During the past season, several rookies like Elias Pettersson, Rasmus Dahiln, Andrei Svechnkiov and Brady Tkachuk were extremely popular with collectors based on their performance. Add them to the list of players who had breakout performances last season, but rookie cards from prior years like Jordan Binnington, Nikita Kucherov, Dylan Larkin, and Mikko Rantanen. The better a player performs, the higher the demand for — and the cost of — his rookie card becomes.
But collectors can still find several bargains out there, though these players’ rookie cards may not be bargains much longer. Here is a list of young NHLers that can still be considered bargains based on how they have developed with their teams and how they have been received by collectors up to this point.
Keep in mind also that a good portion of players take a few years to develop into regulars in the NHL, so success for these players won’t necessarily happen next season. For the purpose of categorizing rookie cards, I will use Upper Deck’s SP Authentic Future Watch, Young Guns and The Cup (if available) as standards from a collecting standpoint. I am also focusing on players that you can purchase two of those three cards for $40 (USD) or less.
Urho Vaakanainen has been touted as “the guy” to replace Zdeno Chara. Think about that for a moment and you will realize that while that is somewhat impossible, Bruins experts must see some significant abilities in a player to make a statement like that. After being drafted 18th overall in 2017, Urho made his transition from the Finnish Elite League to North America this season, spending most of it with the Providence of the AHL but also playing in two games with the Bruins.
During the Stanley Cup Finals, it was reported that he was set to replace Big Z in Game 5 of if he could not play due to injury. In the end that did not happen, but again the mention of Urho being the player to replace Chara speaks volumes to how the franchise feels about his potential. All things point towards Urho becoming a regular on the Boston blueline starting next season. At this point, he only has a few rookie cards with his 2018-19 SP Authentic Future Watch trending around $14 and his Young Guns card around $2.
Adrian Kempe was a first-round draft pick of the Kings back in 2014 and in allot of ways I think of him as an Indy Car stuck in a grocery store parking lot. While the Kings still consider him a valuable part of their team moving forward, the style of play the team had been playing since he entered the league simply didn’t provide him with many opportunities to utilize his talents.
The potential for several older players being moved in trades this summer as well as a fresh team philosophy preached by new head coach Todd McLellan should provide Kempe with considerably more quality minutes including more time on the power play. Entering his fourth season in the NHL the last two of which he played in 81 games should translate into a 20-plus goal season for Kempe. Kempe’s 2017-18 The Cup rookie card is trending around $50 with his SP Authentic Future Watch RC around $16 and his Young Guns card around $2.
Martin Necas is one of those multi-dimensional players that most teams covet. He is highly skilled, but is a bit on the lighter side when compared to the average NHL player. After playing in one game in 2017-18, he returned to the Czech Republic for the remainder of that season. He played the first seven games of this season with the Jerks which saw him score his first NHL goal.
He was then sent to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers where he played in 64 games and scored 52 points. Credit the Hurricanes for being patient with their first-round pick from 2017 as they let him play out this season with the Checkers where he became an integral part of their Calder Cup championship. He looks like he has the potential to form a Crosby/Malkin-like combination with Sebastian Aho starting next season. His 2017-18 The Cup RC is trending in the $60 range currently with, his SP Authentic Future Watch coming in around $35 and his Young Guns card around $4.
Drake Batherson proved that you don’t have to be a first-round draft pick, nor do you have the take the NHL by storm in your rookie season to be a player worth collecting. Batherson was drafted 121st overall in 2017 and transitioned from the QMJHL directly into professional hockey. He had a successful 20-game run with the Ottawa Senators to start the season, which saw him score nine points.
From there he was reassigned to Binghamton proceeded to take the AHL by storm, scoring more than a point per game (62 points in 59 games) while playing first line and first power play minutes. With the Senators rebuild in full swing and their lack of depth on right wing, he will likely be playing on the first line along with Brady Tkachuk as early as next season. His 2018-19 SP Authentic Future Watch is currently trending around $35, with his Young Guns card coming in around $4.
Dillon Dube can best be described as a playmaker on the rise and is the top player that collectors have missed on this list. Being a highly-touted prospect on a Canadian team normally equates to collecting success, so does being named captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, but being described as a player that forces an organization to find a spot for him is the best description I have seen for Dube.
He made the Flames out of training camp and played 25 games for them scoring his first NHL goal. After being sent to the Stockton Heat of the AHL, he performed at more than a point per game over the remainder of the season (39 Points in 37 games). Calgary will need to find a space for him next season, so his progression can continue into the NHL. His 2018-19 SP Authentic Future Watch is trending around $10 and his Young Guns card is trending at less than $2.
Before you know it, these players will likely move to the top of collectors’ most-wanted lists and gain some hobby love. I hope this helps you grab them ahead of the curve. Happy collecting! ■
Follow Larry Berman on Twitter @PaigesFall.