork, a Notre Dame junior, might be selected as a forward on the U.S. Olympic team. Instead, he opted to sign with the Bruins and now he’s a candidate to skate on their top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. 

6. Left wing Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets): After scoring 25 goals in 52 games in the American Hockey League in 2016-17, the former University of Michigan standout looks like he might be ready to be an offensive contributor at the NHL level.

7. Center Joel Eriksson-Ek (Minnesota Wild): The 2015 first-round pick showed his skill last season with seven points in 15 NHL games. He’s a 6-2 center with high-grade potential. His presence could give the Wild another offensive spark.

8. Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa Bay Lightning): Sergachev, 19, seems to have the skill and poise to step into the Lightning lineup immediately.

The Lightning gave up Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadens to land the Russian, who is 6-3 and has considerable offensive potential. Based on how he has played in the preseason, he looks ready.

9. Defenseman Thomas Chabot (Ottawa Senators): He has played well enough in the preseason to make the team, particularly with Erik Karlsson still recovering from surgery.

He is one of the best defense prospects, with 45 points in 34 regular-season games in the QMJHL last season.

10. Center Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia Flyers):  The Flyers love his blend of size, skill and DNA. He is the son of former NHL player Steve Patrick and the nephew of Janes Patrick (1,280 NHL games).

Not surprising, given his background, Nolan plays a smart, well-structured game. He will be the Flyers’ captain someday.

11. Center Tyson Jost (Colorado Avalanche): He was the Avalanche’s 2016 first- round pick and a point-per-game performer for one season at the University of North Dakota. Jost, 19, is better defensively than other players his age, and he has the skill to help in a variety of ways.

12. Right wing Josh Ho-Sang (New York Islanders): He drew attention, and some criticism, for wearing No. 66, Mario Lemieux’s number, last season. The skating winger also registered 10 points in 21 games. 

13. Right wing Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks): It’s far from certain he will make the team, but if he does, he has elusiveness and scoring touch to be a 20-goal threat. He’s a 5-7 shooter who knows how to find the seams in defensive coverage. The Michigan native scored 167 goals in three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

14. Center Colin White (Ottawa Senators): A broken wrist will put him out of action for several more weeks, but he will be an impact rookie when he returns to the lineup.

He was a key offensive player for the USA when it won the gold medal at the last world junior championships.

15. Center Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus Blue Jackets): He’s playing well enough to earn a place in the Blue Jackets’ lineup. Dubois was the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft. He has offensive skill.


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