NHL Players Who Can Become the Face of Each Franchise in the Next 3 Years
Almost anything is possible in the NHL. Alexander Ovechkin might just stay in Russia. Sidney Crosby―though we certainly hope for his sake this does not happen―might fall back into recurrent concussion problems.
In turn, while it is more likely that a dense multitude of NHL teams have their franchise face securely fastened for an indefinite, protracted period, there is always the chance that someone else will emerge to claim that position sooner than expected.
Elsewhere, a new individual representative is imminent as aging VIPs near a more timely retirement or a team seeks a new identity upon trading its incumbent face.
Other than those incumbents, regardless of where they are in their careers, who else might be viewed as any given NHL franchise’s most synonymous, identifiable player in the not-too-distant future? Who has the most radiant potential to fill that virtual position if and when a gap opens up between now and, say, the halfway mark of this decade in 2015?
The best answers to those questions for all 30 teams are assessed as follows.
Anaheim: Corey Perry
Seeing as there has yet to be a 2012-13 season and seeing he topped their charts with 66 points in defiance of his age of 42 last season, Teemu Selanne can claim the Ducks are still his team more than any other player’s.
In accordance with logic, that will not last much longer. In fact, as early as the next time the Ducks and their fans convene at the Honda Center, they could be retiring Selanne’s jersey and the prolific goal-scorer Perry will have fully and more permanently claimed the distinction as Anaheim’s face.
Given that he has the captain’s “C,” there will be those who can offer the same distinction on Ryan Getzlaf without any fear of ridicule.
Boston: Dougie Hamilton
Hamilton is really 1A on this list while Tyler Seguin, the other first-round draft pick the Bruins collected as compensation for Phil Kessel, is 1B.
Seguin can be Boston’s first goal-scorer to break the 50-range since Cam Neely. But Hamilton can be a towering and prolific two-way defenseman, a position that has been the franchise’s defining position from Eddie Shore to Bobby Orr to Ray Bourque to Zdeno Chara.
Although Seguin is already in the NHL and has already partaken in a Stanley Cup championship, Hamilton is also logging generous quantities of big-game experience whilst leading all productive point patrollers in the OHL. He is about to venture out to his second World Junior tournament, the two of which sandwich a run to last year’s OHL playoff championship round.
Buffalo: Tyler Ennis
The summer trade of Derek Roy will likely impel the Sabres to light a hotter fire under Ennis as he embarks on his third NHL season and seeks to prove he has rebounded from a shortened sophomore season.
Despite missing 34 games that year, Ennis elevated his nightly production rate when available with 34 points in 48 outings. Barring any future health setbacks, he should have a goal total in the upper 20s or lower 30s the next time he and the Sabres have a full season together and go from there.
Calgary: Sven Baertschi
The would-be NHL rookie, instead an AHL rookie, was an admirably consistent producer for the Abbotsford Heat through the end of November, at which point he sustained an ongoing ailment.
Elliot Pap of the Vancouver Sun all but cut straight to the point when, of the Heat’s state of affairs, he wrote “The absence of elite forward Sven Baertschi, the parent Calgary Flames' first-round pick in 2011, may have something to do with the recent downturn.”
By that, Pap means a 2-4-1 run so far this December, all while Baertschi has watched from afar. When he was available, Abbotsford went on a 13-1-5 run to start the season.
That is precisely the type of individual sway the Flames can expect from Baertschi down the road, and which they will likely need once the 35-year-old Jarome Iginla is declining and/or traded or gone via free agency.
Carolina: Jeff Skinner
Granted, Eric Staal is going to be even tougher to look past now that brother Jordan is a teammate and a potential linemate. But if anyone is capable of supplanting the Staals as the face of the Hurricanes, Skinner is it.
The 20-year-old is approaching his third NHL season and, if available for the whole ride, will all but surely surpass his career highs of 31 goals and 63 points the next time there is a full-length 82-game campaign.
Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen
If only for the sake of saying it―seeing as incumbents Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are both still under the age of 25―it is at least not out of the question to see Chicago’s latest first-rounder burgeon into an otherworldly contributor in the coming years. The way Teravainen has already set a new career-high single-season point total in his second year in Finland's SM-Liiga leaves no shortage of promise.
Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog
Some may aptly call it a premature move to put the “C” over the rising sophomore’s heart, but he demonstrated an enticing aptitude in virtually every facet of the game as part of his Calder Trophy campaign.
With more of the same sort of fruitful physicality (22 goals and 219 hits), Landeskog should absolutely nail down the pegs as the ideal Avalanche player.
Columbus: Ryan Johansen
The door could not be open any wider for a new Blue Jackets ambassador now that Rick Nash has been dealt. In the immediate future, R.J. Umberger, he of four straight 20-goal seasons is the most logical successor. But Johansen has a celestial package to foster himself and is doing just that with 19 points through 24 games with the AHL's Springfield Falcons.
Dallas: Jamie Benn
By the time he is at least in the mid-30s under the goal heading and hovering around the 80 plateau in the point column, Benn should solidify his status as the Stars’ quintessential figure.
Detroit: Gustav Nyquist
If not for the lockout, Nyquist ought to have been an NHL regular for the first time in 2012-13, for he has earned his stripes after a year-plus primarily in Grand Rapids. In the coming years, he should be groomed to follow the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as Detroit’s elite European forward, just as Datsyuk and Zetterberg took over for Sergei Fedorov.
Edmonton: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
If the projected depth chart from The Hockey News is any indication, Nugent-Hopkins is in line to be the Oilers’ first-line center, flanked by fellow celestial youngsters Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Of the top draft pick from 2011, who would have been embarking on his sophomore season if not for the lockout, the same authoritative THN says, “Has incredible hockey sense, vision and patience with the puck. Can set up linemates with aplomb, as well as score goals himself. Displays a two-way game. Makes his teammates around him better.”
Nugent-Hopkins can therefore be deemed the most complete player of all of Edmonton’s young stars and will only embolden his image depending on his results with Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championship.
Florida: Jonathan Huberdeau
While the former Memorial Cup MVP has tapered off in the production department to start his final year of Quebec League eligibility, that drop should hardly be the death knell to his impact on the Panthers.
Start him as a part of the secondary scoring brigade behind the top trio of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss and then build him up to elite NHL status.
By the time he is in his mid-20s, Huberdeau should be more than ready to help Florida fans come to terms with Weiss’ eventual decline. Maybe not quite the same way Steven Stamkos is with the intrastate rivals and the Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis tandem (more on that later), but good enough.
Los Angeles: Drew Doughty
The 26-year-old Jonathan Quick has ample time to deliver more of the same good stuff that earned him the most recent Conn Smythe Trophy. He has an equal amount of time and opportunity to retract and, albeit unexpectedly, devolve into a one-year wonder.
If anything remotely close to the latter were to happen, Doughty is next in succession among the current Kings. After his annual output steadily shrank from his 59-point sophomore season in 2009-10, the two-way defenseman turned a sharp pivot back in the right direction with a solid 2012 postseason.
Minnesota: Mikael Granlund
After overwhelming the competition with 1.13 points per night in his native Finland’s top league as a 19-year-old, Granlund shuffled across the pond for what should have been an instant impact season in Minnesota.
Between the lockout and an AHL injury, those plans have met some initial bumps, but the window is wide enough for the youngster to recuperate and replenish his promise.
Montreal: Alex Galchenyuk
The Habs can still have Carey Price in the blue paint and PK Subban on the blue line for the next decade-plus and thost two can still endear themselves to the Bell Centre masses as much as they already have.
However, if someone new is to surpass either of those players while they are still in their prime, it is Galchenyuk, who has made the most of his chance to kick ice chips over a forgettable, injury-riddled 2011-12 campaign. The sort of scoring prowess that has so far amounted to a 27-34-61 scoring log in 34 games with the Sarnia Sting is one way to nab a substantial slice of the spotlight in Montreal.
Nashville: Austin Watson
Strolling smoothly along and reeling of the point about Montreal, the Predators likewise have two incumbent faces in a defenseman-goaltender combination of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. They, too, do not figure to go anywhere for a while and they both figure to deliver the same basic assets as Subban and Price will with the Habs.
But if the Preds are to complete their puzzle in every sense of the word and foster a pure offensive ambassador, Watson is a sound candidate on the rise.
He graduated from the OHL after posting a nightly median exceeding a point per game, as virtually every top-echelon major-junior product does. Since then, the burly Watson (6’3, 202 pounds) has put up irreproachable data with Nashville’s top farm team in Milwaukee.
New Jersey: Adam Henrique
Like Baertschi and Granlund, Henrique has hit an unfortunate roadblock in the form of an injury in the minors, where he is passing the time during the lockout. Although, if there was ever a time for that to happen, this would be the least disastrous.
Especially now that Zach Parise has gone to Granlund’s Wild, the Devils will be banking on Henrique for increasingly greater regular-season output and more timely contributions in the playoffs. Two of the lasting images of New Jersey’s somewhat surprising drive to last year’s finals are Henrique’s series-clinching overtime strikes versus Florida and the New York Rangers.
If that will not give a rookie a reckonable foundation to claim the franchise face title, this author yearns to find out what can.
NY Islanders: Ryan Strome
NY Rangers: Chris Kreider
Before they met their match at the hands of Henrique’s Devils―and, truth be told, residual fatigue―the Blueshirts had an altogether applaudable playoff run in 2012. They, too, had a breakout star to help define it in Kreider, who came aboard on the fly from the preceding NCAA Frozen Four and flaunted his size and scoring touch for parts of the second and third round.
Ottawa: Jason Spezza
Realistically, rather than the three-year maximum time limit, this is more likely to happen within the next three months.
Until further notice, career-long Senator and long-tenured captain Daniel Alfredsson is still the face of the franchise. It is virtually impossible to nudge that distinction away from him as long as he is still coming off a year like his 27-goal, 59-point 2011-12 campaign at the age of 39.
With that said, he is not likely to last much longer and the lockout only deepens the doubt as to his return for another season. As a result, although he has been with the franchise for a little more than a decade himself, Spezza should finally have the Sens as his team no later than 2013-14.
Philadelphia: Scott Laughton
If all goes according to plan, perpetually aggressive Flyers fans will see little difference beyond the surname by the time Laughton is ready to take the torch from Scott Hartnell. Both the 18-year-old Laughton and the 30-year-old Hartnell bring appreciable brawn, but also the requisite mobility to put their size to the best possible use.
Granted, this may be a mild breach from what the title of this slideshow requires, for it will likely take a little longer than three years for Laughton to fully establish himself. But of all the Flyers’ young stars in the system, he has more long-term franchise face potential than even Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn.
This is not to say that the likes of Claude Giroux and Luke Schenn will not have their place on the pantheon. But it is no secret that Philadelphians like a physical element in their athletes and Laughton has that along with a natural offensive prowess to complete the variety pack.
Phoenix: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
After his first full NHL season, a step back into the AHL as a result of the lockout could ultimately mean an extra stride forward in Ekman-Larsson’s development as an all-around defenseman. Right now, he is averaging just a little more than a point per game and is the fourth-best overall scorer the Portland Pirates.
Pittsburgh: Kris Letang
That said, if for some reason those otherworldly forwards both see their game decline prematurely, Letang can still continue to climb as an elite, two-way blueliner. The 25-year-old has seen his plus/minus and point-per-game average both escalate in each of the past three seasons, reaching plus-21 and 0.82, respectively, despite playing in only 51 games.
Another 25-year-old, James Neal, may step up the same way he did in Crosby’s absence for portions of 2011-12.
San Jose: Logan Couture
With many of the Sharks’ top scorers (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, etc.) in their 30s, the 23-year-old Couture is all but the only specimen of long-term celestial performances. Even in the short run, he can distinguish himself as an energetic sparkplug as he continues to develop.
Down the road, he should be the nucleus for San Jose to gradually build a new wave of talent around in hopes of sustaining their status as Pacific Division and Stanley Cup contenders.
St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko
Tarasenko, who just turned 21 this past Thursday, is described by Elite Prospects as “An all-around player with good technique and a good eye for the game. A good passer. Useful as both a playmaker and finisher.”
All of those traits have been on display firsthand for KHL fans to witness this autumn and have translated to an 11-13-24 scoring log in 21 games.
With the KHL not far off, talent-wise, from the NHL, this emits nothing but promise for Tarasenko and the Blues. While nobody ran away with the team’s scoring title in last year’s breakout run, Tarasenko need not surprise anyone if he starts doing so and maybe finds himself lifting the Cup by the time this calendar decade is half over.
Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos
He may have claimed this title already in the wake of his 60-goal season that easily jutted out as one of the Bolts’ scarce plus points last year. However, the aforementioned St. Louis and Lecavalier (when healthy), still constitute a living legacy as Tampa’s last remaining holdovers from their Cup campaign in 2003-04.
But not unlike Selanne in Anaheim and Alfredsson in Ottawa, St. Louis likely has little time left to make a substantive impact at the age of 37. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Lecavalier has an ambiguous future after missing games in the upper teens each of the previous two seasons.
That leaves, or at least will leave, Stamkos to keep gripping the Lightning fanbase and keep fulfilling his promises, as he has for the most part since being chosen first overall in 2008.
Toronto: Nazem Kadri
Vancouver: Nicklas Jensen
While the 32-year-old Sedin twins will likely not be fading at any point in the near future, there is no reason why Jensen's breakout cannot overlap with a portion of their peak years. That ought to make for a smoother transition period.
Washington: Filip Forsberg
Again, there is no need to assume Ovechkin will not be back from the KHL or that he will abruptly and irrecoverably lose his form.
Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele
Evander Kane is not likely going anywhere for a while, but it will sure be hard to ignore Scheifele if he can translate his stature among OHL players to a comparable position in The Show. Currently on leave with Team Canada for the WJC, he still has a distant lead atop the Barrie Colts charts with 48 points.
The fact that, while Kane is a winger, Scheifele is naturally a center with potential to offer gratifying quantities of goals, assists and size may give the prospect an upper hand down the road.
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