8 Future Norris Trophy Candidates Just Getting Their Starts in the NHL

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2012

8 Future Norris Trophy Candidates Just Getting Their Starts in the NHL

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    NHL teams place great value on defensive prospects who have the ability to develop into the game's dominant players.

    Defensive players who can rise to the level of Norris Trophy candidates usually have stalwart defensive talent, impressive skating ability and the tools to develop into explosive offensive players.

    Of course, it's a long way to go from defensive prospect to Norris Trophy contender, and the jump in competition keeps many players from reaching their potential.

    Here's a look at eight defensive prospects who have the potential to rise to the highest levels of the game.

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

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    Hamilton has ideal size and strength for a defensive prospect at 6'4" and 193 pounds, and he figures to have an excellent chance at walking away with a spot on the Bruins' roster this fall.

    Hamilton was drafted in 2011 and had a 17-goal, 55-assist season for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. He was named defenseman of the year in the OHL.

    The Bruins hope he can develop into a power-play quarterback because he sees plays as they develop on the ice and usually makes the proper decision.

    The Bruins are hoping Hamilton can develop on the blue line the way Tyler Seguin has at the forward position.

    “He’s such an athletic player to begin with—that size and how he moves," Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe. "He’s ready for the next step, the next challenge. Hopefully he continues to progress, because that position is not the easiest thing in the world to learn at the NHL level.

    “It’s up to him. Nobody gives him anything. But hopefully he can come in and take the next step.”

David Rundblad, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Rundblad came to Phoenix in the trade that sent high-level prospect Kyle Turris to Ottawa. Rundblad played 30 games last year and could be ready to come into his own this season for the Coyotes.

    Rundblad has size and strength at 6'2" 198 pounds, and moves the puck quite well. He's an exceptional passer who has the vision to find the open man any time he has the puck in his possession. If he can improve his defensive skills, he will have a chance to be mentioned with the best defensemen in the game.

Brendan Smith, Detroit Red Wings

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    The 23-year-old Smith is likely going to get his chance to show what he can do this year.

    The Red Wings will no longer be able to depend on Nicklas Lidstrom (retired) on their blue line, and that means there is a spot open for a talented young defenseman. The Red Wings are hoping that Smith can turn potential into consistent production this season.

    Smith is a 6'1", 199-pound defenseman with good offensive skills that include excellent stick-handling ability that allows him to carry the puck up the ice (source: The Hockey News). He will need to work on his shooting and defensive skills, but he plays with a bit of a mean streak. If he can add a bit more strength to his frame, he could be an impact player who throws himself into Norris Trophy consideration in the future.

Brandon Gormley, Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Coyotes are clearly having their problems off the ice as they continue their search for stable ownership. While free-agent Ray Whitney has left and Shane Doan may follow, they have excellent young defensive prospects in David Rundblad and Gormley

    Gormley is 6'1" and 185 pounds and is an excellent puck mover at this point. What separates him from other young prospects at this point in his development is his ability to wait patiently for a play to open up before making the pass or taking the shot (source: HockeysFuture.com).

    Gormley needs to get stronger and work on the defensive aspects of the game to reach an elite level of play.

Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers

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    The Oilers had a big offseason starting when they drafted explosive forward Nail Yakupov with the No. 1 pick, and it continued when they were able to sign rookie free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz.

    Schultz had been drafted in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks, but he never signed with the team and played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin. Waiting four years gave him the opportunity to become a free agent and the Oilers were thrilled that he picked them.

    Schultz has all the skills that scouts look for in a developing player. He can carry the puck, pass it, shoot it and knows how to play on the defensive end. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, Schultz has the size potential to develop into a stud, but he needs to add some bulk to his frame.

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers

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    Klefbom has many skills and the potential to develop into a superior player, according to Hockey's Future.com. However, Klefbom is still raw at this point and will need quite a bit of work before he can develop into a consistent player.

    Klefbom has the kind of size that players like at 6'3" and 201 pounds, and that translates into a hard shot and solid offensive skills. However, his play away from the puck needs a lot of work and he needs to develop better hockey instincts.

    Klefbom will eventually help straighten out some of the defensive problems the Oilers have at present.

Nathan Beaulieu, Montreal Canadiens

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    Beaulieu has a chance to develop into an exciting and game-changing offensive prospect. While all the players mentioned in this piece are solid skaters, Beaulieu may be the best of the group when it comes to accelerating and joining the rush.

    He knows how to activate from the defensive end and become a part of the offensive play. He has a big shot, but he needs some work when it comes to changing the angle so his shot does not get blocked.

    He has the frame, at 6'3" and 191 pounds, to let his size be an asset for blocking shots and getting in the passing lanes, but he needs to get stronger.

Joe Morrow, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Morrow appears to have the all-around game that should allow him to become an elite-level defenseman very quickly.

    His offensive game is well-developed, but not at the expense of his defensive game. He had 62 points in 64 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. He added 12 more points in 13 playoff games.

    Morrow is a solid puck mover who can dig the puck out of the corner and then carry it out of the defensive zone. He has a solid shot and is an accurate passer.

    Once he earns a spot on the Penguins' roster, the 6'1", 204-pounder has a chance to develop into one of the more valuable defenders in the league.