1 Prospect from Each NHL Team Bound for Stardom

Al DanielCorrespondent IIAugust 23, 2012

1 Prospect from Each NHL Team Bound for Stardom

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    The recently completed Canada-Russia Hockey Challenge assembled two clashing constellations of touted 2011 and 2012 NHL draft picks, along with a smattering of prospects eligible for selection in 2013.

    Two members of Team Russia and eight from Team Canada ultimately comprised exactly one-third of those selected for this list of rising stars on each NHL team. A few more garnered an honorable mention amidst the analysis of their respective team’s winner.

    Among players who have seen little or no meaningful NHL action to date, but are at least on the cusp of graduating from every level beneath, here is every franchise’s choice in the most-likely-to-succeed category.

Anaheim: Emerson Etem

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    In an interview with FOX Sports West, veteran Medicine Hat Tigers play-by-play announcer Bob Ridley spoke extensively of how Etem has stood out in comparison to other celestial NHL products he has seen come through the Western League.

Boston: Dougie Hamilton

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    With Hamilton, like it is with any new face on the Bruins' blue line, one has to think critically before anointing him to take the franchise’s torch previously brandished by Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and now Zdeno Chara.

    That being said, it is not out of the question. He already has the lethal, long-distance scoring touch and can do his day job well enough in the NHL with a simple addition of brawn.

Buffalo: Mikhail Grigorenko

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    The sizable center has only been playing in the Canadian League for a year, yet he's already running out of things to prove at that level, having won top rookie accolades with 85 points in 59 games played.

    Grigorenko can expect to play no more than one year in Quebec, at the most, then should be on a smooth pace to supplant Steve Ott as one of Buffalo’s top-six pivots.

Calgary: Sven Baertschi

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    He may not retain his pace of three goals every five games that he set during a brief promotion last season, but Baertschi ought to be an integral, energetic spark plug in Calgary for years to come.

Carolina: Ryan Murphy

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    Based on the TSN panel’s evaluation of Murphy when he was chosen by the Hurricanes a year ago—with emphasis on his supreme skating ability and defensive question marks—it would not be a shocker if he ultimately converted to forward.

    Regardless of position, though, Murphy’s employers should not have a hard time ensuring that they get enough out of his searing scoring touch.

Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen

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    No need to go so far as to compare it to Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson in their Midget AAA days, but Teravainen set a tone at the Blackhawks’ prospects camp a couple of weeks after he was drafted.

    Still merely 17 years of age, he spawned a host of optimistic observations from general manager Stan Bowman as his performance jutted out over nearly all of his elder peers.

Colorado: Duncan Siemens

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    Siemens’ output in his only full Western League season has proven that he can make plays from the point, though his defensive aptitude is what really generates his appeal.

    As he mentions in the video above, Siemens emulates the likes of Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger in his game. TSN’s Bob McKenzie holds that this has been working well for the budding blueliner, and Siemens’ profile on Hockey’s Future calls him “the complete package.”

Columbus: Ryan Murray

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    Prior to this summer’s draft, there was credible speculation that the Edmonton Oilers would take Murray with their No. 1 overall pick. And nobody could have blamed them if they had changed pace and scooped up a promising defenseman to complement their fresh collection of elite forwards.

    As it happened, he slipped into Columbus’ clutches with the No. 2 choice, which is still not worthy of complaint from either party.

Dallas: Radek Faksa

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    In his first year of competition on North American ice, Faksa presaged his first-round selection by nudging just above the point-per-game borderline with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

    While Dallas has signed a pair of aging but apt veterans in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, which should hold them up for at least a year, they will likely need to phase in new blood before too long. Faksa can help in that department if he continues to trend upward in the OHL.

Detroit: Brendan Smith

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    As the Red Wings’ depth chart stands at the moment, Smith could be pushed into a regular role a little sooner than ideal, but that ought not to hurt in the long run. By the time he fully blossoms, so too should a bona fide combination of size and scoring touch that is coveted in the search for a quality defenseman.

Edmonton: Nail Yakupov

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    If given the right all-around supporting pieces―i.e. defensemen, goaltenders and secondary scorers―Edmonton’s third straight No. 1 draft choice will join Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner as part of a tidal scoring ensemble.

Florida: Jonathan Huberdeau

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    Huberdeau’s cumulative playoff output with the Saint John Sea Dogs, 37 goals and 32 assists in 55 games over three years, is enough all alone to underline his aptitude.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli

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    Toffoli has maxed out his major-junior eligibility on the heels of back-to-back 50-goal and 100-point campaigns with the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. If anybody is going to be an impactful new face on the Kings as they defend their title, it will most likely be him.

Minnesota: Mikael Granlund

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    After routinely posting slightly better than point-per-game production rates and attaining celebrity status in his native Finland, Granlund is set to transfer all of that to the Wild and their fanbase.

Montreal: Jarred Tinordi

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    While not the most prolific point patroller out there, Tinordi was easily the OHL champion London Knights’ plus/minus leader in both the 2011-12 regular season and playoffs.

    The broad consensus is that he will be a naturally overwhelming rearguard on the home front, which should help amount to more puck-possession time for established and up-and-coming scorers such as Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.

Nashville: Austin Watson

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    As Watson’s age reaches the point where he must abandon the major-junior ranks, the Predators player development staff seems to feel his development at that level peaked at the right time.

    No contradiction from his output or trophy case. He went on a blistering point-per-game rate last year in both the OHL regular season and World Junior tournament, then had a fireworks finale en route to playoff MVP accolades and a league championship for his London Knights.

New Jersey: Stefan Matteau

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    The Devils’ first-round draft choice this past June, Matteau has the size and skill necessary to create space and then utilize that space productively. No more than one or two years in major junior should be necessary to polish off his preparation for the NHL.

NY Islanders: Ryan Strome

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    A piloting point-getter for the powerful Niagara Ice Dogs, Strome recently joined fellow Islanders first-rounder Griffin Reinhart in the Canada-Russia series. If all goes according to plan, Strome and Reinhart can be a proficient offense-defense tag team for their NHL employers.

NY Rangers: Chris Kreider

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    With nothing left to prove in college and nothing to lose in the pros, Kreider went straight from the NCAA champion Boston College Eagles to the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Rangers on the fly this past April.

    In doing so, he incorporated his towering frame to a not-so-shabby degree considering he was joining in at the most intense point in the season. So long as he doesn’t let anything go to his head, Kreider should be a pleasurable puck-based Broadway performer.

Ottawa: Cody Ceci

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    After the Senators drafted the local boy in June, legendary Ottawa 67s head coach Brian Kilrea told the Ottawa Sun, “If you like Drew Doughty, you’re gonna love Cody Ceci.”

    Ceci is a sizable blueliner who can perform on both sides of the special teams’ spectrum.

Philadelphia: Nick Cousins

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    Cousins has been likened to both Brad Marchand and Scott Hartnell, an apt combination of comparisons when you consider his size and the style and scoring touch he has honed in spite of it. All he needs to do to brush the ceiling of his potential, even if it does not happen in his rookie year, is bring his numbers to 2011-12 Hartnell proportions.

Phoenix: Brandon Gormley

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    In his major-junior finale, Gormley flexed his offensive flair to the fullest in his second swing at the Memorial Cup, which culminated in triumph for his Shawinigan Cataractes.

    With a little due refinement of his day job on defense, Gormley’s inherent skills and wealth of big-game experience in the amateur ranks will make him a can’t-miss impact player in the NHL.

Pittsburgh: Olli Maatta

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    Maatta is a seasoned international competitor for his age and was an integral defensive piece on the London Knights’ OHL championship run. During the playoffs, his play-making potential came alive as he posted a team-best 17 helpers and tied Seth Griffith for the lead with 23 points in 19 games.

St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Tarasenko packs a rare combination of size and speed and saw a great leap in productivity during his fourth KHL season at the unripe age of 20. Most telling was his 2012 playoff output of 10 goals and 16 points in 15 games.

San Jose: Freddie Hamilton

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    The older brother and major-junior teammate of Boston’s aforementioned Dougie Hamilton will be more than ready to take his share of the torch by the time Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are on the decline.

Tampa Bay: Mark Barberio

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    Barberio has been a prolific point patroller on championship teams at two different levels, first with Moncton of the Quebec League in 2009-10 and later with Norfolk of the American League in 2011-12.

Toronto: Morgan Rielly

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    Rielly will likely need one or two more years in the Western League before he is ready to make an impact in The Show. With that said, he had an altogether encouraging rise-fall-rise campaign in 2011-12 prior to his fifth overall selection by the Leafs.

    As a major-junior sophomore, Rielly went on a point-per-game pace before missing the last three-plus months of the regular season, then returned to pitch in three assists in five playoff outings.

Vancouver: Eddie Lack

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    Lack has been one of the AHL’s top performing goaltenders in every key category in both the regular season and playoffs in his first two professional campaigns. Once he is summoned to a full-time roster spot with the Canucks, he will make a formidable bid for substantial crease time.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    In some ways―particularly positional versatility and, to a slightly lesser extent, general scoring touch―Kuznetsov’s evaluation from one of the highest authorities, namely The Hockey News, makes him sound a little like Evgeni Malkin.

    He will be staying in his native Russia a little longer, but Kuznetsov should still be in a position to ultimately be an impact player in Washington, especially if the Caps are still struggling to replace Alexander Semin’s production.

Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele

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    Last week, Scheifele’s playmaker hat trick helped Team Canada to a clinching 4-2 victory in the final game of the Canada-Russia Hockey Challenge.

    Jesse Spector of the Sporting News has thrown Scheifele into his preseason pool of Calder Trophy candidates. Meanwhile, the local media is all but using him as a measuring pole to gauge the buzz surrounding other Jets’ prospects.