10 NHL Players Ready to Emerge as Stars in the 2013-14 Season
Several young NHL skaters, each with no more than one or two seasons in the league to their credit, are not certified big-timers…yet.
Rookies and sophomores alike faced an unusual bump in the road as they tried to lay out or start building on their NHL foundations in the 2012-13 campaign. The four-month lockout forced them to indefinitely step back a level in either the amateur or minor professional ranks and then hastily acclimate or re-acclimate to the majors.
Even in a normal, full-length, 82-game season, a shortage of experience may have still delayed the celestial breakout for many of these promising players. After all, nobody made excuses for the three 2013 Calder Trophy finalists―Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Saad.
Huberdeau, by the way, is as good as an established star after the conclusion of his first season. He seamlessly transitioned from a winning cause in major junior, where he posted 45 points in 30 games during the lockout, to a floundering Florida franchise in the pros, where he finished second on the basement-dwellers’ chart with a 14-17-31 scoring log.
Come what may, every forward on the following list should have the internal and external means to put forth a breakout campaign―statistical and otherwise―in 2013-14. In addition, there is one defenseman who has spent the better part of the last two years in the NHL and is steadily building up to a top-pairing caliber.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Teemu Selanne may or may not be back for another season. Either way, he and fellow Finnish forward Saku Koivu are not getting any younger.
Thankfully for the Anaheim Ducks faithful, they will have professional sophomore Emerson Etem raring to build on the foundation he cemented during the team’s seven-game bout with Detroit in the 2013 playoffs.
A prolific producer at the major junior level (61 goals and 107 points during his final year in Medicine Hat), Etem split the past year between AHL Norfolk and Anaheim. After a fairly uneventful regular season yielded a 3-7-10 scoring log in 38 appearances, the sizeable winger erupted in the postseason for a 3-2-5 transcript.
The Ducks should ask much more of their first-round pick from 2010 over the 82-game scope of next season. With combination of still-untapped, energetic potential and a strong summer of training, Etem should be up to the task.
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images
Now roughly a full year removed from the worst of a potentially career-denting knee injury and with a wildly active 2012-13 season behind him, Alex Galchenyuk should finally have some normalcy throughout next season.
The lockout inevitably put Montreal’s first-round pick from 2012 back in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting last autumn. He subsequently joined his fellow Americans at the World Juniors in Russia and then, upon his return to North America, he hopped on board with the Habs when the belated season started in January.
Considering the mileage he had already logged on top of a grueling summer of rehabilitation, it is little surprise Galchenyuk mustered a fairly modest 27 points in 48 games as an NHL rookie.
There will be much more certainty as to his health and assignment entering the 2013-14 campaign.
Fellow Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher outshone Galchenyuk this year, as evidenced by his nomination for the Calder Trophy. But come autumn, Galchenyuk should be in a position to reverse the roles or, at the very least, start building up a formidably balanced one-two punch.
Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images
Having said everything about Galchenyuk in the previous slide, Gallagher also has more to come after his 15-goal, 28-point welcome party in Montreal. Besides his aforementioned nomination for the Calder, the ostensibly undersized forward is drawing comparisons to Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis himself told the Montreal Gazette the following when asked about the young Hab:
He’s a high-energy player...he goes to the dirty areas, he’s feisty...he battles. He doesn’t shy away…that’s the biggest thing. If you want to have success in this league, you can’t shy away from the battling areas. You got to win battles. It’s not about how big he is, it’s can he win battles? Sometimes as a smaller guy you use your quickness instead of your size to win battles, and he’s got that.
With more of that subtle, size-defying grit, Gallagher should be one of those Canadiens leading the team’s endeavor to build on its Northeast Division championship while learning from its first-round plummet at the hands of Ottawa.
After averaging 15:22 of overall ice time, including 2:21 on the power play, in his freshman season, he should be primed to challenge for more time and create more offense.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Despite what New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella recently said about Carl Hagelin’s power-play effectiveness, the rising third-year pro has indispensible assets for the franchise’s future.
When one reads deeper into Tortorella’s assessment, as quoted by Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times, there is at least one positive takeaway. The skipper said, “I think he’s too quick.”
That suggests that Hagelin, who is renowned for his speed, must learn to tame that part of his game when appropriate.
Otherwise, he has what the Rangers need as they soul-search in the wake of their startling five-game flameout in the second round of the playoffs.
Marian Gaborik, another famously fast forward, was once at the Blueshirts’ service until they dealt him at the deadline. In retrospect, that may have been a costly move for a team that is still short on top-notch offense.
They cannot get that one back. But with his solid skating skills and offensive instinct, Hagelin can fill his share of the gap as he matures and applies the lessons he will have learned from two painful playoff losses in 2012 and 2013.
Jen Fuller/Getty Images
A trade-deadline acquisition from Vancouver in 2012, Cody Hodgson still has yet to spend a full-length NHL season with one franchise. The lockout had him passing the time with the Rochester Americans, the farm club of his current employers, the Buffalo Sabres.
But on that note, one paragraph from one feature story by the Canadian Press underscores two promising points as to his next season. Per author Monte Stewart in that Jan. 5 report, “Rochester coach Ron Rolston likes what he has seen thus far of Hodgson, who bulked up with more muscle mass while training under former NHLer Gary Roberts in the off-season.”
Rolston is now the Sabres skipper, meaning there is an extra layer of familiarity between him and Hodgson, who posted a decent 15-19-34 scoring log during a turbulent 2013 NHL season.
In addition, the young center should not have any excuses for lacking any further improvement to his frame come next training camp.
The rise of Hodgson is critical to Buffalo sculpting a formidable strike force in an ultracompetitive Northeast Division.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
He has not done much in his first NHL playoff run, with only two assists in 11 games. However, Chicago’s Brandon Saad has fast fit in among a top-six stable dense with household names: Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, in particular.
His 10-goal, 27-point output was a distant fourth on the team behind those three, and he most likely will not skyrocket to the same production rate all within one year.
Then again, it is not out of the question provided he factors into a long-lasting chemistry formula on the first or second line throughout next season’s 82-game ride.
With 98 shots on net and a 10.2 percent shooting percentage, Saad can stand to shoot a little more often and more accurately. He also has yet to max out his power-play potential, with no goals and three assists in that situation during the regular season.
Sprucing up those areas and avoiding any sophomore slides in other departments are the keys to cementing his celestial status.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Vladimir Tarasenko missed a month of his belated rookie season due to a concussion. When he returned in mid-March, his head coach and some elder teammates all allowed that he has taken more time than an instant to transition from his native Russia to North America.
Those two factors amounted to a bit of a false start to Tarasenko’s NHL career. He finished his rookie campaign with a precise average of a half-point per game (19 in 38) and averaged only 13:24 of ice time per night.
Starting next year, the Blues should bank on him to be more electric and move closer to filling their long-unplugged role of an elite, productive forward. Now that he has his baptismal fire behind him, he ought to have the ability to flaunt his skill set and translate it to rewarding results in the NHL.
Harry How/Getty Images
Since then, he has squeezed into a regular role with the Kings and is making the most of the timely seasoning he earned as a rookie. After sprinkling 20 points over 54 games in the 2011-12 regular season and dressing for every contest in last year’s Cup run, he followed up with 25 points in 48 regular-season contests in 2013.
In his day job on defense, he finished second only to Drew Doughty with 1,070:30 of ice time and helped confine the opposition to 41 goals in that span. In addition, his 19 assists eclipsed even Doughty for the lead among Kings blueliners.
He has more recently flaunted his formidable shot with four playoff goals in 12 games.
With all this in mind, it is strange to think that 2013-14 is actually slated to be Voynov’s first season spent exclusively with the Kings from start to finish. But given what he has already achieved during the past two years and the poise he has inevitably built along the way, he is ripe to join Doughty as an all-around double-threat on the back end.
Derek Leung/Getty Images
As Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun noted in late April, Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely be out until late October as he recovers from shoulder surgery and that “Even after a player is ready to go again, he’s still not 100%.”
That all but rules out 2013-14 as a revolutionary run for Nugent-Hopkins, but by the same token, it creates an opening for his successor.
Nail Yakupov tallied a team-best 17 goals and finished fourth with 31 points despite averaging fewer nightly minutes than seven fellow Edmonton forwards. That output is a tad deceptive, though—those goals tended to come in bunches and between a pair of goal-less skids lasting nine and 16 games, respectively.
Still, there is no rational way to question Yakupov’s gifts, let alone assume that he will brook a sophomore slide rather than adopt more consistency going forward.
With Nugent-Hopkins slated to sit out and subsequently get back into rhythm during the meaningful, tone-setting phases of next season, Yakupov should inevitably log more action in his second NHL campaign.
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images
Having turned 20 on April 18 of this year, Mika Zibanejad is the youngest Senator to have seen action this past season. He finished fourth on the team’s regular-season scoring chart with 20 points and tied two others for a team-best plus-nine despite missing six games.
Zibanejad was not the only rookie stepping into service amidst a chaotic campaign for Ottawa, but a report in the Ottawa Citizen (via Postmedia News) singled him out as one who “shows the promise of perhaps one day assuming the starring role.”
That same report later added in the same paragraph that, “When the Pittsburgh Penguins took the intensity to a higher level in the second round of the playoffs, he simply wasn’t ready.”
However, that was hardly a shocker considering how inherently overwhelming Pittsburgh was in terms of talent and determination.
Like many of the previously mentioned youngsters, Zibanejad can only grow from his failed first attempt at a splash in the postseason. Furthermore, there is bound to be more stability on the Ottawa roster after this year’s aberration, but the young center should have a regular, prominent spot lined up after he valiantly filled in during 2012-13.
All of that should give the rising center a better opportunity to translate his talent to the scoresheet without delay going forward. That will be true all the more if aging captain Daniel Alfredsson decides to retire and leave a void up front.