Every year there are relatively unknown players that work their way onto opening night rosters. Luke Adam for the Sabres in 2011 and Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay in 2012 are examples of players not only finding their way onto rosters, but contributing right away. While those immediate impacts were short lived, and instances of a relatively unknown player bursting onto the season as those two did are pretty rare, there are players on every roster that no one expected to be there. Here is one player from every NHL team (except the Sabres) who are surprises on opening rosters, unknown to the league (and the fans) or both.
William Karlsson, Anaheim Ducks– The 21 Swede spent the majority of last season playing in Sweden before making cameo with Norfolk of the AHL. He posted nine points in nine regular season games and three points in eight games for the Admirals. While he is on the opening night roster, he looks to be in a battle with Rickard Rackell, who got his first extended look in the NHL last season, for the Ducks’ last center spot.
Justin Hodgman, Arizona Coyotes- He’s bounced around from Fort Wayne to the KHL before signing a two-way deal with Arizona at the age of 26. He’s not a scorer, having neot registered a 20 goal season since he was in the OHL, but may find a home on the Coyote’s 4th line.
Bobby Robins, Boston Bruins- The 32 year old journeyman racked up over 300 career AHL games, along with making stops in Great Britain, Austria, and Slovenia, before cracking an NHL lineup with the Bruins on Wednesday night. He even got in his first NHL fight, with Luke Schenn.
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames- Gaudreau is not exactly an unknown to hockey fans after he torched the NCAA during his two years at Boston College. He got a one game audition towards the end of last season with the Flames and found the back of the net. He’ll get a chance to stick with the big club during his first full pro season.
Patrick Brown, Carolina Hurricanes- The 22 year old will start his first professional season in the NHL after four years at Boston College. He begins the years on the ‘Canes’ 4th line with Riley Nash and Chris Terry.
Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks- The kid brother of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk made the Blackhawks roster after the team had to trade Nick Leddy because of cap issues. The 23 year old has been skating alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in practice recently.
Dennis Everberg, Colorado Avalanche- Everberg is new to North America after playing the last five years in Sweden. At 6’ 4” Everberg definitely has the size, and will get a look on the Avalanche’s 4th line.
Patrik Nemeth, Dallas Stars- Nemeth saw a little time in Dallas last year, after cracking the opening night roster, he looks stick for the season this year. He certainly has the size, at 6’ 3” and 230 pounds.
Andrej Nestrasil, Detroit Red Wings- Nestrasil is a center, but will start on the wing in Detroit. After spending time in the ECHL and AHL this will be the 23 year old’s first shot in the NHL. Mike Babcock thinks pretty highly of the Czech, as he’ll start on the Wings’ third line with Darren Helm, and Gustav Nyquist.
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers- While Leon Draisaitl will garner most of the attention as he makes his debut; the Oilers are banking on Nurse being a key contributor this year. Nurse has only played four professional games (all in the AHL last year) but he will most likely see a lot of ice time for Dallas Eakins.
Tomas Kopecky, Florida Panthers- Kopecky is certainly not an unknown quantity, but it is somewhat of a surprise that he is still in Florida. After registering only 12 points in 49 games last season many thought Kopecky would be bought out, but he will get an opportunity to rebound under Gerrard Gallant.
Brayden McNabb, Los Angeles Kings- McNabb is the only player who wasn’t on the Kings’ Cup winning roster last June (he spent the year in the AHL), so he’s really the only logically selection for the Kings. He dressed Wednesday night in place of the injured Jake Muzzin.
Christian Folin, Minnesota Wild- Folin appeared in one game with the Wild last year after a few years at UMass-Lowell. He’ll get more of an extended look this year, as he’s been paired with another of Minnesota’s promising blueliners, Matt Dumba.
Jiri Sekac, Montreal Canadiens- Sekac was one of the most sought after free agents this summer and chose Montreal, signing a two year deal. Sekac saw 12 minutes of ice time against the Leafs on Wednesday and should see a bit more once he gets comfortable in the league.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators- Forsberg was the key piece the Predators got back in the deal that sent Martin Erat to Washington. After a seeing NHL action briefly the past two seasons he will get the opportunity to spend a full year in Nashville. He got off to a nice start in the Preds’ opener against Ottawa, picking up two helpers in a victory.
Damon Severson, New Jersey Devils- The 20 year old blue liner only had two professional games to his name before this season (both in the AHL), but made the Devils roster. In New Jersey’s season opening win over the Flyers Severson played just under 19 minutes and was +2 on the night.
Grifin Reinhart, New York Islanders- While Sabres fans have been focusing on Sam Reinhart’s debut and his quest to stay with the Sabres, his older brother Griffin was able to secure a spot with the Islanders. Griffin was the 4th overall selection in 2012 and is now part of a promising young group of defensemen on the island. He has begun the year paired with veteran Brian Strait.
Anthony Duclair, New York Rangers- Duclair was the surprise of Rangers camp. No one figured he had much of a shot at cracking the lineup this year, as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t even have an available contract for him. When it became evident that he was staying around a trade had to be made to make room for the 19 year old. He played 11 minutes in an opening night win in St. Louis on Blueshirts’ 4th line
Curtis Lazar, Ottawa Senators- Lazar has long been considered one of the Sen’s top prospects, and he was able to make the jump to the NHL after parts of four seasons in the WHL. He opens the season on a line with Chris Neil and Mike Hoffman.
Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Philadelphia Flyers- A 29 year old rookie, Bellemare had been playing in the Swedish league since 2009 before making the jump to North America.
Zach Sill, Pittsburgh Penguins- Sill saw a little time with the Pens last season. The 26 year old was able to survive final cuts out of camp this season and will be centering Pittsburgh’s 4th line.
Mirco Mueller, San Jose Sharks- The 19 year old Swiss defenseman made the Sharks opening night lineup after only playing nine AHL games last season. His lack of experience wasn’t evident, as Mueller saw nearly 18 minutes of ice in helping shut out the Kings. Mueller could become a household name in the very near future.
Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues- Lehtera was a Blues draft pick back in 2008, but opted for the KHL before paying $1 million out of his own pocket to get himself out of his contract and head to the NHL. Lehtera had a solid preseason and opened the year on a scoring line with Jaden Schwartz and Joakim Lindstrom.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay Lightning- When thinking of the Lightning’s younger players, the first thought is always Jonathan Drouin. While the attention is merited, another high thought of prospect is Namestnikov. The 2011 1st round pick saw action in four NHL games last year, but it will be interesting to see if he can make a name for himself this year after averaging nearly a point per game last season in the AHL.
Brandon Kozun, Toronto Maple Leafs- Kozun was a victim of a deep roster in Los Angeles last year and has taken advantage of a trade that sent him to Toronto late last year. Kozun is small at 5’8” and only 165 pounds, but has speed to burn. In his NHL debut against the Habs he was able to pick up his first NHL point, an assist.
Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals- Burakovsky was overshadowed last year in Erie thanks to some kid named Connor McDavid, but his talent is undeniable. He was able to jump right from the OHL into the opening night lineup for the Caps, and scored his first NHL goal in his debut. Burakovsky is my pick to take home the Calder.
Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets- The Jets opted to keep a number of their prospects in the minors or send them back to junior (namely Nikolaj Ehlers and Nicols Petan), but one youngster who made the grade was Lowry. The 21 year old played last season in the AHL and played 12 minutes in his NHL debut against the Coyotes.