Ranking the 5 NHL Teams Loaded with the Most Young Talent
Regardless of the results of the ongoing 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL will soon turn towards a new generation of young stars to decide the dynasties of the coming decades.
Many of the perennial contenders from recent history are in for a wake-up call—the league's caste system seems on the verge off a drastic reordering as new players, and new teams, take over the spotlight.
For years, it's been Sidney, Alex and Patrick (Crosby, Ovechkin and Kane) stealing the show as the icons of hockey. Soon, though, it'll be Taylor and Mika (Hall and Zibanejad), Vladimir and Justin (Tarasenko and Brodin/Faulk), and Jonathan and Robin (Huberdeau and Lehner) seizing that limelight.
The transition towards a new, talent-packed generation of superstars will also lead to a transition in the standings. Franchises that have quietly built for the future will make their exponential rises; franchises more invested in the now (we're looking at you, Philadelphia) will gradually lose their relevancy.
So which clubs are loaded with the most top-tier young talent at the moment and should expect to ride that tidal wave to contender status? We analyze and objectively rank five particularly promising teams on the coming slides.
5. St. Louis Blues
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Prior to his March ankle injury, Vladimir Tarasenko was on pace to blow away the competition in the race for the Calder Trophy.
While that quest was averted midseason, the flashy 21-year-old winger still finished with 19 points in 38 games on the year.
In addition to Tarasenko, 20-year-old Jaden Schwartz (14th overall in 2010) transitioned steadily in his rookie year while 2011 second-round selections Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie seem poised to do the same next year.
But it's not on offense where the Blues' youthful talent shines through the most.
Assistant captain Alex Pietrangelo, who ranked 13th in the NHL in ice time this past season, is still just 23, while Kevin Shattenkirk, 24, and Ian Cole, 20, should also be critical parts of St. Louis's stellar defense in 2013-14.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old goaltender Jake Allen (a 2008 second-rounder) took advantage of a fortunate break to post a 9-4-0 record and 2.46 GAA in his first NHL action this past season. He has a chance to pass inconsistent netminders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot to potentially claim the opening day starting job.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
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The Tampa Bay Lightning lack the big-name prospects possessed by many other teams on this list, but the jaw-dropping success of dynastic AHL program certainly bodes well for the Bolts' future.
Fielding their AHL affiliate in Norfolk in 2011-12 and then Syracuse in 2013, the Lightning's farm team has posted a ridiculous 124-44-14 record over the past 19 months (including a 26-4 postseason mark) and is now just four wins away from their second consecutive Calder Trophy title.
The list of players—all 23 or younger— from those squads with big-league potential is remarkable: undrafted center Tyler Johnson, Syracuse's leading scorer (37 goals/65 points) and unheralded 'Bolts contributor (six points in 14 appearances); 2011 first-round pick Vladislav Namestnikov, who made the professional jump this spring; feisty wingers Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat (a combined plus-88 over the past two AHL campaigns); hard-working defensemen Radko Gudas and Mark Barbiero (Barbiero has 96 assists over his last two AHL seasons).
The Lightning are already enjoying the success of AHL graduate Alex Killorn at the NHL level. Killorn, 23, scored seven goals and 19 points in 38 appearances this past spring.
Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and injury-prone but skilled blueliner Slater Koekkoek, selected 19th and 10th overall in last year's draft, also add an impressive dose of long-term viability to Tampa Bay's crop of youngsters.
And then there's 23-year-old forward Steven Stamkos. Ever heard of him?
3. Minnesota Wild
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The Minnesota Wild boast one of the league's most well-rounded prospect corps, featuring five first-round draft picks from the past three years alone.
Defensemen Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba highlight the group.
Nineteen-year-old Brodin, 2011's 10th overall selection, had a smooth and consistent rookie campaign this spring, posting 11 points, 60 blocked shots (second on the team) and a plus-three rating in more than 1,044 minutes of ice time over 45 games.
Dumba concluded another wonderful campaign with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels before joining the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston for eight games in late spring.
Meanwhile, 2010 28th pick Charlie Coyle drew rave reviews in his 37-game, 14-point rookie season and 2010 ninth pick Mikael Granlund produced decently at both the NHL and AHL levels in his first pro season.
In goal, the inevitably approaching departures of Niclas Backstrom (a UFA this summer) and Josh Harding (due to multiple sclerosis complications) should soon pave the way for Darcy Kuemper, the Wild's netminder of the future. Kuemper, 23, went 1-2-0 with a .916 save percentage in the NHL and 13-8-0 with a .934 save percentage in the AHL, respectively, in 2012-13.
2. Ottawa Senators
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Many expected highly-touted prospects Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg to grab the spotlight in their rookie seasons in Ottawa.
Those proponents certainly weren't disappointed, as the 20- and 22-year-olds registered 20 and 19 points, respectively, in addition to a combined plus-18 rating.
However, trade deadline acquisition Cory Conacher and late-season breakout Jean-Gabriel Pageau did steal away some of the attention. Conacher finished the season with 29 points in 47 games (five in 12 for the Senators) along with three goals in eight playoff appearances; Pageau played just nine regular and 10 postseason games, but scored 10 points over that span and played a starring role in the Sens' five-game series against Montreal.
Defensively, Patrick Wiercioch's rookie campaign exceeded all expectations by a mile—he registered 19 points, a plus-nine rating and the team's second-best Corsi rating in 42 appearances—while 2012 15th overall choice Cody Ceci continues to project out as NHL-ready in another season or two.
Backup netminder Robin Lehner was rock-solid in 12 starts, recording a .936 save percentage and 2.20 GAA. At only 21, he's one of the best up-and-coming goalies in the game today, but Craig Anderson's presence could limit his playing time in the near future.
1. Edmonton Oilers
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The standings may not illustrate it too well, but the NHL's next dynasty could well be brewing in Edmonton.
The Oilers' top six scorers from 2013 were all aged 23 or younger. Among them, four are former top-six overall draft choices, five are former first-round draft choices and all have massively promising futures ahead of them.
Take a minute and imagine these Oilers five years down the road.
Three first-overall picks—Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Nail Yakupov (2012)—will all be in their prime years. If they, combined, averaged almost 0.8 points per game in 2013, what will the production be like in 2018?
Meanwhile, the most highly-touted NCAA free-agent signing in history—defenseman Justin Schultz—will be 27 and the club's second- and third-ranked 2013 scorers—Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle, respectively—will be 28.
And then there's Magnus Paajarvi, 22, Anton Lander, 22, Oscar Klefbom, 19, and the rest of the AHL conference finalist Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton's minor league affiliate, to account for, too.
Are the Edmonton Oilers loaded with young talent?
Frankly, "loaded" may be too modest a description.