Picking the Next Breed of Stars the NHL Can Build Around
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When looking for the next breed of stars in the NHL, the league has to be mindful of more than a player's talent and production on the ice.
The humble, young player who hails from the Canadian prairie may have made for a nice story in the print world of newspapers a generation or two ago, but in the current information age, you want a player who has personality and is not afraid to put himself out there in the twitterverse so he can let the world know what's going on in his life.
But a player must have the game to go with the personality and lifestyle. If the young stars can make the most of their talent, they have a chance to join current stars like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Henrik Lundqvist at the top of the league's marketability list.
Here's a look at 10 young players who have the necessary ingredients to become the NHL's next breed of stars.
Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
Tyler Seguin has the speed, looks and charisma to become a star.
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Tyler Seguin was drafted by the Bruins with the No. 2 pick of the 2010 draft, right after the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall.
There was plenty of hype over the No. 1 pick, as "Taylor vs. Tyler" gripped the NHL. They were the two standout players of the draft and both have had their moments through their first two seasons and have a long way to go.
But Seguin has already been on a Stanley Cup winner and he is one of the best offensive players on one of the league's most storied franchises. He's a young player on the rise with a great smile. He's also got a Twitter account and he's not afraid to use it.
He's also got the dynamic skating speed and devastating shot to terrorize goalies around the league for years. Seguin's memorable game two showing against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals lifted the Bruins and showed local fans that they had a potential superstar on their hands.
Seguin had two goals and two assists in the second period of that game, and that explosion keyed a 6-5 Boston victory that allowed the Bruins to tie the series at one game each.
Had the Bruins lost that game and trailed 2-0 heading to Tampa Bay, it would have been much more difficult to win that series, and eventually, the Stanley Cup.
Seguin used that game to jump start his 2011-12 season. He led the Bruins in scoring with 29 goals and 38 assists. His eye-catching speed may be his best weapon and it seems like he has only scratched the surface of what he's going to do in his career.
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Tavares has the ability to jump into the attack quickly and cause havoc.
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John Tavares is one of the emerging stars in the NHL. He has gotten better in each of his three years with the Islanders and after scoring 81 points (31 goals, 50 assists) in 82 games, he is clearly one of the elite players in the game.
Tavares has the wonderful skills that the Islanders thought he had when they selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. He has the skating ability, balance, quick shot and tremendous hockey instincts to dominate a game.
If he was playing just a few miles down the road for the New York Rangers, he already might be one of the league's most marketable players. But playing on Long Island in the well-past-its-prime Nassau Coliseum has not given him the opportunity to earn a spot in the public consciousness.
Something has to give sooner or later with the franchise. The Islanders have some excellent young players and could start to play better. Could they join the NBA's Nets in Brooklyn's Barclay Center, as the New York Post surmised in 2011? If so, it might give the franchise more visibility and help Tavares earn the superstar status he deserves.
Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
Rangers coach John Tortorella can alway count on Callahan for maximum effort.
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This may be a bit of a reach because the Rangers captain is more of a workmanlike player than a superstar, but he plays with effort and consistency and puts every bit of his talent to work with him on an every-game basis.
That has made him a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden, and when you carry that kind of status in New York City you have a chance to be a superstar. Callahan scored a career-high 29 goals last season and he scored 13 of his goals on the power play.
Head coach John Tortorella needs goal scorers and he knows Callahan is one of the few players he can count on in that aspect of the game. Tortorella is not known for handing out compliments, but he lavished Callahan with praise in the New York Times. He said Callahan is the key to the Rangers' game plan, both offensively and defensively.
Callahan has shown plenty of growth to his game already and if he can raise his goal total to 35 or 40, he will become a legitimate superstar and the Rangers and the NHL may be able to capitalize on his status with a big-time marketing campaign.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown's clutch performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs has raised his profile dramatically.
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Hockey has had a very curious relationship with Los Angeles. When Jack Kent Cooke owned the Kings, he thought he had a potential gold mine with the team because 300,000 former Canadians were living in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
But the team struggled at the gate, and Cooke said, "Now I know why all those Canadians left Canada. They hate hockey." (source: Los Angeles Times)
The sport surged in Los Angeles when the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky in 1988 and that had a strong long-term impact. Not only did hockey become more popular in Southern California, it opened up hockey in non-traditional markets and helped persuade the NHL to put teams in cities like Dallas, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Miami.
The sport got another huge boost by the performance of the Los Angeles Kings in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. The Kings ran roughshod over the Western Conference and then defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
Nobody on the Kings did more than Dustin Brown, who led the NHL in playoff scoring with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists). Brown proved to be a clutch scorer who was not afraid to use his body to throw hard checks and intimidate opponents.
Brown is one of the best American-born players in the league. He is the kind of player who can raise West Coast hockey to a new level of popularity.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos has the Midas touch when it comes to scoring.
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This is an absolute no-brainer. Stamkos, 22, is a brilliant talent who has already broken the 50-goal mark twice in his first four years in the NHL.
He is a legitimate superstar and one of the three or four best players in the game already. He is a brilliant talent who will probably dominate the league for years to come.
However, why is he not a nationally known figure? Hockey simply does not have the profile to turn all players who should be superstars into marketing icons whom the rest of the world knows.
Stamkos is one of the hardest working players in professional sports and his conditioning regimen is demanding and effective (source: TSN.com). He would be a natural to market endurance and conditioning products.
The NHL has to make a better effort to turn Stamkos into a household name. He was on the cover of EA Sports NHL12, but the league must do more to promote him.
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
Parise was the hottest name in free agency, and when he signed to play with the Minnesota Wild and was joined by defenseman Ryan Suter, the Minnesota franchise had the biggest coup in its history.
Parise was probably the best player on the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 2010 and he was the New Jersey Devils' best all-around player. He is a superstar who plays with maximum effort at all times, and he plays with so much verve and panache that your eyes will gravitate toward him every time he is on the ice—even when he doesn't have the puck.
Parise has scored 30 or more goals in five of the last six seasons, with a high of 45 goals in the 2008-09 season.
The signing of Parise (along with Suter) has given the Wild a tremendous marketing buzz, according to Yahoo! Sports, and it is one the league should take advantage of as well. By pushing Parise on national telecasts and getting his face out to the public in key marketing campaigns, they can raise the level of the sport and help it capture new fans in the United States and Canada.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall has the drive and power to be a big-time goal scorer in the NHL.
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The Oilers are brimming with young talent. In recent years, they have added Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov in addition to Hall. We could have picked any of these potential superstars for this list, but Hall seems to have the most potential.
When Hall was taken by the Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft just ahead of Boston's Tyler Seguin, he got the edge because of his charismatic presence and drive on the ice as well as his explosive talent. Hall has flashed his ability but he has been slowed by injuries in each of his first two seasons.
Hall scored 22 goals in his rookie season and he followed that up with 27 goals in 2011-12. Hall has a quick and powerful left-handed shot and he can place the puck with eye-opening accuracy (source: TheScoutingReport.org). He scored on 13.0 percent of his shots last year.
He gets more comfortable every time he steps onto the ice. While it's hard for American sports fans to relate to an athlete from Edmonton, it has been done before by a couple of guys named Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
We're not saying that Hall will reach that level, but when the Oilers finally make their surge in the NHL, it will be Hall leading the way. He will become one of the key athletes that the league builds its future around.
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
Simmonds responded to a trade from Los Angeles to Philadelphia with a 28-goal season.
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Hockey is a sport that has seen just a smattering of black athletes. However, the play of rising stars like Wayne Simmonds could open the sport up to more African-American and African-Canadian athletes and also create more interest in the game in previously untapped urban areas.
Simmonds had 14 goals with the Los Angeles Kings in 2010-11, however, he doubled that total to 28 goals last season. Simmonds is one of the players that head coach Peter Laviolette depends on for clutch goal scoring and is a key member of a strong Flyers team.
Simmonds and other black players have had difficult obstacles to overcome that he addressed in an interview with The Hockey News.com (through YouTube). However, Simmonds started dreaming of a career in the NHL when he was in grade school and he never gave it up. His story has an appeal that could create new interest in the sport.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
The explosive Giroux is one of the most explosive scorers in the NHL.
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Giroux is on the cover of NHL13 because he is one of the most magical scorers in the league. Giroux was the Flyers' leading scorer last season with 93 points, and was third in the league behind Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It's all still beginning with Giroux, who is one of the shiftiest skaters in the game. Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette knows that Giroux will create scoring opportunities when he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone.
He also has impressed his teammates. During his one season with the Flyers in 2011-12, Jaromir Jagr started calling Giroux "Little Mario." Any time a player gets compared to Mario Lemieux, as Jagr did with Giroux in Men's Health magazine, it tells you that he is a player with a brilliant future who can carry the league on his shoulders.
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty is one of the players on whom the Montreal Canadiens will try to center their rebuilding efforts.
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It was one of the nightmare images for the NHL during the 2010-11 season.
During a typically nasty rivalry game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara checked Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens hard as they approached the boards.
The end result was disaster. Pacioretty's head hit the glass divider at the edge of the Montreal bench. Pacioretty was motionless on the ice, his season over as a result of the injuries.
Pacioretty made a full recovery and became a star in 2011-12. The 23-year-old left winger scored 33 goals. His touch around the net aroused Canadiens' fans, who had little else to be happy about throughout the season.
Pacioretty scored more goals than any other American-born player had ever done for the Canadiens in a single season. He should be a star for many years, and if the Canadiens can return to glory, Pacioretty should be one of their mainstays.