NHL Lockout: 25 Players Missing out on Their Breakout Year
When it comes to hockey in 2012-13, the spotlight is on the NHL Lockout.
The frustrating labor dispute has already cancelled a plethora of preseason games (via The Washington Post) and is threatening to repeat (via Forbes) the 2004-05 debacle that cost the sport an entire season.
We all know what it feels like to be without our favorite hockey clubs, but sometimes we forget just how far the implications of a season may go. A cancelled season can cost a veteran one last shot at the Stanley Cup. It can also delay the breakout of a future star.
Hockey is rapidly becoming a young man's sport, as we have seen from the immediate impact of players like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares in their rookie and subsequent years.
Thus, missing out on part or all of a season pushes back the development of the next class of household names. Some rookies are biting at the bit to burst onto the scene, while other players have a year or two of experience but are presented with the opportunity to really grab the NHL by storm.
These are 25 young players who are missing out on a chance to make a name for themselves in the NHL, all thanks to a ridiculous labor dispute.
Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks
Cory Schneider has more NHL experience than anyone else on this list, but after spending the last two seasons playing behind Roberto Luongo, the Vancouver Canucks were poised to hand Schneider the reins in 2012-13.
Schneider's big break is being put on hold by the NHL lockout, and with transactions on hiatus as long as labor negotiations continue, the Canucks will be unable to trade Luongo until a deal is reached.
Schneider's potential was enough to knock one of the best goalies in the league off the top of the depth chart, but fans won't get to see why the Canucks have such faith in Schneider if the NHL and NHLPA can't reach an agreement.
Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils
Larsson impressed in his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils alongside fellow rookie Adam Henrique. He was selected to the NHL All-Star Rookie SuperSkills Competition last season, though he did not participate to tend to an injury.
With the Devils coming off of an Eastern Conference Championship and poised to welcome the next generation of Jersey superstars, Larsson seems to be in line to be one of the better all-around defensemen in the league. 2012-13 would be a huge year for Larsson's development.
Tim Erixon, Columbus Blue Jackets
Coming over to Columbus in the trade that brought Rick Nash to New York, Erixon has gone from one of the best defenses in the league to one of the worst.
But for Erixon, that move represents opportunity. Playing behind players like Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto limited Erixon's ability to find playing time at the NHL level.
It is unlikely that Erixon will get much opportunity on the national stage during these tough times for the Blue Jackets, but he will immediately become an important role player. If Erixon is all he is cracked up to be, the Blue Jackets fans will get to see it as soon as he can step foot on the ice in Ohio.
Luca Sbisa, Anaheim Ducks
Luca Sbisa could become one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the NHL in the near future, and if the 2012-13 season pans out, that future is now.
Sbisa notched a career-high 24 points in 2011-12, but he is capable of even better offensive numbers. With Bryan Allen as a prospective partner, Sbisa will be able to take more risks in the attacking zone without putting the Ducks in a bad situation on defense.
Sbisa's quick skating and passing game from the back line could be ideally utilized under Bruce Boudreau, who has never been shy about getting his offensive defensemen involved with the forwards.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
RNH was well on his way to a breakout rookie year until he injured his shoulder and missed 20 games of the season. Even so, he finished 2011-12 with 52 points.
If Nugent-Hopkins can stay relatively healthy this season, there is no doubt that he will play the whole year at the veteran level. Playing alongside other young, dynamic top-six forwards like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will only catapult RNH's stats further into the stratosphere.
Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins
Hamilton might have a little trouble getting big minutes on a team as deep as the Boston Bruins, but when he does get on the ice, Hamilton is the type of player who is going to make an impact.
Standing at 6'5", Hamilton will fit right into Boston's lineup of gigantic players like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara. But there is more to Hamilton than size. Playing in the OHL in 2011-12, Hamilton totaled 55 assists in only 50 games.
Some lucky forwards are going to be benefiting not only from Hamilton's massive size, but from his ability to setup his teammates for great scoring chances.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the most highly-praised prospects to come out of Russia in the last few years, and the talented goal-scorer will be icing on the cake for a Blues team that already possesses the stingiest defense in hockey.
According to Hockey's Future, Tarasenko has been playing against grown men since he was 16, so the pace of the game will be more familiar to him than it would be for most rookies. Of course, unless the pace of CBA negotiations picks up soon, Tarasenko might be a grown man himself before he ever gets a shot at the NHL.
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
Josh Bailey will be starting his fifth season in the NHL when the 2012-13 campaign begins, but he will only be 23 years old. Bailey's young career has been filled with struggles, many of which can be attributed to New York's tendency to rush players in their development.
Finally reaching developmental maturity and likely benefiting from teammates like John Tavares and Michael Grabner, Bailey should finally be able to break 40 points and live up to the expectations laid out for him when he was picked ninth overall by the Isles in 2008.
Alexander Burmistrov, Winnipeg Jets
If Burmistrov can get himself matched up alongside a goal-scoring winger or two, he has a bright future in the NHL. Burmistrov turns 21 in October and still has a long way to go before becoming a true force in the NHL, but the Jets are sure to invest heavily in his development along the way.
He is fast and is very good at finding the open man. Burmistrov's biggest challenge will be taking the place of Bryan Little or Olli Jokinen as one of the top two centermen on the Jets' depth chart. But a few flashes of brilliance early in the season could land Burmistrov a top-six role and launch his career forward.
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators
With Ryan Suter gone, Ryan Ellis is the man to take his place in Nashville's lineup. The Preds retained one of their two key defensemen in Shea Weber, and Ellis has the potential to become Weber's new partner in crime.
Ellis has earned praise for his blistering slapshot, especially given his small size (5'10", 180 pounds soaking wet). But Ellis is also a smart defenseman in his own zone, and will not skimp on the defensive duties left behind by the departed Suter.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Anyone who doubts that Chris Kreider is NHL-ready did not watch the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Without playing a single NHL regular-season game, Kreider jumped right into the Rangers' offense in the postseason.
He impressed with five goals, including a game-winner, and will no doubt be on the Rangers' opening night roster, whenever opening night is.
Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers
Justin Schultz had better have a breakout year, for two reasons.
First, the 22-year-old defenseman refused to sign a contract with the team that drafted him in 2008, the Anaheim Ducks, eventually leading Schultz to enter unrestricted free agency. Schultz chose the Edmonton Oilers as his destination, signing the maximum entry-level contract that the old CBA would allow him to receive.
Second, Schultz represents one of the few NHL-ready defensive prospects on a team loaded with forwards. Despite the presence of RNH, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, Edmonton has been unable to climb out of the basement. Schultz can help round out the squad by living up to the media hype and having a stellar year on the blue line.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau was drafted third in 2011, behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog. The Panthers let Huberdeau spend another year developing with the Saint John Sea Dogs, where he put up 72 points in only 37 games.
That near-double PPG performance is more than enough evidence that Huberdeau is not only ready for the NHL, but he is ready to take it by storm.
Should the 2012-13 season come to be, Huberdeau will be a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy and could be a huge centerpiece on a Florida offense stocked with important role players.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings
Voynov was a pleasant surprise on the Kings' roster in 2011-12, and he was handsomely rewarded for his stellar rookie campaign with a Stanley Cup on his first try.
Voynov has shown extreme talent throughout his young career, even becoming one of the few 16-year-old defensemen to ever play in the World Junior Championships. Voynov has the luxury of playing behind some of the league's most dynamic defensemen in Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, but that will only allow Voynov more opportunity to quietly have an even better season in 2012-13.
Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres
Hodgson is one of the more impressive all-around young forwards in the NHL, and with Derek Roy leaving for Dallas, Hodgson could find himself on Buffalo's top line, between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.
The opportunity will be a huge one for the multi-tooled Hodgson, and it could very well pay off. Pominville and Vanek are capable of combining for 50-60 goals in a season, and Hodgson will be able to pad his stats by playing the role of setup man.
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
After some of the rookie campaigns we've seen from No. 1 overall picks in the past, who's to say that Nail Yakupov isn't destined for a similar result should the 2012-13 season pan out?
Some top picks to debut after the last NHL lockout include Alexander Ovechkin (106 points as a rookie), Sidney Crosby (102), Patrick Kane (72), and John Tavares (54). And for what it's worth, almost all the players drafted in Yakupov's position come into teams with offenses more impotent than Edmonton's.
With RNH, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall picking up his slack, it seems that only a season-long lockout could prevent Yakupov from taking the NHL by storm.
Simon Despres, Pittsburgh Penguins
Despres's introduction to a full-time role in the NHL is delayed only by Pittsburgh's stacked defensive depth chart ahead of him, but there is little doubt that Despres will get a shot at the NHL this season, if there is a season.
Hockey's Future praised Despres specifically for his intelligence and his game-awareness, qualities that will be put on display in the event of an injury or, more likely, a trade. A team as good as the Pittsburgh Penguins has the luxury of staying quiet during free agency when players like Despres are waiting in the wings.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
Granlund is ranked ninth on Hockey's Future's list of the top 50 prospects for 2012-13, and after being known in North America largely for his unreal lacrosse-style goal in the 2011 World Championship semifinal, Granlund is poised to become a household name in hockey for good.
His size is the only major concern that the Wild might have, but Granlund possesses some of the best hands in the game and the confidence to shoot, deke and dish whenever he pleases. He will be an immediate candidate for the Calder Trophy if the season is not canceled in its entirety.
Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers
Brayden Schenn was brought to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Mike Richards trade two summers ago, and his impact was anything but immediate. Schenn needed to take in all of the 2011 portion of the 2011-12 season before he even managed to register a point for the Flyers.
But once Schenn broke through with his first career NHL goal in the 2012 Winter Classic, he started to play with some style. Hits became heavier and his shooting became more consistent, and having earned a spot as the second-line center, Schenn's production should take a huge leap forward in 2012-13.
Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks
Andrew Shaw came out of nowhere in 2011-12 when his introduction to the NHL included a fight and a goal. All told, Shaw would finish the season with 12 goals and 23 points in only 37 games.
Shaw will be starting the 2012-13 season on Chicago's third line with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell, but injuries or poor performances in the top six forwards could land Shaw a role with some of the best setup men in the game. For his small stature, Shaw is not only a scorer, but he is a completely fearless agitator as well.
What Shaw doesn't do for the team in terms of point production, he's sure to make up for with his ability to make an opponent lose focus. He will have a huge impact on Chicago's success in 2012-13.
Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay Lightning
Anders Lindback has served the unfair role of backing up Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne for the last two seasons, though he was conversely aided by Nashville's solid defense when he did get to play.
Now that Lindback will be suiting up for the Lightning, he will truly be put to the test. If he falters, the entire Tampa Bay team will struggle with him. But if Lindback can prove that he is worthy of playing at the NHL level, the Lightning become one of the most dangerous teams in the Southeast Division.
He won't compete for the Vezina, but that won't stop him from giving the Bolts a chance to compete for the Cup.
Mikkel Boedker, Phoenix Coyotes
Mikkel Boedker would probably like to play overtime games against Chicago every night. The Danish winger scored not one, but two OT winners in the playoffs against the Blackhawks, putting himself on the map in the NHL.
He only managed 24 regular season points in 2011-12, but he scored eight in 16 playoff games and 2012-13 could see him playing alongside Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal (CBS Sports). He's here in the NHL full-time now and will use his impressive speed and positioning strength to be a force for Phoenix.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Odds are, unless you're a Capitals fan or a die-hard hockey junkie, you didn't know who Braden Holtby was last March. And odds are, unless you live under a rock or have somehow mistaken this hockey blog for a Keeping Up With The Kardashians fan forum, you damn sure know who he is now.
Holtby had the sort of playoff run that we would still be talking about if it weren't for a guy named Jonathan Quick. Holtby put up a .935 save percentage and a 1.95 goals-against average, both good for third among playoff goaltenders.
The starting role is Holtby's to lose in Washington, and if he shows the same cool he did in the playoffs, he'll jump right into the conversation about who the best goaltenders in the league are.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog has already won the Calder Trophy, so there is no reason to say that he hasn't already broken out in terms of his point production. However, the 19-year-old was donned with the captain's "C" this offseason, so 2012-13 will be testing grounds to see if Landeskog can break out as a leader.
He is already admired for his locker room presence and leadership abilities, but it can be a whole new ball game when officially stitched with the captain's emblem.
Wearing Joe Sakic's letter is no easy task, but with a team that is enthusiastic to climb back into the playoff picture, Landeskog could use his 2012-13 season to prove why he stands above all other players in the Mile High City.
James Van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
James van Riemsdyk was picked second overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, immediately behind Chicago's Patrick Kane. However, Kane already has a Stanley Cup and plays alongside superstar centerman Jonathan Toews, while van Riemsdyk struggled to stay healthy and rarely ascended beyond Philadelphia's third line.
Still, van Riemsdyk has a big frame, and great wrist shot and a surprisingly blistering slapper. Clearly the staff in Toronto see the potential to boost his confidence via a change in scenery, and that may be just what the doctor ordered for JVR.
If 2012-13 plays out, look for van Riemsdyk to finally break through at the NHL level and become a household name. Some players just need a little extra time to grow.
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