Every NHL Team's Future Franchise Player

Ian MathesonContributor IIIJanuary 20, 2012

Every NHL Team's Future Franchise Player

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    Eventually every NHL team enters a rebuilding mode, in which winning becomes an elusive aspiration.

    As struggling team's start stock-piling high draft talent, their future's begin to look a little bit brighter amidst the scourge of losing seasons.

    Recently, the Edmonton Oilers have become the poster boy for the rebuild, and though they've had some tough hockey in Alberta, boy does their future sure look good.

    Even the teams that are in their cup-winning windows are charged with the task of preserving their future, and they, too, search for the right pieces to carry their teams after their stars fade into retirement.

    This list highlights every team's prized assets that could one day be the future star of their franchise.

Anaheim Ducks, RW, Emerson Etem

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    Emerson Etem was drafted 29th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2010 entry draft.

    He's since gone on to showcase his dynamic offensive skill with the Medicine Tiger Cats of the WHL, posting 68 points in 39 games so far.

    The goal scoring right winger is going to be an important part of the Anaheim Ducks' future moving forward, as his size and nose for the net will help him be successful at an NHL level.

    Etem signed a three-year entry level deal with the Ducks following the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, and he'll certainly get a good look from Anaheim coming into training camp next year.

    If Etem makes the roster, look for him to start picking up points and generating buzz around himself in Calder Trophy discussions.

     

    Runner Up: Devante Smith-Pelley.

    Before hurting himself blocking a shot with team Canada at the 2012 World Juniors tournament, Smith-Pelley was creating quite a name for himself. 

    He's a player that drives the net, makes punishing hits and can play on special teams, a diverse package that earned him a spot with the Ducks to start the year.

    His ankle injury has sidelined him, but in 26 NHL games the right winger has five points.

Boston Bruins, C, Tyler Seguin

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    Tyler Seguin's career could not have started any better.

    Following a mediocre rookie-debut, the second overall pick of the 2010 draft found a way to elevate his game for the Bruins during last year's playoffs, eventually winning his first Stanley Cup as an 18-year-old.

    After having a short offseason, all eyes were on Seguin to start the new year to see if he could find a way to develop into a stronger offensive threat in his sophomore year.

    With half a season done, he has not disappointed anyone.

    He's already eclipsed his rookie point total, and is leading his team in scoring with consistent production. He's currently scoring at a point-per-game pace.

    The Ontario-born player now looks not only comfortable at the NHL level, but like he could begin to consistently dominate as he continues to gain experience.

    Tyler Seguin truly is one of the NHL's future superstars.

     

    Runner Up: Dougie Hamilton.

    The second piece of the Phil Kessel trade, Dougie Hamilton is a big defenseman who can shut players down and knows how to play the body. He'll fit in well with Boston's style of hockey, and could get a good look at a roster spot in the next few years.

    With two promising NHL stars now in their system, trading Phil Kessel to Toronto has paid off ten-fold for the Bruins.

Buffalo Sabres, LW, Luke Adam

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    Buffalo forward Luke Adam has all the tools to become a solid player.

    While he's currently mired in a 13-game pointless slump, he's still on pace for 40 points in his rookie year, a solid number for a player averaging just over 12 minutes per game.

    What makes Luke Adam a promising player is his NHL size and his ability to be physical.

    Luke Adam is 6'2'', 215 pounds and knows how to use it to get to the front of the net or body players off the puck.

    If you combine that size with his ability to score goals, you suddenly have yourself a young power forward in the making.

    Playing in the Sabres organization for a full season will only help him improve as he gains more NHL experience.

     

    Runner Up: Zack Kassian

    While Luke Adam may have more offensive potential, Zack Kassian could turn out to be the more physical of the two power forwards.

    Kassian is a former first-round prospect, and his 6'3'', 226-pound frame will add even more size to Buffalo's roster.

    He recorded 77 points last season for the Windsor Spitfires, and in 18 games with the Sabres this year has six points.

Calgary Flames, LW, Sven Bartschi

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    The Calgary Flames don't currently have any future stars in their system, however, they have a few blue chip prospects that could round into solid second line players, the best being Sven Bartschi.

    The Swiss winger had 85 points last season for the Portland Winterhawks, and was picked 13th overall by Calgary in last year's draft.

    He has a good skill set and knows how to get himself open to create offensive opportunities.

    Bartschi has great vision and is proving that he belongs in a higher-class than in junior hockey, as he's gone back to his team this season and posted 55 points in 26 games.

    Expect Sven to get a good look at a roster spot at next year's training camp.

     

    Runner Up: Leland Irving.

    Sooner rather than later, the Calgary Flames are going to have to take a serious look at alternative options to mainstay goaltender, Miikka Kiprusoff.

    The team's franchise player isn't getting any younger, and they don't have many options in net besides him. The answer could lie with prospect Leland Irving, currently playing in the AHL for the Abbotsford Heat.

    In 23 games for the Heat he has a 15-7-0 record, with a 2.30 goals against average and .914 save percentage.

Carolina Hurricanes, LW, Jeff Skinner

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    It's become popular for teams to look for bigger forwards who can score, but Carolina forward Jeff Skinner is proof that good things still come in small packages.

    Last season, Skinner had a sensational year, finishing with 63 points in 82 games for the Hurricanes. He went on to win the Calder Trophy handed out to the league's top rookie.

    A fan favorite in Raleigh, Skinner began his sophomore season with a fantastic start before suffering a concussion.

    He only recently returned to action, but it will be a tough hill for Skinner to climb, as he'll be coming off a lengthy injury only to stack up against players now in mid-season form.

    Still the Carolina Hurricanes have an absolute gem in the speedy, offensively gifted winger, and he's only going to get better.

    As long as Skinner can stay healthy, the Hurricanes have a slim chance at making a turn around and heading for a postseason berth.

     

    Runner Up: Ryan Murphy

    Ryan Murphy has the potential to turn into an offensively gifted defenseman, in the same vein as Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. However, after failing to make Canada's recent World Junior's team, question marks have been raised about his development and ability to play a two-way game.

    If Murphy can start to work on his defensive skills while maintaining his offensive upside, the Hurricanes could give the young blue-liner a shot at making their team next year in training camp.

Chicago Blackhawks, D, Nick Leddy

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    With superstars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both still in their early twenties, the Chicago Blackhawks won't need many young assets for the foreseeable future.

    Still, the team has to go to the draft each year like every other team hoping to improve, and they've got a few players in their system worth mentioning.

    With an All-Star pair of defenders like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook running their blue line, Nick Leddy is usually an after thought in discussions about defense in Chicago.

    Most people don't realize just how much the team has leaned on him to fill in for Brian Campbell after he was dealt to Florida in the offseason, a move made possible by the potential Leddy showed last season.

    He's currently eating up over 22 minutes a game on the blueline for the Blackhawks, a huge amount for a player who's just 20 years old.

     

    Runner Up: Marcus Kruger

    Marcus Kruger has 11 points in 36 games for the Blackhawks, a total that is related to his 13 minutes of ice time more than it is to his offensive ability.

    With players like Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa providing secondary scoring for the team, it's going to be a while before Marcus Kruger plays a significant role in Chicago.

    He's shown glimpses of brilliance for his team though, and he could turn into a more prominent player down the line if trades or injuries free up roster spots.

Colorado Avalanche, LW, Gabriel Landeskog

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    Gabriel Landeskog was widely considered the most NHL-ready prospect heading into this year's draft, and while he's had a mediocre rookie season with the Avalanche, it's evident that he's going to develop into a great player.

    Landeskog is Swedish, but you'd never guess it. He plays a strong, physical game that centers around winning puck battles, and competing for the gritty areas on the ice. He's a smart hockey player who can drive to the net and finish off scoring plays.

    Once he has more experience in the NHL, Landeskog is going to be a special player.

    It will also be either Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog who inherits the role of team captain from Milan Hejduk after he retires.

     

    Runner Up: Duncan Seimens

    Duncan Seimens was Colorado's second selection in the 2011 entry draft, chosen after Landeskog with the 11th selection. He's a big, physical defender who will be the team's future marquee player on the blue line.

Columbus Blue Jackets, C, Ryan Johansen

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    Ryan Johansen has got all the traits necessary to become a star player for the Blue Jackets. He's no slouch at 6'3'', 192 pounds and he has great vision and offensive upside.

    Columbus selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft.

    He returned to the WHL the following season, posting 92 points in 63 games with the Portland Winterhawks.

    Now a permanent fixture with Columbus, Johansen has 16 points on the year, placing him 10th in rookie scoring.

    As he becomes more accustomed to the NHL, he'll be relied upon further by the organization to lead an eventual post-Rick Nash era.

     

    Runner Up: Boone Jenner.

    Boone Jenner was an integral part of Canada's World Junior team this year, and is having a solid season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.

    He currently has 34 points in 30 games, and his physical, tenacious style of hockey would make him an ideal third line player for the Blue Jackets down the road. 

Dallas Stars, LW, Jamie Benn

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    Jamie Benn is having a monster season for the Dallas Stars.

    He's helped appease the departure of an offensive player like Brad Richards by producing 42 points in 43 games, with a plus-10 rating.

    At this rate, the 22-year-old will smoke his point total of 56 from last season by a considerable margin, something that the Stars desperately needed to have any form of playoff hopes this year.

    Benn has looked dominant at times, and is showing that his current point-per-game pace isn't necessarily all he's capable of producing. With a stronger supporting cast and more experience under his belt, Benn has the potential to take the league by storm in the coming years.

    The Stars are going to try and lock their budding star up in a long-term deal after the last year of his current entry level contract expires.

     

    Runner Up: Jamie Oleksiak

    While Jack Campbell is arguably the Stars' best prospect, Kari Lehtonen is already a main-stay in goal for the team, leaving Campbell little option but the bench if he makes the roster.

    Jamie Oleksiak, on the other hand, would be a breath of fresh air on defense for the team, assuming the 6'7'', 241-pound defender can crack the team's roster out of training camp next season.

Detroit Red Wings, D, Brendan Smith

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    The Detroit Red Wings don't have much in the way of young talent coming onto their team.

    This is mostly a by-product of never missing the playoffs for 20 years straight, however, with a team like the Red Wings, drafting highly touted talent isn't necessarily a priority. Look no further than players like Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg for proof that not all NHL stars are found with the first overall pick.

    The closest thing to a young, promising asset in Detroit's farm system comes from their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Brendan Smith is a 6'2'', 190-pound defender who can move the puck and is sound in his own end.

    While Detroit loves to keep their talent in their system for as long as possible, with Nick Lidstrom potentially retiring at the end of this year, he could get brought up sooner than later.

    Smith was selected by Detroit in 2007 with the 27th selection of the draft, and could be relied upon to become a key member of this team as it starts to look for younger players to replace key components.

     

    Runner Up: Tomas Jurco.

    Chosen last year in the second round, Jurco has fantastic offensive skills and stick handling. He's the kind of player Detroit could put into their system and help mature and cultivate until they're NHL ready.

    Jurco's consistency will be one of the primary things he needs to work on going forward, however, having an NHL frame will help him in his development.

Edmonton Oilers, RW, Jordan Eberle

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    It's hard to single out just one component on a team as young and skilled as the Edmonton Oilers. They've had the first overall pick for the past two years, and look like they could pick in the top five again this year.

    While a lot of the focus this season has been on budding star Ryan Nugent Hopkins and his tremendous skill set, there's been another player equally as good as '"The Nuge."

    Jordan Eberle is in his sophomore season now, and he's doing it all for Edmonton, currently clicking at a point-per-game pace. He's got silky smooth hands, a great shot, great vision and speed.

    He's only 5'10'', 174 pounds but his skill set allows for him to be successful, and the diversity and different looks he brings for the Oilers every night makes him their most important player going forward.

    Jordan Eberle scores big goals at big times for his team, and if the Oilers win a cup in the next 10 years, he will be a big part of it.

     

    Runner Up: Ryan Nugent Hopkins

    This spot could go to either Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent Hopkins, however, given the maturity, poise and and smarts shown by Nugent Hopkins after making the Oilers right out of his first training camp, he gets the edge.

    Ryan Nugent Hopkins is a fantastic playmaker with elite passing ability. For a small player, he's able to withstand the physicality of the NHL by being a step ahead of the play.

    If he can manage to bulk up and remain consistent for the Oilers, he could arguably be their most valuable player going forward.

    Taylor Hall is no slouch either, but he's had problems staying healthy, causing his production and development to stall.

Florida Panthers, C, Jonathan Huberdeau

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    Jonathan Huberdeau has the potential to become a star in the National Hockey League.

    He's a big, skilled center who can produce huge amounts of offense, and has fantastic stick handling. He knows where to be on the ice, and has incredible poise with the puck.

    He's currently still playing in the QMJHL, but a recent appearance for Canada at the World Juniors only helped raise his stock, as he looked like one of the team's best skaters for the whole tournament.

    He should get a good look at a top-six roster spot next season, especially if the Panthers can't hang on to a playoff spot at the end of the year.

    Huberdeau is the kind of young, versatile center who every team would love to build around. He was picked third overall last year at the NHL entry draft.

     

    Runner Up: Erik Gudbranson

    Erik Gudbranson made the team this season, however, his ice time isn't great. He's been relegated to the third pairing, where he plays just over 12 minutes a game.

    At 6'4'', 195 pounds, Gudbranson is a player who has the size to be in the league, and his willingness to drop the gloves and add toughness is something the Panthers will need in the future.

    Jacob Markstrom is the team's future goaltender, however, he needs a bit more time to develop in the AHL.

Los Angeles Kings, C, Andrei Loktionov

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    Brayden Schenn was supposed to be the future in Los Angeles, before they decided to trade that for a chance to win now.

    Mike Richards has been a great addition to the team, however, their prospect pool took a hit with the departure of Schenn. Andrei Loktionov has filled in where he would have been, appearing in 27 games so far for the Kings.

    He's got four points and a plus-one rating to his name so far, but his potential to be a good, young player for the Kings in the future is evident.

    Loktionov is a playmaker, and has good hockey smarts. It will take time for him to develop at the NHL level, but he's got terrific mentors in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards to help him out.

     

    Runner Up: Viatcheslav Voynov

    Voynov was called up by the Kings midseason, and currently has just under 30 games under his belt. He's contributed offensively with 11 points and has kept himself a plus player.

    He was picked early in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Kings, and could develop into a top four defenseman for them down the road.

    Note: Jonathan Bernier is not on here because with Quick proving himself capable, Bernier's future is not in Los Angeles.

Minnesota Wild, C, Mikael Granlund

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    Mikael Granlund has put himself into the spotlight this past year; once after a pretty lacrosse-style goal, the other with his dominating play for Finland at the World Juniors tournament.

    Both are reasons for Wild fans to get excited, and don't be surprised if he's all but handed a roster spot next season by Minnesota.

    He looks ready to play at an NHL level, and his slick hands and vision on the ice will be greatly appreciated in St. Paul.

    Granlund plays in the Finnish Elite League rather than in North America, and has found success there playing against older, stronger players.

    Success at that level usually translates well into the NHL, and he could come in next year and have a dynamite rookie season if he can stay healthy.

     

    Runner Up: Jonas Brodin

    Brodin was chosen by Minnesota at last year's draft, 10th overall. He's a big, steady defenseman that can handle the puck and make smart plays.

    He needs to bulk up to avoid being pushed around in the NHL, but he is going to turn into an important top four defenseman for Minnesota one day.

Montreal Canadiens, D, Nathan Beaulieu

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    The Montreal Canadiens made a great acquisition when they selected Nathan Beaulieu at last year's draft. He has the potential to be a top-two defenseman for Montreal in a few years, and he'll help the team replenish the back end.

    With players like Hal Gill and Tomas Kaberle closer to retirement than they are to their prime, PK Subban and Nathan Beaulieu will be key down the road as "rebuild" starts to become a buzz word in Montreal.

    Beaulieu recently played for Canada at the World Juniors tournament, but his regular duties are with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.

    He's a big defenseman with puck moving ability, and his transition game has been a point of praise among scouts.

    Depending on what happens before the trade deadline and during the off season in Montreal, he could find himself closer to the team's roster than initially expected.

     

    Runner Up: Louis LeBlanc

    With a name like Louis LeBlanc, he has to be on the Montreal Canadiens. Perhaps that's why they picked him in the 2009 entry draft...

    LeBlanc is player with a good skill set and the versatility to contribute for Montreal in a secondary role.

    Leblanc had 58 points last year in 51 games in the QMJHL, and while he may not be franchise talent, he could be a key secondary player for the team in the future.

Nashville Predators, C, Colin Wilson

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    Colin Wilson was a highly touted player when he played hockey for Boston University, and it surprised no one when Nashville picked him seventh overall in the 2008 draft.

    For one thing, he's got great size for a skilled player, clocking in at 6'1'', 219 pounds. He's also got good hands, skating and smarts that helped him get 34 points last year with limited ice time.

    This season he's been called upon to play a more prominent role for the team, and he's currently on pace for 42 points.

    Now in his third season, Wilson's development has been a bit slower than first anticipated, however, when he's finally established himself he'll be a player turned to for leadership and heavy offensive production.

    Colin Wilson will one day be a staple for Nashville hockey.

     

    Runner Up: Ryan Ellis

    With the departure of either Ryan Suter or Shea Weber now a foregone conclusion, there will be a major void on defense for the Predators that someone will have to fill.

    Ellis was called up a few weeks ago for the Predators, and in 11 games already has five points and a plus-four rating.

    Last season in the OHL, Ellis put up 100 points in 58 games, numbers that are almost unheard of for a defenseman. If he can bring even a quarter of that production to the NHL, the Predators have found themselves not only a replacement, but yet another star defenseman they can rely upon.

New Jersey Devils, D, Adam Larsson

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    Adam Larsson has been a big reason why the Devils have been competitive this season.

    The 19-year-old rookie has been a key cog on the team's blue line, and hasn't looked out of place for a minute despite inheriting almost 22 minutes a game with no NHL experience.

    He was picked fourth overall last year by New Jersey, but he could have easily gone first.

    The fact that the three teams before them were shopping for forwards must have been a relief for the Devils, as they surely had their eye on the young blue liner from the start.

    He was playing in the Swedish Elite League last season, and has drawn high praise in his comparisons to fellow Swede, Nicklas Lidstrom.

    He's a big, shut down defenseman, with tons of offensive upside as well. He reads the game very well, and can shutdown a rush and transition it back into offense at an elite level.

    Larsson currently has 15 points this season, on pace for just under 30.

     

    Runner Up: Adam Henrique

    Henrique has been a big surprise this year, as he's managed to come into the league as a rookie and earn himself a top six spot on the Devils' roster.

    He's one point behind Oiler's phenom Ryan Nugent Hopkins for first place in rookie scoring, and he's currently getting over 18 minutes per game to play with.

    He's big, fast and skilled, and another reason why New Jersey is having a solid bounce-back season.

    Look for him to be an important player the Devils rely upon in the future.

New York Islanders, C, John Tavares

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    This one's a no-brainer. John Tavares is the future for the Islanders, a statement they clearly agree with since they just signed him to a six-year extension, worth $30 million.

    The former first overall pick came into the league as a highly rated commodity, and rightfully so. He totaled 383 points in 223 games in the OHL, and did it in dominating fashion.

    While that same dominance hasn't exactly translated entirely to the NHL, he's still the Islanders' best player and is on pace for 80 points this year for the first time in his pro-career.

    Tavares is a well-rounded playmaker that has exceptional hands and an extremely high hockey IQ. He hasn't taken the league by storm, but he's improved each year and will eventually help bring the Islanders out of the basement back to respectability.

    With a host of other young, talented players in the system as a result of high drafting for the past five years, Tavares will soon have help on offense and begin to take center stage on what could be a good young team in the near future.

     

    Runner Up: Ryan Strome

    While Nino Niederreiter might be the Islanders' best young winger trying to make the team, it's Ryan Strome who is the missing piece of the puzzle.

    The team needs two bona-fide top six centers to find success, and with a talented offensive player like Strome in their system, they're all but guaranteed to have that soon. 

    It should be noted that the team has two more potential franchise players in Josh Bailey and Calvin DeHaan as well.

New York Rangers, D, Michael Del Zotto

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    Michael Del Zotto is having a break out season in New York, so much so, that there are many who felt he deserved to go to the upcoming All-Star game in Ottawa this year.

    He was omitted, however, but his solid stats and 22 minutes of ice time per game speak for themselves.

    Del Zotto currently has 20 points for the Rangers, on pace for just under 40 on the year. He's also a plus-20, and has displayed tremendous poise and maturity for a 21-year-old player.

    Michael Del Zotto has been one of the major reasons the Rangers have had such a successful season so far, as he's unexpectedly contributed in a major way at both ends of the rink. He works hard, finishes his checks, can shut down the opposition and plays a good transition game as well.

    He's the real deal, and he'll be a Ranger for his entire career if he can continue to play at such a high level consistently.

    There is nothing but upside here for New York, as he's still young with plenty of room to improve.

    The Rangers drafted Del Zotto 20th overall in the 2008 entry draft.

     

    Runner Up: Derek Stepan

    Stepan is currently on pace to surpass his rookie point total of 45 that he achieved last year. He sees regular time on the power play, and brings a solid amount of youthful skill and speed to their line up.

    While he's not guaranteed to be a big part of the Rangers' future, if he can continue to improve and develop under Tortorella, he could be around for quite some time in New York.

    Note: Swedish defenseman Tim Erixon also has the potential to be a franchise player.

Ottawa Senators, C, Kyle Turris

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    After initially hearing about Kyle Turris and David Rundblad swapping sides in a recent trade, I was concerned that the Senators gave up on a potentially great offensive defenseman in Rundblad too easily.

    While Rundblad had a rough start to the year, there was clearly an opportunity for him to grow into a good young player, while Turris just had bad press following him around like a smell.

    As of this moment, however, I'm of the opinion that the Senators just might have pulled the trigger on the trade that fast tracks their "rebuilding process" by several years.

    A former top-three pick, Turris was struggling to get ice time in Phoenix under a system that didn't allow young players to have growing pains at the NHL level.

    Now after coming to Ottawa, Turris has gone back to enjoying the game, and he gets more confident on the puck and on the ice by the day. 

    He was flagged as an elite player heading into the 2007 entry draft for a reason, and it's starting to show again.

    If Kyle Turris can continue to develop and play good hockey for the Senators, they could have just bypassed several painful years of losing with a single trade.

     

    Runner Up: Jared Cowen

    Now to the other reason why dealing David Rundblad was possible: Jared Cowen. He's 6'5'', 228 pounds and has the potential to be a fantastic blue liner.

    Coupled with the emergence of Erik Karlsson as an elite offensive defender, and you can see why GM Bryan Murray felt comfortable giving up a top prospect to get Turris.

    Still, keep an eye on Cowen. He has 14 points so far and has consistently been a plus-player.

Philadelphia Flyers, RW, Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux is sitting on the edge of the perimeters I made for myself when selecting future players, at age 24. That's still quite young, but there's a six-year gap between him and a draft eligible player, which can be a world of difference.

    Still, seeing how before this season he was relegated to a secondary role, only to elevate himself when called upon into a Hart Trophy candidate, I'm going to make an exception.

    Claude Giroux has done it all in Pennsylvania this season. He's a good leader, he plays a high energy, dynamic style of hockey, he makes he players around him better and, hey, he's still young at 24.

    With Giroux now proving himself as a No. 1 player, the Flyers have a fresh face to build around.

    Make no mistake about it too, while players like Briere and Jagr are still great contributors, this team has plenty of young jam on their roster that is ensuring that they'll be good for a long time.

    However, Giroux is the important player, as he's become their go-to guy and the future of this team.

     

    Runner Up: Sean Couturier.

    There are tons of options here, like James Van Riemsdyk, Matt Read, or Brayden Schenn. However, it's Couturier that looks like he has the brightest future, even more so than Brayden Schenn.

    Sean Couturier is a big man, with a ton of skill. He's currently on the outside of Philly's top six looking in, but that shouldn't belittle the fact that he has a fantastic opportunity in front of him to learn a few things from good players on a good team in a secondary role.

    He was chosen at last year's draft by Philadelphia with the seventh overall pick, something they acquired by sending Jeff Carter to Ohio.

    He could turn into a top line center with Claude Giroux some day.

    Note: JVR has had a poor season and has been a hot topic in trade discussions. He's currently the team's prime bargaining chip for a top four defenseman, making him expendable and off the list.

Phoenix Coyotes, D, Brandon Gormley

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    Brandon Gormley was far and away Canada's best player at this year's World Juniors tournament, and he's going to be a huge part of the Coyote's offense, if they manage to stay in Glendale past this year.

    Gormley is 6'2'', 185 pounds and plays a highly effective shut down style of hockey.

    He's a dependable player who can play in all situations, and he's got a good point shot as well.

    With Keith Yandle already a cornerstone player on their blue line, adding another strong player like Gormley will be a welcome sight for the organization.

    With his recent play at the World Juniors tournament, there are a lot of people that feel that Gormely is close to being NHL ready.

    If he can bulk up and continue to focus on developing his skills, he just might crack the roster next season out of training camp.

     

    Runner Up: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

    Ekman-Larsson has been solid this season for Phoenix, compiling 19 points so far in his sophomore year with the team.

    He's got tons of offensive upside for a defenseman. He was chosen sixth overall by the Coyotes in 2009.

    Note: With the acquisition of Rundblad from Ottawa, the Coyotes now have tons of young options on defense.

Pittsburgh Penguins, RW, Beau Bennett

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    There's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins because of the fluctuating health of their captain, Sidney Crosby.

    Recapping the last 18 months of Sidney Crosby's career isn't necessary given how well documented his concussion struggles have been, so let's just say that no one knows anything and it's been that way for a long time.

    He's no longer concerned about his career at this point, but rather his quality of living and the repercussions that playing a contact sport could have on him.

    If Crosby's career is indeed tragically cut short, then the Penguins will be in a tough position. The team would have to turn to Evgeni Malkin to be their leader on a full-time basis, with players like Neal and Staal taking on even bigger roles with the team.

    As far as future talent is concerned, Beau Bennett is their best prospect, a right winger playing in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

    Regardless of what happens with Crosby, Bennett should get an opportunity to come up in the next few years and try and earn a spot on the Pens' roster. He's got tons of skill and smarts but his speed is an issue, something he's trying to improve.

    He's hardly a franchise player though, and for now they don't need him or anybody else to be one. They just need Crosby back.

     

    Runner Up: Simon Depres

    Depres got 14 games with the Pens' earlier this year, and had four points to go along with a plus-four rating.

    He's a big defenseman who can skate well, who could come up if needed to fill in on defense in the event of injury next year.

    He'll certainly have an opportunity to earn himself a spot as well, coming into training camp.

San Jose Sharks, C, Logan Couture

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    Logan Couture is a highly skilled player and the future of the San Jose Sharks.

    He was a finalist for the Calder trophy last season, in a year where he scored over 30 goals and registered over 50 points. This year he's on pace for just under 60, and he's become a mainstay as the team's second line center behind Joe Thornton.

    He's 22 years old and can do just about everything for the Sharks. He plays well at both ends of the rink and looks poised and comfortable in just his second season in the NHL.

    If the Sharks want to remain a good team after their current batch of stars start to decline and slip out of their prime, then Couture is going to be the reason they do.

    He's a future star in the making.

     

    Runner Up: Nick Petrecki

    After trading Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a first-round draft pick to Minnesota for Brent Burns during the offseason, many thought that the Sharks had found their answer on the back end.

    While that may still come to fruition in the future, so far this season it hasn't looked anywhere close to the home run they thought they'd scored when they pulled Burns away from the Wild.

    Still, if the team wants to add a young, dependable defender who can play physical in a shut down role, then Nick Petrecki is a good player to turn to.

    He's currently on their AHL team, but he's close to being NHL-ready and could be an infusion of youth and speed that they could use on the blue line.

St. Louis Blues, D, Alex Pietrangelo

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    Alex Pietrangelo is a highly mobile defenseman for the St. Louis Blues who's only going to improve over time. People first started to realize just how good Pietrangelo was after his strong performance at the 2009-10 World Juniors tournament, where he notched 12 points in six games.

    He had a strong rookie debut last year that saw him notch 43 points and average 22 minutes of ice time per game.

    This season he's having another steady year, one pace to put up the same point total but with added minutes to his ice time.

    With Pietrangelo quarterbacking the power play, while managing to be responsible and well rounded in his own end of the rink, it's little wonder the Blues grabbed him fourth overall in 2008 when they had the chance. 

    While he's currently a 40-point player, don't be surprised to see him start to break out and increase those numbers as he gains experience.

     

    Runner Up: Vladimir Tarasenko

    Tarasenko was the captain for team Russia at last year's World Junior championship, and helped his team come away with the gold medal in a shocking upset of Canada in the Finals.

    He's got great speed and can play physical. He should get a good look at a roster spot next year.

Tampa Bay Lightning, D, Victor Hedman

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    After going second overall in the 2009 draft behind John Tavares, there was a lot of expectation on Victor Hedman to be both an offensive and defensive star upon his arrival in Tampa Bay.

    He hasn't lived up to the initial hype surrounding him to date, still he's clearly got tons of skill and his defensive game is developing into an important asset for the Lightning's blue line.

    He's a big player, with a 6'6'', 229-pound frame on him that he needs to continue to use to his advantage.

    Despite some disappointment surround Victor, it should be noted that not all defensemen come into the league and take it by storm and given how steadily he's improved over the past few seasons, he should still develop into a top two star for the Lightning.

    Now, his offense doesn't appear to have followed him over from the Swedish Elite League, however, he's best in a shutdown role anyways.

    If Hedman can continue to progress and adapt to the North American game, then he should turn out just fine.

     

    Runner Up: Brett Connolly

    Connolly was picked last year in the top 10 of the draft, and played his way onto the Lightning's roster this season.

    He was released by GM Steve Yzerman to return to the World Juniors' tournament this year, as he was still age eligible to do so. He had a great showing for Canada, and has returned now with his team looking to continue to improve in his rookie debut.

    Once he's settled in to NHL life, Connolly is going to start to show why he was regarded as a potential offensive superstar heading into the 2010 entry draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs, D, Jake Gardiner

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    It's funny how time changes things. A year ago, Brian Burke stated clearly that he would not consider moving Luke Schenn at the deadline, deeming him almost an untouchable asset. 

    However, with this year's deadline approaching Burke hinted a week ago that he would consider a one-for-one trade for a player like James Van Riemsdyk in Philadelphia, causing considerable trade speculation.

    It's not that Schenn's fallen out of favor with the club necessarily, but that he's been deemed expendable suddenly, with players like Cody Franson, John Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner all coming in and out playing him.

    In fact, it's the latter of those players that's been the most impressive this year.

    Gardiner is looking like a fantastic young player for Toronto, one that has both the smarts and the skill to be a top-four NHL defender.

    Now he'll have to continue to improve and develop like every other young player, but so far he's come in and been very impressive for the Leafs.

     

    Runner Up: Nazem Kadri

    Could it be that Kadri is finally ready, after all the premature hype to stick in the NHL? It certainly looks like a possibility.

    Kadri has six points in 15 games and is a plus-four at the moment. He's looked comfortable and ready to take on a secondary role for the team.

    He'll have to prove he can establish some consistency first, though. Putting up almost a point per game in the AHL last season is a good first step for him.

    Look above to see both players combine for a power play goal.

Vancouver Canucks, C, Cody Hodgson

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    Cody Hodgson has come into a fairly full Vancouver roster and managed not only to fit in, but to be effective in a limited role for the team.

    He average's just over 12 minutes a game, yet has managed to stay consistently in the top-five in rookie scoring. He's done this despite averaging over five minutes a game less than fellow rookies Ryan Nugent Hopkins and Adam Henrique.

    Hodgson currently has 27 points, and has seen regular time on Vancouver's second unit power play.

    Cody Hodgson's passing and vision on the ice are two of the main things that set him apart. However, he's slowly starting to show that he has an absolute cannon of a slap shot, and his wrister's pretty accurate as well.

    Even his lack of foot speed seems to be a non-issue this season, after he spent a large part of his off season last year working on improving his stride.

    With another highly skilled center in their system, Vancouver now has a lot of offensive depth at that position, something that should help them as they gear up for what they hope will be another long playoff run.

    The Canucks drafted Hodgson 10th overall in the 2008 draft.

     

    Runner Up: Chris Tanev

    Chris Tanev is a smooth, intelligent young player in the Canucks system, who was used at times last season when the team was bit by the injury bug.

    Tanev was considered by many to be too small to play in the league at first, causing him to be passed over by scouts.

    He developed strong smarts to compensate for being undersized, something that paid off when he suddenly had a major growth spurt.

    With both strong physical and mental aspects to his game now, Tanev will be looked upon to be a key future player for the team once veteran Sami Salo retires.

Washington Capitals, C, Marcus Johansson

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    Marcus Johansson has already tied his career high point total established in his rookie season last year, and he's done it in 25 fewer games.

    Johansson has found a way to be a bigger offensive threat this season for the Capitals, something that the team needs players to do under their new defense-first approach.

    Johansson has good hands and speed, and when he combines the two, he can be a flashy and dangerous player.

    With a relatively young offensive core already in place, the Capitals don't need Johansson to be spectacular or a go-to guy every night, but rather consistent and a good team player.

    He's slowly starting to become comfortable in that role and thrive under it, as his career-tying point total suggests.

    If Johansson can be a 50-point player for Washington, and continue to work on playing a two-way, tenacious style of game, then he'll be around for the long haul.

    The Capitals drafted Johansson 24th overall, in the 2009 entry draft.

     

    Runner Up: Evgeny Kuznetsov

    Kuznetsov is a humongous wild card for Washington. This year for Russia at the World Juniors tournament, he looked fantastic. He was offensively dominant, and managed to lead his team to a major upset over Canada in the Semi-Finals, with a hat-trick performance.

    The Capitals have to be excited to have yet another flashy, talented Russian in their system. However, it remains to be seen if this can translate over into the NHL.

    He'll have every opportunity to almost walk onto the roster next season, and from there it's up to him to prove that he's got the skill to be a good player in North America.

    He's currently playing in the KHL.

Winnipeg Jets, LW, Evander Kane

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    Evander Kane is on pace to have a career year for the Jets this season.

    He's one goal away from tying his career high of 19, and he should easily surpass his previous points total of 43 that he got last year.

    After being selected fourth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, Kane came into the league with high expectations to be a cornerstone player for the organization.

    Following the team's well documented move to Winnipeg, Kane appears to have finally adjusted, taking on more responsibility and is now starting to be a constant threat on the ice for his team.

    For now, the sky is the limit for Evander Kane, who looks like he'll turn into at least a 60 point player, if not more.

    He currently averages just over 17 minutes of ice time per game, and will be expected to be a consistent 30-goal scorer for his team as he begins to gain status and attention in the future.

    The team's going to have to make a big decision on Kane, however, as he's currently in the last year of his entry level contract. He'll be an RFA at the end of this season.

     

    Runner Up: Zach Bogosian

    Bogosian was taken third overall by Atlanta at the 2008 entry draft, and the expectation was that he would come in and have an immediate impact on their roster. 

    Similarily to Hedman, Bogosian had a tough start to his career, however, he's having a better season so far in Winnipeg. The hulking defender has 19 points in 42 games so far, and he's looked more comfortable and stable on the back end.

    The Jets need Bogosian to continue to develop and learn how to play consistently at a high level.

    He's got a big frame and needs to learn how to be physically dominant with it.