Young NHL Skaters Ready to Break Out Next Season
The 2013 NHL playoffs are underway, but that doesn't mean that it's too early to look forward to the 2014 NHL regular season and which young players could make an impact.
Few things invigorate a fanbase like a possible young star.
These talented and youthful players tend to grow into cornerstones. After all, every NHL All-Star was young once. Go back several years and find a slideshow (article) like this one, and you'll see familiar names like Ryan Getzlaf, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sidney Crosby.
Now, those players are the centerpieces of their respective teams, but it all starts with promise and dedication.
To qualify for this list, a player must currently be in the NHL or at least have some NHL experience. That cuts out the possibility of players such as Ryan Strome making the final cut.
A few of these guys have certainly garnered more attention than others, but all of these players are special for one reason or another and have the talent needed to take steps forward with their respective teams.
Emerson Etem: Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks made Emerson Etem their first-round draft pick in 2010 and with good reason. The 6'1'', 210-pounder plays a Ducks-style game, using his size and reach to create scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates and wear down opponents.
He wasn't a huge part of the equation in 2013, but had a successful rookie season. The Ducks were one of the best teams in the league, and part of the reason why was the newfound depth that players like Etem presented.
Etem posted 10 points in 2013 and should be able to at least triple that total if he plays through nearly an entire 82-game season in 2014. By 2015, he could be an emerging star in the mold of Evander Kane, and we should see bursts of that next year.
Dougie Hamilton: Boston Bruins
Dougie Hamilton has all the makings of an NHL superstar, and if he continues to evolve on his current path, he'll be a Norris Trophy contender for a long time in this league. He blew onlookers away in 2013 with his poise, patience and steadiness in his own zone.
The 6'5'', 200-pound 19-year-old was outstanding in his rookie campaign which was largely highlighted by his ability to play an NHL-caliber game as a teenager.
He'll continue to grow and improve in 2014, and we could witness his breakout season with the Boston Bruins next year. He is poised to crack the playoff lineup for this deep B's team, which is just another testament to how good Hamilton already is. (per NESN.com)
Sven Baertschi: Calgary Flames
It's tough to imagine a rougher rookie season than the one that Sven Baertschi endured in 2013. He was a highly touted rookie in the Calgary Flames system—and there just aren't that many of those in existence—who scored three goals during a five-game emergency call-up in 2012.
This understandably created a lot of excitement among Calgary and its faithful.
Flames fans were looking for buckets of goals from Baertschi once he made the jump to the NHL as a full-time player. Instead, he found himself tuning his game in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat for nearly a month during the shortened NHL season.
Upon being recalled, the Swiss native went on a seven-game scoring streak for the new-look Flames. He has the skill—and more importantly, the opportunity—to improve on his 2013 numbers greatly and become a breakout star in 2014.
Justin Faulk: Carolina Hurricanes
After a touch over 100 games played in the NHL, Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes may be ready for his breakout season. It's a given that defenseman typically take a bit longer to develop into consistent NHL contributors than forwards, and the Minnesota native is no different.
Faulk posted 15 points in 38 games for the 'Canes in 2013 and was one of only seven regulars to maintain a plus rating throughout the rough year. To illustrate how tough that was, consider the fact that Jordan Staal finished a minus-18 and Jeff Skinner finished with a minus-21.
He'll have every opportunity to make more of an impact for a team that will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013 campaign. Faulk could even see some time on the top power-play unit, which would only boost his offensive output even more.
Cam Atkinson: Columbus Blue Jackets
There are worse ways to kick-start an NHL career than scoring a point nearly every other game while playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson has done just that, posting 32 points through 62 games over the last two years.
He was especially dangerous for the Jackets down the stretch in 2013 when the team was vying for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. Atkinson looked engaged and made things happen all over the ice with his speed and hands.
There aren't many guys who play for Columbus who can be categorized as "pure goal scorers." The attitude-overhaul that took place in 2013 has been a boon for the franchise, but over time, someone still needs to score goals at a consistent rate.
Outside of Marian Gaborik, Atkinson might be the best scoring threat on the Blue Jackets. Look for him to take off in 2014.
Gustav Nyquist: Detroit Red Wings
There isn't a team in the NHL that is more patient with their prospects than the Detroit Red Wings. GM Ken Holland and Co. treat their young players like a fine wine, allowing them to age and gain layers and complexity over time.
The result is that, when their players finally break through and debut in the NHL, they are beyond ready and capable of doing some heavy lifting.
Gustav Nyquist is the latest and greatest example of how this process works in Detroit. After dominating the AHL for two years, he is now playing on a very dangerous third line along with Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg won't be around forever, and Nyquist is the taste of the future in Detroit. He'll have more opportunities to shine in 2014, as he continues to evolve and earn the trust of Mike Babcock.
After all, someone needs to replace Dan Cleary in the top six and on the power play.
Jonathan Huberdeau: Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau has clearly already arrived. He will be nominated for the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL for the 2013 season and was arguably the best player for the downtrodden Florida Panthers over this lockout-shortened year.
The can of worms that is Huberdeau's ability has only just begun to leak out, however.
After the Panthers made him the third overall selection in 2011, the only thing that worried some pundits was his size. He stormed the league as a smallish 19-year-old and didn't seem phased by the speed of the NHL game.
He posted 31 points while playing on an AHL-caliber Panthers team and will continue to be one of the go-to guys in Florida for a long time. Adding Jonathan Drouin to his line certainly wouldn't hurt anything either.
Look out for a massive 2014 campaign from Huberdeau as the Panthers get healthy and return to form.
Charlie Coyle: Minnesota Wild
NHL teams have been and will always be intrigued by the package of skill and size. One or the other is nice, sure. But when a 21-year-old is bringing this combo to the table on a nightly basis, squads tend to pay attention.
Charlie Coyle is one of the most interesting young players in the NHL due to his power forward game and skill around the net.
He's a big guy, standing 6'2'' and weighing in at 205 pounds, and he isn't afraid to throw his weight around. He isn't afraid to throw the gloves either. That's a 210-pound player in Brandon Dubinsky whom Coyle is pushing around there before throwing him to the ice.
This is what the Minnesota Wild expected from him when they traded Brent Burns in a deal that included him, and he's delivered on his promise. Coyle began to find his rhythm toward the end of his rookie season in 2013 and will be one of the more important players on the Minnesota Wild's roster during the postseason.
All this points to bigger and better things for the Massachusetts native in 2014. A 20-goal, 150-hit season is not out of the question for the talented forward.
Alex Galchenyuk: Montreal Canadiens
He didn't grab headlines like Nail Yakupov did in 2013, but Alex Galchenyuk has been every bit as impressive for the resurgent Montreal Canadiens. While the former first overall selection is working on his drive at the golf course, Galchenyuk is playing in the playoffs for the first time as a rookie.
He posted 28 points in 48 games while adjusting to the NHL game, despite struggling through the midpoint of the season
Galchenyuk is in the position to be the centerpiece for Montreal—along with Carey Price and Max Pacioretty—as the team continues its swift turnaround.
Filip Forsberg: Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators had serious issues scoring goals in 2013, and GM David Poile decided to turn a middling player who wanted out of the city anyway into a top-flight young player. (per NHL.com)
Filip Forsberg is the best offensive prospect whom the Preds boast. The team is stacked on the back-end and will continue to churn out top-notch defenders for at least another six or seven years, but they also appeared to be on the same scoreless path that kept them out of the playoffs in 2013.
Poile gave Forsberg a taste of NHL action at the end of the season and will likely give him a roster spot in 2014. He'll have plenty of chances to put up points for a Predators team that is hurting for more offense, and Forsberg has the talent to cash in on his opportunity.
Jaden Schwartz: St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko is probably the best thing that happened to Jaden Schwartz in his first NHL season. The coveted Russian finally made his NHL debut, garnering early-season praise for his play and making an appearance on every early Calder Trophy watch list on the internet.
That long shadow allowed Schwartz to adjust to the NHL game without the pressures and expectations of St. Louis Blues fans taking their toll. Management also left him to season a bit in the bottom-six, giving him confidence against opponents who weren't Pavel Datsyuk and Shea Weber.
He was better through the second half of 2013 and is seeing increased responsibilities now that he has confidence in his game at the NHL level. Look for big things out of the super-talented Schwartz next season. The Blues need to score more goals, and this is a guy who can shore up that need in a hurry.
Jonas Brodin: Minnesota Wild
The goal here was to limit this slideshow to one player per team at the most, but to not include Jonas Brodin on a list of upcoming rookies would be a terrible mistake. This kid is one of the best young players in the NHL right now, having logged huge and tough minutes against the best competition the Western Conference has to offer.
He's looked right at home skating alongside should-be-Norris-candidate Ryan Suter and would garner at least consideration for the Calder Trophy if he had put up more points.
Since all Brodin did was break into the league as a top-pairing defenseman and penalty killer as a 19-year-old, he probably won't garner attention for the best rookie award.
Brandon Saad: Chicago Blackhawks
Drafting well late in the first round is a hallmark of hockey teams that manage to remain competitive over long stretches of time. However, if you wrangle a player like Brandon Saad at the 42nd overall pick, that's when you win championships.
The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to do just that, with Saad being considered the all-important X-factor along the way. Opposing coaches and players are already having to come up with game plans for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.
There's really no way to account for the young and talented Saad. He'll continue to slot in behind these talented guys and provide outstanding depth scoring for Chicago in 2014, where his numbers should be more like those that he put up during the second half of 2013.
Nail Yakupov: Edmonton Oilers
Nail Yakupov will score 30 goals in 2014.
After starting 2013 strong, he disappeared for long stretches while adjusting to life as a top-six forward on an NHL club. Watching him play, it's easy to forget that he's only 19.
Yakupov came around and finished the year like he started it, scoring goals and posting points at a regular pace. As the Edmonton Oilers continue to evolve and grow as a dynamic hockey club, the talented top picks will only continue to improve as well.
He posted 17 goals in 48 games this year, which makes 30 seem like a realistic expectation for Yakupov heading into 2014.