Philadelphia Flyers and 6 Teams Counting on Young Players to Step Up in 2012-13

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2012

Philadelphia Flyers and 6 Teams Counting on Young Players to Step Up in 2012-13

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    A team like the Boston Bruins was so confident in its veteran talent on the roster that Peter Chiarelli basically stood pat during the offseason.

    Chiarelli and Claude Julien have a solid and dependable defense with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference manning key roles.

    They also have perhaps the No. 1 rookie defensive prospect in Dougie Hamilton. Unless he has a disastrous training camp, Hamilton seems destined to stick with the big club and could be a key contributor.

    But the Bruins are not counting on Hamilton to lead them this year. That's not the case with several teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers, who are depending on great years from their youthful talent.

    In the Flyers' case, even more demands will be made on young players because they failed in their efforts to land Nashville defenseman Shea Weber. In the Oilers' case, they have been bringing in top young prospects for years and it's time for those additions to lead the team to the postseason.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers added four young players in Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn, who all played for the team and made key contributions last season.

    Voracek, 22, came to the Flyers last year from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade and he had 18 goals and 31 assists while finishing plus-11.

    Couturier,19, and Read, 26, looked like they were on the verge of becoming stars while Schenn, 20, showed a few flashes. Read scored 24 goals and recorded 23 assists last season, while Couturier had 13 goals and 14 assists. Schenn scored 12 goals, including four on the power play.

    This group of youngsters now has some much needed seasoning. In addition to the failure to bring in Weber, the status of Chris Pronger is quite murky. The Flyers don't know if and when he is coming back. As a result, they need the young players to come through in a big way.

Edmonton Oilers

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    No team has been adding young talent like the Oilers in recent years.

    First it was Jordan Eberle. Then came Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick in 2010. The Oilers used the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 to bring in star center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Finally, they selected Nail Yakupov with the No. 1 pick this year.

    The Oilers have been on the outside looking in for a long time. The natives were restless a long time ago. This is the year the Oilers must show some kind of return on these major investments.

    They should get some kind of reward this year. Eberle, 22, has already become one of the league's bright young stars, and Hall, 20, has demonstrated his explosiveness and power, even though injuries have been an issue in his first two seasons.

    Nugent-Hopkins, 19, has a skilled veteran's demeanor and puck distribution ability. Yakupov, 18, reportedly has breathtaking speed (source: Oilers Republic) and will be difficult for opposing defenses to contain.

Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers shocked many NHL observers when they not only made the playoffs last year, but won the Southeast Division title and ended up as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Panthers got a long look at superb young defense prospect Erik Gudbranson, 20, who played 72 games last season. He scored two goals and added six assists and much more will be expected this year.

    He will get help from Jonathan Huberdeau, 19, who should be an offensive wizard at the left wing position. Huberdeau has excellent hands and a knack for making the right pass at the correct moment. If he can make the jump to the NHL successfully, he will upgrade the Panthers' offense.

    Young goalie Jakob Markstrom and center Nick Bjugstad may also be in a position to help this season.

Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators have a number of young players who are going to try to take this team further up the Eastern Conference standings this year.

    The Senators had a surprising strong 2011-12 season when they made the postseason as the No. 8 seed and pushed the top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in their first round playoff series before bowing out.

    This year, head coach Paul MacLean will depend on talented young players like Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa and Jakob Silfverberg to continue the team's climb up the ladder. Da Costa has an array of moves in the offensive zone and could develop into a top-flight scorer.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks were one of the most disappointing teams in 2011-12, but this team is loaded with prospects, particularly on the offensive end.

    Speedy Devante Smith-Pelly, 20, gives the Ducks a player who can accelerate off the wing and make big plays, while they have additional strength with Kyle Palmieri, 21, and Emerson Etem, 20.

    Smith-Pelly scored seven goals and recorded six assists last year and much more will be expected this season. Palmieri scored four goals in 18 games and he is also a fast skater with sharp offensive moves. Both Smith-Pelly and Palmieri play right wing. Etem is a high-scoring forward prospect who is a workout warrior.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks had to go through a semi-teardown immediately after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.

    Salary cap difficulties forced general manager Stan Bowman to get rid of several role players and key performers—including Dustin Byfuglien—and start the process of semi-rebuilding.

    That process may be close to providing the Blackhawks with several young players including Brandon Saad, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Pirri.

    That's a significant amount of talent. Hayes, 22, played in 31 games last season and did not get untracked. He had five goals and four assists, but the Blackhawks like his size and strength at 6'5" and 221 pounds.

New York Islanders

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    Few teams in professional sports have tougher competition than the New York Islanders. In addition to having to battle for market share with the dominant New York Rangers and the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils, they have to compete with the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

    That makes earning a playoff spot awfully difficult, even with the presence of John Tavares, one of the best young players in the league. Tavares, 21, scored 31 goals last year and has improved each of his three seasons in the NHL.

    The Islanders are depending on young players like Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson to help them fight their way out of despair and back into significance.