NHL Player Rankings: Top 40 Non-Rookie, 21-and-Under Players

Suraj SukumarCorrespondent IIAugust 6, 2012

NHL Player Rankings: Top 40 Non-Rookie, 21-and-Under Players

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    The talent of young NHL players has become scary. Very scary.

    In fact, it's borderline petrifying.   

    Last season, Stephen Stamkos continued his goal-scoring tear by notching 60 and Erik Karlsson, well, only so many defensemen have surpassed the 70-point mark.

    They're also only 22 years old.

    Both players had respectable rookie seasons but failed to win the Calder Trophy. Now, they have separated themselves as part of the NHL's best talents.

    If any other candidates could make this jump, the following group of 40 should definitely crack the list.

    Some of these youngsters can't, legally, consume alcohol in the United States. But they sure can play hockey. 

    Here are the 40 best players, aged 21 years and under, who have already passed their rookie eligibility.  

    With regards to the ranking system: point totals aren't everything, while potential and skill are highly considered. Current team situations will determine their positions next year and NHL-ready defensemen are given immense credit due to their age.  

    (In the spirit of NHL Guidelines, only players to be counted are born on or after September 15th, 1990) 

40. C, Anton Lander, Edmonton Oilers

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    Anton Lander is not a household name by any means. 

    In fact, playing behind the young group currently in Edmonton will forever hurt his chances of blossoming. 

    His most reputable performance has to be the World Junior Championships. He managed a point-per-game pace in two tournaments, which at least suggests he can play with his own age group. 

    He's also had some success in Sweden, but to be successful at the NHL level, he needs to hone his skills for the North American style of hockey. 

    With the group being put together in Edmonton, it would seem in Lander's best interest to get in on the offensive outburst the Oilers will surely have in the near future. 

    He has a long way to go, though. 

39. D, John Moore, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    John Moore was considered a great offensive talent from the blue line heading into the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  

    The Columbus Blue Jackets, picking the latest they ever have, were able to scoop him up at the 21st pick.

    Moore played 67 games with the Blue Jackets last season and amassed two goals and five assists for a total of seven points.  

    He was a minus-23 last season, but every player on the Blue Jackets' roster suffered a similar fate in that department. 

    He's had successful outings with the AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons for the past few seasons and should be a lock for the Blue Jackets' blue line next season. 

38. LW, Kyle Clifford, Los Angeles Kings

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    Kyle Clifford is not one to score goals and set up beautiful plays, but he will protect his teammates. 

    At just 21 years old, Clifford has fought many of the NHL's premier enforcers, and he's done pretty well in the process. 

    Furthermore, he was a part of the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, so it looks like he's found a home in Tinsel Town. 

    Clifford, especially on such a talented team, will find himself on the bottom two lines for most of his career. However, for the role he plays, that is where he belongs. 

    Nonetheless, he could be one of, if the not the toughest 21-year-old in the NHL. 

    He'll be making a case for himself in the 2012-13 season. 

37. LW, Devante Smith-Pelly, Anaheim Ducks

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    As coach Boudreau stated, "potential" is the main word here. 

    At his best, Devante Smith-Pelly could make a case for being much higher on this list. But the problem was he fractured his foot last season, limiting him to 49 NHL games. 

    In those games, Smith-Pelly showed promise as an effective NHL power forward. He racked up a total of 13 points (7Gs, 6As) and over 100 hits. 

    For a kid who was just 19 years old last year, Smith-Pelly will only grow to be better in the future. 

    If the Ducks have a stellar season, look for Smith-Pelly to make a serious statement for himself in the process.

36. LW, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, Edmonton Oilers

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    What a group they've got in Edmonton. 

    Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson is just one of many bright prospects in the Oilers' system.  

    The main difference is that he has yet to prove himself.

    In a total of 121 NHL games, Pääjärvi-Svensson has managed only 42 points. While he is still young, he will need to perform better to have a major role with the Oilers going forward. 

    The most enlightening fact about the young Swede is that he did quite well in the AHL last season. Playing in 34 games, he managed a total of 25 points, mostly assists. 

    With the amount of goal-scorers in Edmonton, hopefully Pääjärvi-Svensson can step it up and join the Oilers' elite youngsters leading the charge.

35. C/LW, Cody Eakin, Dallas Stars

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    Cody Eakin has definitely not been a household name, even for a prospect. 

    However, his output in the Western Hockey League, which was a point-per-game, suggests that Eakin could easily be a steal in the third round. 

    Getting traded from the Washington Capitals to the Dallas Stars actually makes a lot of sense. 

    In the last two seasons, Jamie Benn has solidified himself as one of the NHL's premier hockey players. 

    He was drafted in the fifth round. 

    In 30 games played last season, Eakin had eight points, which isn't saying much. But with his performance both in junior and the AHL, Eakin has legitimate potential to be a productive pro in the NHL. 

    Eakin will be able to play with a great group of players, especially with the recent signings in Dallas. This will help him develop into a good NHL player down the road. 

    Hopefully, he seizes the opportunity. 

34. LW Gabriel Bourque, Nashville Predators

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    Gabriel Bourque's first goal was definitely pretty. 

    There's something about the Nashville Predators and finding talent deep in the NHL Entry Draft. 

    Bourque is one of the players that will turn 22 by the end of the year, but he does deserve to be on this list.

    In 103 AHL games, Bourque has scored 52 points. After getting the call-up last year, he was able to score 19 points in 43 NHL games.

    In classic Nashville style, Bourque has the potential to be a diamond in the rough, getting drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

    His success will depend on how he builds on his rookie campaign.

    If all goes well, the Preds could have found a top-six forward very late in the NHL Draft.

    Congrats, again.  

33. C, Jacob Josefson, New Jersey Devils

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    Jacob Josefson was supposed to start the season on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. 

    However, Adam Henrique more than demonstrated his right to take that position. 

    Nevertheless, Josefson is a potential playmaking center that could really help the Devils' front-six. 

    Josefson has proven that his skills trump that of the AHL. In 22 games, he managed to accumulate 15 points. 

    After getting the call-up twice in the past two seasons, Josefson has played in 69 games and scored 19 points. Most interestingly, in his rookie season, he actually did better by scoring 10 points in only 28 games. 

    If Josefson can continue to perform at the level of his rookie season, he will surely lock himself a position with the Devils this coming year.  

    With Parise leaving, the Devils could sure use the help of their up-and-coming prospects. 

32. C, Alex Burmistrov, Winnipeg Jets

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    Though his statistical output does not represent it, Alex Burmistrov oozes talent. Judging by the tape, his skating and puck-handling skills are phenomenal.

    The major concern right now is when will he transition this into the NHL?

    He only played one season of junior and averaged just under a point-per-game player. 

    He played his first NHL season with the Atlanta Thrashers. Last year, Burmistrov saw career increases in goals and assists, showing he's making progress, slowly. 

    In 150 career games in the NHL, Burmistrov has managed 48 points (19Gs, 29As). The Winnipeg Jets are still young and have plenty of young talent that still need developing. 

    Burmistrov is very high on this list. 

    If he is capable of breaking out this season, Burmistrov will finally earn himself a name at the NHL level. 

    But he's got his work cut out for him. 

31. D, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers

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    Gudbranson is a fearless defender, willing to put his body on the line at all times on the ice. 

    He had a very impressive OHL career which got him drafted third overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. 

    Due to the lack of youth on the defensive end, Gudbranson has never played in the AHL, and remained with the team throughout his NHL rookie campaign. In 72 games played, Gudbranson averaged only 14-15 minutes of ice time and racked in eight points. 

    These totals will increase in the future. He was also only 19 years old when the season began. 

    Given the age of the current defensemen in Florida, Gudbranson will be called upon soon to make his name as a legitimate NHL defender for years to come. 

    Gudbranson has all the makings of a terrific shut-down defenseman. If he can improve his plus/minus, he will surely see an increase in ice time and, potentially, point production. 

30. LW/RW, Jordan Caron, Boston Bruins

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    It's downright scary how many great prospects the Boston Bruins have with all the successful seasons they've had in the last few years. 

    Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins were able to draft Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton; both who will have amazing NHL careers by the time they retire. 

    Jordan Caron may not be a household name like the previous two Bruins, but he sure has the makings of legitimate NHL winger. 

    Caron was a point-per-game player all throughout his QMJHL career. In 64 AHL games, Caron has managed 41 points. Last season, in his second year as an NHL player, Caron scored 15 points in 48 games. 

    Not bad for a player trying to make one of the best teams in the NHL. 

    If Caron can carry his production from his past hockey seasons into the NHL, he could be in line for a promotion very soon. 

29. RW, Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders

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    A lot of players are selected based on their World Junior Championship performances. Sometimes, they do so well that their junior careers are thrown on the back burner. 

    Nino Niederreiter is not one of those players.

    Niederreiter has been able to dominate every level of hockey he's ever played, except for the NHL. 

    Based on pure skill, there is no question Niederreiter would fall higher on this list.

    Alas, a line of 64 games played, 3 points and a minus-30 rating does not deserve very much recognition. 

    On the other hand, many believe he was used poorly after returning from his injury. This article on Light House Hockey really grasps the negatives and positives of Niederreiter's rookie season.

    Check out his fantasy updates on CBSSports.com. Enough said. 

    All in all, this is one rookie season everyone would like to forget, mostly Niederreiter himself.

    But make no question, he is still just a kid playing with men, and his skill will surely come alive in the near future. 

28. RW, Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks

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    Judging by his first season with the Buffalo Sabres, Zack Kassian will be a force in the NHL for years to come. 

    The trouble with Kassian is the offensive output might not end up being similar to his junior totals. 

    The Windsor Spitfires in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons were stacked with talent. Kassian was able to play with some of the best talent his age group has to offer in Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis.

    It will not be so easy to accumulate points at the NHL level. 

    In 44 games in the NHL so far, Kassian has scored 10 points, four goals and six assists. 

    Nevertheless, Kassian provides a mean streak that any team would benefit from in their top six forwards. 

    The physicality of his game is obvious, the question is will he have the ability to become a legitimate point-producing power forward in the NHL?

    Given his age, the offense could still be a learning curve for Kassian.

    Play him with the Sedin twins and see what happens.

27. D, Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals

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    Dmitry Orlov could be another steal, considering his draft position. 

    He was drafted in the second round, 55th overall, but he's had a solid development path so far.

    His World Junior Championship may have put his name on the map.

    In 13 games, he had 13 points. 

    After playing a few seasons in the KHL, Orlov joined the AHL and saw significant success as a 20 year old. 

    Now, after playing 60 games last season with the Washington Capitals, Orlov has 19 career NHL points to his name. In addition, he was able to dish 99 hits in only so many games played. 

    His two-way game may very well be ready for next season. 

    With a healthy Nicklas Bäckström and an Alexander Ovechkin with so much to prove, his totals will significantly rise next year. 

    Look for Orlov to establish himself as a premier defenseman with the Capitals soon. 

26. C/W, Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    To call Nazem Kadri a bust would be very unfair to him and the Toronto Maple Leafs' front office. The heat from Maple Leafs' fans has made Kadri out to be a lot worse than he really is. 

    In fact, he's a lot better. 

    In 92 AHL games, Kadri has accumulated 81 points. In the AHL playoffs, he was almost a point-per-game with 10 in 11 games. 

    His OHL performance with the London Knights was nothing short of spectacular. At the OHL level, his stature did not cause him as much of a headache. 

    The NHL is a different story. 

    In 21 games played last season, Kadri had seven points. 

    Enter Gary Roberts.

    According to Sportsnet, Kadri has now taken it upon himself to get bigger and stronger, by reporting to Gary Roberts' hockey training program. 

    With graduates like Steven Stamkos under his belt, hopefully Roberts can help Kadri get his NHL career on the right path. 

    Patience Leafs Nation, your long-awaited offensive saviour could be on his way soon. 

25. D, Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

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    This may come as a surprise to some, but if you are a Carolina Hurricanes fan, you might think he deserves to be higher. 

    Patience.

    The talent on the blue line represented in this list is phenomenal. Justin Faulk is not as big of a name as some, but his production last year merits recognition.

    Faulk was a second-round pick, and at 35th overall, he's looking like a steal. 

    Faulk only played 66 games last year in the NHL. In those games, he averaged the most ice-time of any player on the roster with 22:50. In those games, he accumulated 22 points, eight goals and 14 assists. 

    Pretty good for a rookie, no?

    The most interesting part of all this: Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. 

    Faulk has demonstrated that he's an offense-first defenseman. If that's true, he could benefit from the Hurricanes' off-season moves the most. 

    Look for Faulk to take a much large role on the blue line for the Canes next season. 

24. C, Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks

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    This is probably the biggest surprise. 

    The interesting part about Andrew Shaw is he's never been an overly offensive player, but he seems to produce at every level. 

    Shaw split the season between the Rockford IceHogs and the Chicago Blackhawks. 

    The incredible part about his time in the AHL and NHL is that they seem the same to him. In 38 AHL games, Shaw scored 23 points. In 37 NHL games, he scored 23 points as well. 12 goals and 11 assists for both teams.  

    Does anyone else notice something here? Shaw could become a very consistent power forward in the NHL if he continues this pace. 

    He's one of the only players on this entire list to perform the same in both the AHL and the NHL. 

    That says a lot about a 21-year-old who was drafted in the fifth round. 

    The Blackhawks have a plethora of forwards to choose from next year, but it should be safe to assume that Shaw will play in the NHL. 

23. D, Jared Cowen, Ottawa Senators

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    Jared Cowen had a long career in the WHL, approaching almost five seasons. 

    He played in one playoff with the AHL Binghamton Senators and had a total of four assists in 10 games. 

    After playing only one game with the Senators in 2009-10, he was able to participate in all 82 games last season and did very well. 

    In only 18 minutes of average ice time, Cowen was able to score 17 points, very good for a player more known for his shut-down ability. 

    The comparison to Zdeno Chara could be accurate further in his career, but he needs to improve his two-way ability significantly before those comparisons become a reality. 

    Measuring 6'5" and weighing 230 pounds at age 21, Cowen will have the body to become the next Chara. 

    Though the potential of playing with Erik Karlsson could help his case, he definitely has a long way to go before that can happen. 

22. RW/LW, Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Brett Connolly is a very lucky hockey player. 

    Luck may not be the right word, but everything has worked out very well for the young winger. 

    He has a pretty significant injury report over his junior career, mostly with his hip. 

    However, as Yzerman demonstrated with this draft pick, he's more than worthy of sixth overall.

    His skill and determination are undeniable. 

    He was a great junior player, averaging more than a point per game. In his most recent season in the WHL, he scored 46 goals in only 59 games. 

    In his first NHL season, Connolly managed 15 points in 68 games; not bad at all for a rookie campaign.

    His first career goal shows how nicely he can gel with the current corps of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  

    The most interesting factor about Connolly is he could fit perfectly with Steven Stamkos down the line. 

    If Yzerman's long-term plan works, Connolly and Stamkos will be making sweet music very soon in the NHL. 

21. D, Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers

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    Dmitry Kulikov was a highly-touted prospect going into the NHL Entry Draft. 

    In the QMJHL, Kulikov played 57 games and scored 62 points while also managing a plus-34 rating. 

    He's played three seasons in the NHL, but has had injury problems which have kept him from playing a full season. 

    However, his abilities in those games cannot be ignored. 

    His production has slowly gotten better and better at the NHL level. In is second season, Kulikov scored 26 points in 72 games. In his third year, in only 58 games, he managed 28 points. 

    If Kulikov can stay healthy next season, a minimum 40-point season should definitely be in the cards for him. 

    While the offensive mechanisms are obvious, Kulikov needs to stay healthy to reach his full potential at the NHL level. 

20. D, Nick Leddy, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Nick Leddy has definitely been a quiet success story in Chicago. 

    In 2010-11, Leddy split his rookie campaign between the NHL and the AHL. In 46 NHL games, he had seven points. However, in the AHL, he showed his offensive talents by scoring 10 points in only 22 games. 

    Last season, Leddy made the jump to full-time NHL defensemen.

    He played all 82 games and averaged 22-minutes, third highest behind only, of course, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

    In those games, he managed 34 assists and a total of 37 points.

    Nick Leddy has solidified himself as major part of the Blackhawks' blue line. If he can improve his back-end play while potting a few more goals, he will be considered a great defensemen for years to come.  

19. C, Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals

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    Marcus Johansson is well on his way to being an effective NHL playmaker. 

    A part of me feels he deserves to be higher on this list. 

    However, given the potential of the other players, and the fact that Johansson has now played two seasons with some of the best talent in the NHL, it would seem wise to cautiously place him in the top 25. 

    For now. 

    Johansson could become a premier playmaker in the NHL. In his last season with the Washington Capitals, Johansson had 46 points in 80 games played. 

    32 of those points were assists. 

    If Alexander Semin were still a Capital, Johansson would have a higher chance of playing with talented players in Washington. 

    However, with Semin gone and Nicklas Bäckström healthy for next season, Johansson could be forced to play a much smaller role for the team. 

    Nevertheless, a 60-point season could definitely be in the cards, keeping his development process right on track. 

18. D, David Rundblad, Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Ottawa Senators have a great group on defense.

    So good that they gave up one of the best defensive prospects in David Rundblad to beef up their top six forwards. Kyle Turris seems to have found himself in Ottawa. 

    The same can be said for Rundblad in Phoenix. 

    While in Ottawa, Rundblad played 24 games and scored a total of four points. 

    After the move to Phoenix, Rundblad played in 30 AHL games and scored 16 points. While in the NHL with the Coyotes, he played six games and scored three points, all assists. 

    The Coyotes have now built a great group on defense by adding Rundblad this season. Look for this group of defensemen to solidify themselves as one of the best in the near future. 

17. C, Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche have young talent coming out of their ears. 

    Ryan O'Reilly may not be the biggest name on the roster, but he really is a legitimate top-six forward in the NHL. 

    In three full NHL seasons, O'Reilly has been getting better every year. In his most recent campaign, O'Reilly had career highs in goals and assists. 

    That's not even the best part. 

    The one thing that must be credited to O'Reilly is his two-way game. Like many defensive centers, he's able to cover responsibilities at both ends of the ice very well. 

    O'Reilly may not have the offensive suave of other players on this list, but he will be more than reliable down the middle for the Avs.

    Not to mention, he developed some great chemistry with Gabriel Landeskog.

    This is why O'Reilly deserves to be in the top 20 of this list, and could move higher in the rankings with a great season next year.  

16. D, Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The verdict is still out on Victor Hedman's offensive talents in the NHL. 

    However, last season's showing of 23 points in 61 games is an indication that he could be getting better. 

    In three NHL seasons so far, Hedman has yet to pass the 30-point mark; a feat many of his counterparts have already accomplished. 

    Points aren't everything though. 

    Victor Hedman had similar average ice time to veteran Eric Brewer, both eclipsing the 23-minute mark. 

    Hedman is a great skater with a terminator-like stature. He should continue to blossom as a reliable, elite-level defenseman in the NHL. 

    If Hedman does surpass the 30-point mark this year, look for the Tampa Bay Lightning to feed off his success gracefully. 

15. C, Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Playing for the Portland Winterhawks, Ryan Johansen benefited from playing with linemates Sven Bartchi and Nino Neiderrieiter. If you look at their junior stats, I'm sure any NHL team would love to have all three of these players. 

    However, Niederreiter had a horrendous rookie campaign with the New York Islanders and Barstchi showed what he can do in merely five games with the Calgary Flames. 

    Where does this leave Johansen?

    Well, he was stuck in a difficult situation. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Johansen will follow the same path as Seguin, playing primarily a third-fourth line role while getting benched regularly. His numbers last season were still quite respectable for a 19 year old, especially in the plus/minus and hits department. 

    Arguably, it should remain questionable that the Columbus Blue Jackets were following the development plans of the Stanley Cup champions that year. 

    Johansen should have probably been given regular ice time to gain NHL experience for next season. 

    He was only 19 years old last season, and his dedication and maturity for his age is unquestionable.

    His offseason has been nothing short of tremendous. He's added 15 pounds of muscle mass, so far. 

    He's always had something to prove, being drafted in the seventh round of the WHL draft.

    Look for him to continue his proving process and provide a breakout season for the Blue Jackets next year. 

14. D, Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks

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    To say the Anaheim Ducks had a bad season would be an understatement. 

    Cam Fowler, though he should not be blamed for the team's troubles, saw his goal production cut in half from his rookie season. On top of that, he had a worse plus/minus rating of minus-28. 

    If Fowler wants to be an effective defenseman at the NHL level, he needs to play consistently at both ends of the ice. 

    The offense will come back alive next year in Anaheim, but to compete with the rest of the Western Conference, defense is the name of the game. 

    Fowler has all the tools to be a great offensive defenseman, and he's already shown it in his first two seasons.  

    The time has come for Fowler to work on preventing opponents from scoring, because his career minus-53 rating could use some improvement. 

    If all goes well in the Pond, look for Fowler to surpass the 40-point mark with Lubomir Visnovsky out of the picture. But he still needs to work on his defensive game to reach the next level. 

13. D, Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils

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    This could be a questionable rank for a player who only played in 65 games and scored 18 points, but Adam Larsson is very special. 

    Before getting drafted by the Devils, Larsson played in the Swedish Men's League and put on a great show for a teenager. 

    During the New Jersey Devils' Cinderella playoff run, Larsson got a taste of the NHL postseason. In five games, he got his first, and only, NHL goal and point. 

    Before getting injured last season, he led all rookie defensemen in points before the All-Star break.

    Larsson has always been credited for his poise at such a young age, and he's now played at the highest levels of men's hockey on the planet. 

    This may not be a such a big deal, but he was only 18 years old this past season. 

    Larsson will be called upon to carry the Devils' blue line soon, and by the looks of it, he seems more than ready. 

12. C, Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

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    Judging by this video, some Avalanche fans have some high hopes for Matt Duchene. 

    As they should. 

    The Avalanche drafted him third overall in 2009 and he's definitely made it worth their while. 

    If it were not for injuries, Duchene might deserve to be higher on this list. 

    The one thing that stands out, also mentioned in the video, is his character. Duchene is very mature for his age and showed great determination throughout his rehabilitation last season. 

    This CBC Inside Hockey special truly exemplifies why Duchene is more than just a point producer in the NHL. 

    With over 200 games of NHL experience, Duchene will hope to reach his full level of output in the coming season. 

    The Avalanche have done an amazing job in rebuilding this team from the Sakic/Forsberg days, and Duchene will have every opportunity to take his place in Avs history. 

11. W/C, Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Head injuries have been dealt with tremendous care after the recent scares around the NHL.  

    With Sidney Crosby headlining this issue, Jeff Skinner was one of the young stars to suffer a similar fate. 

    After scoring 63 points in his rookie season, Skinner was shelved for 16 games due to a concussion. 

    In the 64 games he did play, Skinner was able to pass the 20-goal mark with a total of 44 points. 

    With the arrival of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, look for Skinner to pick up right where he left off. 

    The Carolina Hurricanes might make one of the biggest leaps in standings next year, and Skinner will play his part to make that happen. 

10. LW, Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche already have two great players on this list, and Gabriel Landeskog could be the best the Avs have to offer. 

    Scouts were always raving about his NHL-readiness, and judging by some of the hits in the video, they weren't wrong. 

    It's very hard to grasp his offensive output for the rest of his career, which limits him from making it higher in the top 10. 

    However, with the caliber of players in Colorado, and the skill that Landeskog displayed last season, the sky is the limit. 

    If Landeskog can surpass the 70-point mark later in his career, he will be one of the NHL's best power forwards for years to come.

    Baby steps Gabriel, baby steps.  

9. D, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have a serious knack in building their defense.

    Keith Yandle, David Rundblad and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have immense talent.  It's only a matter of time before they solidify the Coyotes' defense as one of the best. 

    Thus far, Ekman-Larsson has been developing quite smoothly and could be in for a breakout season. In 130 career NHL games, he's been able to prove that he deserves to play at this level. 

    Last season, he averaged 22 minutes a game, which is phenomenal at his age. To add, he accumulated 32 points for second best on the team from the blue line.

    In 2010-11, Ekman-Larsson was able to get 10 points in only 15 AHL games, showing he does have the offensive talent for the professional level. 

    Ready for the kicker? 

    In the 2012 NHL playoffs, Ekman-Larsson averaged a team-high 25:46 of ice time in 16 games. Pretty good for a guy who turned 21 on July 17. 

    Now that Ekman-Larsson knows he can play with the best, look for the offensive totals to start rising in accordance. 

    He will be one of the best, and soon. 

8. LW, Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets

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    Evander Kane loves everything that comes with being an NHL superstar. 

    The fact is, he's playing like it too. 

    In only 74 games last season with the Jets, he managed to score 30 goals for 57 points, a team-best rating of plus-11 and throw a ridiculous 173 hits.  

    These are great totals for his first year in Winnipeg and third year in the NHL. 

    40 goals and 200 hits should be in the cards for the gritty power forward, making him one of the most versatile players of his age. 

    With regards to hockey, this video truly represents what the fans in Winnipeg have dealt with over the years. Now, it looks like hockey is there to stay. 

    Evander "the Real Deal" Kane will be a major part of the team's growth going forward, and you can bet he wouldn't have it any other way. 

7. C, Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Brayden Schenn could have been a dark-horse candidate for the NHL Calder Trophy had he played the entire season. 

    A broken foot and mild concussion limited him to 54 games in the NHL last season. However, he did play seven games in the AHL and recorded 12 points. 

    When considering Schenn has been more than a point-per-game player throughout his hockey career, it would be safe to assume that he will become one of the NHL's best very soon. 

    Had he completed a full season with the Flyers, he may have warranted a higher rank. 

    Nevertheless, He's still young and full of talent. Look for Schenn to make great leaps in his NHL career this coming season. 

6. D, Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators

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    This may come as a surprise to most, but it really, really shouldn't. 

    Considering his performance in the OHL, Ryan Ellis should be considered the best offensive-defenseman prospect going into next season. 

    Did I mention he's never been a minus player in his junior or professional career? That says a lot about a 5'10" defenseman. 

    If that's not enough, how about potentially playing with Shea Weber? All signs point to Ellis having an amazing campaign in the coming year. 

    Ryan Suter has definitely left a void on the blue line in Nashville, but Ryan Ellis is more than capable of picking up the slack. 

    2010-11 OHL season: 101 points.

    2011-12 AHL season: 29 games played, 18 points.

    2011-12 NHL season: 32 games played, 11 points (he only averaged about 15 minutes of ice-time).

    2012-13 NHL season: ?

    This is going to be an interesting season for Ryan Ellis. 

5. LW, Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

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    If Taylor Hall played the whole season last year, the hockey world would've seen just how good he is for his age. 

    In only 61 games played, Hall had 27 goals to go along with 26 assists. Not only would he have approached the 40-goal mark in only his second season, but he would've flirted with a point-per-game scoring pace. 

    Should we even be surprised though? Probably not.

    Based on his stat sheet in juniors, to say he dominated the OHL would be an understatement. 

    With potential linemates in Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, Hall is going to become a very special player in the NHL. 

4. C, Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

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    This may be the gutsiest call of the entire list.

    But he's the real deal. 

    According to this Sportsnet article, NHL Central Scouting actually had Sean Couturier in the top 3 prospects going into last year's NHL Entry Draft. 

    As luck follows the Philadelphia Flyers to the NHL Entry Draft, again, Couturier fell to Flyers at eighth. 

    Watch the tape of his production last year. Couturier was unbelievable. 

    When considering the Flyers' roster, Couturier will have to first climb the ranks.  

    Though he was stuck playing behind guys like Claude Giroux, Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell all season, his showing in the 2012 playoffs was a slight taste of what he can do. 

    With his numbers in junior and the caliber of points he scored last season, Couturier has the potential to be one of the best players in the NHL.  

    With the level of talent on the Flyers, Peter Laviolette will have his hands full creating the best lines for his team. 

    I'm sure he's not complaining though. 

3. C, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

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    If it were not for injuries last year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would probably challenge for the first two spots on this list. 

    More importantly, he might have done enough to beat out Landeskog for the Calder Trophy.

    With that said, injuries are a part of the game, and Landeskog had a phenomenal rookie campaign. 

    In only 62 games, RNH managed 52 points and put on a stellar show in the games he did participate. 

    This TSN feature truly grasps what his teammates and analysts believe he can do in the NHL. Ryan Smyth actually compares his vision to Wayne Gretzky's. 

    Remember him?  

    Getting compared to Joe Sakic and Wayne Gretzky must mean you're something special. 

    He scored his first NHL hat-trick in only his third game, while also having a five-assist night against the Chicago Blackhawks on November 19th, 2011. 

    Sounds pretty special to me, especially for an 18-year-old.  

    With fellow teammates Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakukov, Taylor Hall and newly acquired Justin Schultz, the Oilers are borderline frightening. 

    I'm shaking just thinking about it.

    If the Oilers perform well next year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have a major role to play in their success. 

2. C, Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

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    Talent-wise, this could easily be argued. 

    However, very few players in the NHL have accomplished what Seguin has at the age of 20. 

    In two seasons with the Boston Bruins, Seguin has played 155 career games in the NHL, scored a total of 89 points (40Gs, 49As) and won a Stanley Cup. 

    Now just to make it clear, Seguin did not ride out a Stanley Cup Champion in his rookie year; he played a big part in winning it.

    In 13 playoff games, Seguin had three goals and four assists. Not bad for a 19-year-old. 

    No one could forget the the "Tyler vs. Taylor" drama heading into the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. This article on NHL.com takes a trip down memory lane, reliving the the battle of who would be drafted first overall.

    As of now, the Bruins are looking like the winners.  

    After a 67-point campaign last season, look for Seguin to take his rightful place among the league's best next year. 

1. C, John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Okay, he really doesn't belong on this list. 

    Based on the "restriction date" specified at the beginning, John Tavares is five days too young. 

    With that said, 21-year-old Tavares is automatically number one on this list. 

    Tavares finished eighth in scoring last year with 81 points.  He is the only player on this list to surpass the 80-point mark so far.

    Points aside, he has demonstrated amazing leadership qualities and poise for a player so young. It's almost surprising he's still only 21, soon to be 22 years old. 

    The New York Islanders have been working through several issues as a franchise, and their ride back to the better days has been a bumpy one. 

    However, when the Islanders do turn it around, you can bet that Tavares will be vastly responsible for their success. 

    If all goes well for the Islanders this year, don't be surprised if Tavares' name falls closer to the top in league scoring. 

     

    Conclusion

    All 40 of these players have yet to pass 21 years old. But even at such a young age, they have demonstrated immense talent to be considered NHL players. 

    The better question is, who will follow in the footsteps of Stamkos and Karlsson as the next superior young talents of the NHL? 

    Tough call.