7 NHL Players on the Precipice of Becoming Bona Fide Superstars

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

7 NHL Players on the Precipice of Becoming Bona Fide Superstars

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    Players on the rise. Players on the verge. Players who are about to become legitimate superstars.

    There are several ways to get to this level. Some players develop year by year and become superstars after several seasons.

    Some players have so much talent that they have an impact as soon as they join the league.

    Still others masquerade as average players before the light goes on and they join an elite class of players.

    Joining the list of top scorers in the league does not qualify a player as a superstar. A player like Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz may be eighth in the league in scoring, but he is not a superstar. He is a decent player off to a hot start.

    We also think that's the case with Buffalo's Thomas Vanek. He may appear to be a superstar since he is leading the league in scoring, but consistency and overall effort have never been his strong suits.

John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    John Tavares crept right up to the line last season. He is in the process of crossing over and becoming a legitimate superstar this year.

    Tavares, the top pick in the 2009 NHL draft, has gotten better in each of his first three full seasons. Last year, he scored 31 goals with 50 assists and showed the ability to command the ice nearly every time he took a shift.

    As good as he was in 2011-12, he's even better this year. You have to keep your eyes on Tavares every time he takes a shift because he just might do something special.

    Tavares has great hands and vision and that allows him to pass the puck to open teammates at the precise moment that makes them most dangerous.

    He has already scored 11 goals in his first 16 games and he has an accurate and effective shot.

David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils

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    David Clarkson appeared to be just another guy in the NHL.

    The 28-year-old Devils' winger was not even drafted. He came into the league as a free agent because nobody thought he was worthy of a pick.

    For his first four seasons, Clarkson was a role player for the Devils. But last year he scored 30 goals during the regular season. He also scored 12 points in the postseason, and all three of his playoff goals were game winners.

    But instead of being satisfied with that performance and patting himself on the back for being an overachiever, Clarkson has continued to grow.

    He saw teammate Zach Parise leave through free agency and took it upon himself to step up this season. He has 10 goals in his first 16 games. He knows he can score goals and he will go to the dirty areas so he can help his team win games.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    James Neal was a solid player with the Dallas Stars before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010-11 season.

    However, he has stepped up his game dramatically since pulling the Penguins' jersey on over his head.

    Neal is a dominating goal scorer who has shown he can carry his own weight on a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

    Neal scored 40 goals and added 41 assists last year to win a spot on the All-Star team. There has been even greater growth this year as Neal has scored 11 goals in his first 16 games.

    He has already scored seven power play goals and seems to have the ability to score key goals at big moments.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    A stretch? Perhaps.

    But James van Riemsdyk has long had the pedigree to become a dominant player in the NHL. Sometimes it just takes some experience and a change of address.

    Van Riemsdyk, the second pick in the 2007 NHL draft behind Chicago's Patrick Kane, had flashed his talent with the Philadelphia Flyers during the first three years of his NHL career.

    He was traded by the Flyers to the Maple Leafs in the offseason, and he is thriving. Van Riemsdyk has already scored nine goals, and his confidence is growing by the game.

    The Leafs have gotten off to a surprisingly good start and van Riemsdyk's productivity is a big reason why.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Patrick Kane has been a very good and productive player with the Chicago Blackhawks since he was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NHL draft.

    He has scored 20 or more goals in each of his five NHL seasons. He had a career moment when he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in the 2010 playoffs over the Philadelphia Flyers.

    However, there was something missing from his game. Something called discipline (source: chicagosuntimes.com).

    Kane was interested in partying and having a good time and several of his incidents caused embarrassment for the Hawks.

    It appears Kane has grown up this season and taken responsibility for his actions (source: chicagotribune.com). He is playing with a more serious edge and is one of the league's top scorers with nine goals and 13 assists.

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers

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    Jordan Eberle is the best of the bunch.

    The Edmonton Oilers have a cadre of young stars on the rise who are eventually going to make them one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They are not there yet, but Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov are going to become a dominant group of players.

    Eberle scored 34 goals last year and put himself on the cusp of superstardom. He has gotten off to a solid start with five goals and six assists last year.

    Eberle has explosive speed and the hands to put the puck in the net in clutch situations.

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

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    Sometimes you just know.

    Dougie Hamilton is just starting his NHL career as a defenseman with the Boston Bruins.

    Obviously, this is a position of tradition and history. The NHL's greatest defenseman was Bobby Orr. The supporting cast of league's all-time great defensemen features names like Eddie Shore, Brad Park, Ray Bourque and Zdeno Chara.

    Hamilton has the makeup to join that group.

    Hamilton has the size, skating ability, puck-carrying talent, shot and instincts to dominate in the NHL for a long time.

    He has a superstar's poise early in his rookie year. All he needs is a little seasoning and he will join the league's best players. Don't bet against him doing something spectacular for head coach Claude Julien's team.