Top NHL debuts so far
by Andrew Podnieks|07 NOV 2021
Finnish Florida Panthers forward Anton Lundell has been among the top NHL rookies so far in this season.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
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We are one month into a new NHL season, and so far 43 players, of which 17 are European, have made their first turn in an NHL arena. There have been notable debuts and impressive ones, ones to follow and some to surprise. Here is a top-10 list that combines a little bit of everything.

Mason McTavish – The Canadian who was born in Switzerland is the youngest player in the league right now and the highest draft choice from the 2021 class. First overall Owen Power and second overall Matty Beniers both opted to return to college with Michigan, so McTavish, taken by Anaheim third, is the highest draftee playing. He is also one of only two 2003-born players (with Cole Sillinger). McTavish had a goal and an assist in his first game, a 4-1 home win against Winnipeg. The son of Dale, a long-time player in Switzerland, Mason was a dominant force with Canada’s gold-medal-winning team at last year’s IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. 

William Eklund – The top-ranked European from the 2021 draft, Eklund made his NHL debut with San Jose just a few days after his 19th birthday, earning an assist in the game. Selected 7th overall by the Sharks, he is the son of another player, Christian Eklund, and after nine games he was sent back to Sweden by San Jose for more development. He missed the 2021 World Juniors because of a positive Covid-19 test, but his future is bright and he can now call himself an NHL player.

Nico Daws – One of only two goalies to make his NHL debut so far, Daws is another Canadian born abroad, in his case Munich, Germany. He played junior with the Guelph Storm and then a year in Germany during the Covid-19 season of 2020/21. He was also part of Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2020 World Juniors in the Czech Republic. Drafted 84th overall by New Jersey in 2020, Daws made his debut with the Devils on 23 October, winning, 2-1, in overtime, against Buffalo. 

Vladimir Tkachyov – The oldest player to make his debut so far, the 26-year-old Tkachyov has been there and back and then some. He had an excellent U18 in 2013 with Russia, but despite being a solid mid-level draft choice according to scouts, he was never selected. The Oilers signed him, but the contract was voided because of CBA rules violations, and he played two years of junior in Quebec before returning home for several years in the KHL. Then, last May, the Los Angeles Kings signed him, and he played his first game on 14 October, earning two assists. Go figure.

Lucas Raymond – Few debuts were as anticipated as that of Swede Lucas Raymond. Drafted 4th overall by Detroit in 2020, he made the Red Wings at training camp this year and hasn’t disappointed, scoring 10 points in his first 11 games, including a hat trick against Chicago in just his sixth career game. Raymond was developed by Frolunda and had extensive success with the national team as well, winning gold at the 2019 U18 and bronze at the World Juniors a year later. 

Cole Perfetti – Few young players have had the calendar year Perfetti has had in 2021. He won a silver medal at the World Juniors and then contributed to Canada’s stunning gold medal at the World Championship, and completed his hat trick of milestones by making his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets on 13 October. Perfetti was drafted 10th overall by the Jets in 2020 and after two games this season was sent to the minors, but he’ll be back in The Show at some point.

Karel Vejmelka – The only Czech to debut so far, and the only other goalie besides Daws, Vejmelka is another feel-good story. Drafted well down the list at 145th by Nashville back in 2015, it didn’t look like he would ever reach the NHL. He happily played in the Czech league, mostly with Brno, but in the fall of 2021 he made a great impression at Arizona’s camp and made the team. The bad news is he’s on a terrible Coyotes team that has lost its first 11 games to start the season, and Vejmelka is 0-7 during that time. 

Moritz Seider – After being drafted 6th overall by Detroit in 2019, Seider played a bit in North America and then Sweden, his NHL debut delayed by Covid-19. In the meantime, he also helped Germany move up to the top level in World Junior play. He also played at the 2019 and 2021 World Championship, being named IIHF Directorate Best Defender in the latter. He made the Red Wings to start this season and was named rookie of the month for his great play, and last month he was also one of the three Germans named to the Olympics alongside Leon Draisaitl and Philip Grubauer. 

Chase Priskie – When you think of a player living the dream by playing for his hometown team, you think Toronto or Montreal, Boston or Detroit. Florida? Not so much. But Priskie became the first native of South Florida to play for the Panthers. He had been drafted 177th overall by Washington in 2016, was later part of the Carolina system, and was called up three times by the Panthers in the first month of the current season before finally getting into a game on 4 November against, ironically, the Capitals.

Anton Lundell – Drafted 12th overall by Florida in 2020, not many players arrive for their first NHL game with an international resume as impressive as Lundell’s. He helped Finland win gold at the U18 in 2018, won gold at the World Juniors in 2019, and won two more medals in 2021 – bronze in the World Juniors and silver at the World Championship. The 20-year-old centreman has five points in his first six games and is averaging about 16 minutes a game for the Panthers.