10 Young NHL Talents Who Will Blossom into Bonafide Superstars
So you want to be a superstar in the NHL, do you?
Well it takes more than a few Upper Deck trading cards and some promise to carve out that kind of space for yourself in what is perhaps the most "what have you done for me lately" professional sports league in existence.
Sure, becoming a perennial All-Star takes some flair, but to become a household name requires a different skill set all together.
It takes elite levels of talent—whether it's incredible skating capabilities, an outstanding shot, untouchable hockey sense or any combination of the three—players like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin just have a little something extra that puts them over the top.
So the question is this: Who among the young players in the NHL right now has what it takes to achieve that level of stardom?
There are a few rules in play of course.
Just for the sake of this discussion, we're not going to include players that haven't even made it to the NHL yet. Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Evgeny Kuznetsov could all be great players, but that's a tough call to make considering we've never witnessed them in action in the best professional hockey league in the world.
We're also going to implement a three-year limit on this list. Players with more than three seasons worth of games under their belts can't make it here.
Level of dominance at the junior level was mildly taken into consideration, but we're looking for the guys that really stand out on a sheet of NHL ice despite their lack of age and experience. The opportunity to succeed was also a major factor.
Players can flex all they want out on the ice, but it doesn't do any good if the team they play for doesn't have a spot open within the top-six forwards, top-four defenders or in goal.
All stats appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com unless otherwise stated.
The Calgary Flames may not have to wait long until one of their young players becomes the face of the franchise. Sven Baertschi, who was selected with the 13th overall selection in 2011, has been tantalizing fans with his skill for parts of two seasons, and 2014 could see him break out in a big way.
An electric talent with incredible finishing skills, Baertschi had a quiet 2013 until the last seven games, when he pieced together a seven-game point streak to close out the season.
Couple that with his five game appearances in 2011, during which he scored three goals, and Calgary fans have a lot to look forward to when it comes to this Swiss sniper. He's charming in interviews and seems to know how to handle the press. He also has a rare ability to bring fans out of their seats whenever he touches the puck.
Wonky groin withholding, Baertschi is going to be a good player for a long while. He may even have what it takes to be a superstar.
It almost makes a writer feel lazy by including Dougie Hamilton on a list of potential superstars. Mostly because it's almost too easy to see his career trajectory heading in the same direction of the likes of Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.
The story is there—the story will always be there for anyone involved with the legendary Phil Kessel deal. So is the proper environment. After all, few franchises in the NHL can teach a player to win like this current incarnation of the Boston Bruins.
An outstanding mentor in Chara is also available to Hamilton as he progresses as a professional athlete and human being.
Add all these elements together and it's easy to see why the hockey media has such a crush on the guy. He's just as strong in the offensive zone as he is in the defensive zone, and hasn't looked out of place in small stints with the Bruins so far.
He'll have to chew through some internal competition first, but it won't be long until Hamilton is playing top-four minutes for Boston and climbing his way to superstardom.
Stubhub.com has season tickets for the Florida Panthers available for less than $500. Individual games are going for as low as $18. Regardless of which way you lean, Jonathan Huberdeau is worth the price of either admission.
He was a scoring machine in the QMJHL before going at No. 3 in the 2011 draft. Huberdeau made his NHL debut in 2013, and took home his first piece of individual hardware in the Calder Trophy for being the most outstanding rookie in the league.
Watch Huberdeau play for more than a few shifts and you'll see why it's likely that the Calder won't be his last piece of solo spoils. His vision is uncanny and he's capable of playing both wing and center. While he's just a bit undersized, the rules protect talent in the NHL these days, and this kid has heaps of it.
The Colorado Avalanche made a lot of noise when they passed over Seth Jones to select Nathan MacKinnon with the first overall selection at the 2013 draft. The speedy center has all the tools necessary to be an outstanding player in the NHL some day.
However, if the Avs are going to climb back to respectability over the next season or two, it'll be while planted firmly on the back of their Captain, Gabriel Landeskog.
Toss everything you think you know about Swedish hockey players out the window before watching Landeskog in action. While he has the same uncanny smarts and wits that the Swedes typically have, Landeskog also possesses a hard edge and knack for physical play that really makes him stand out.
It's been a long time since the league has had a go-to power-forward. A player like Brendan Shanahan that can hit and fight and score, sometimes all in the same shift.
Landeskog is that kind of player, and he has the wherewithal, talent and locker room presence to become one of the bigger stars in the league.
Tyler Toffoli is greener than the other guys on this list, but not including him would be a sham. He broke the 50-goal/100-point barrier during his last two seasons in the OHL and completely dominated at the junior level.
He wasted no time getting acclimated to the pro-style game in the AHL in 2013, posting 51 points in 58 games for the Manchester Monarchs. He's the top prospect of one of the best teams in the league right now and will get the chance to bring his goal-scoring prowess to the NHL as soon as 2014.
Toffoli has never missed a beat, development wise, when landing in a new league and given his skill set and the quality of players around him, he could be racking up the goals sooner rather than later as a full-time NHLer with the Los Angeles Kings.
Nothing gets the attention of fans quite like lighting the lamp, and Toffoli is very proficient when it comes to that.
The Ottawa Senators were wrecked with injuries during the 2013 season. A lot of teams would have folded under the pressure of losing the best forward, the best defenseman and the All-Star goaltender from the roster for prolonged periods of time.
Not the Senators though. They were able to hang on to a playoff spot while dealing with injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, largely because of the way the young players on the roster stepped up their games.
Mika Zibanejad in particular took his game to another level, putting up 20 points in 42 games while playing his first full season in the NHL. He was bumped from a supporting role to that of a team leader once Spezza went down, and he performed very well considering the circumstances.
Not just a blossoming star in the offensive zone, Zibanejad is also heralded for his incredible hustle and outstanding two-way play.
The Edmonton Oilers are loaded with young talent, and their top-six could claim six different spots on this list. Instead, we'll allow Nail Yakupov to represent them all.
Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz are all outstanding players, but Yakupov just seems to have a bit more punch and attitude to go along with his star power.
His quick-strike ability is elite, and Yakupov's ability to separate himself from defenders with a combination of speed and stickhandling is on display on a nightly basis. He went through a small lull during his rookie season in 2013 that saw him struggle to find his game a bit, but there's no denying that this kid is a special talent.
Like Tyler Toffoli and Sven Baertschi, Yakupov is dangerous whenever he enters the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. His 31 points in 48 games in 2013 is indicative of his skill, and no one should be surprised to see him approach the 30-goal mark during his second year of action.
Be on the look out for an absolute eruption in year three of his career.
There's a high chance that Gustav Nyquist would already be an NHL regular if he had been drafted by anyone besides the Detroit Red Wings. Leaving talent like this to season in the AHL can be tricky for teams that aren't on their way to the playoffs every year, but time is a luxury that the Red Wings always seem to have.
He's been a point-per-game player for two years now in the minors, and Detroit will be hard pressed to keep Nyquist off its roster in 2014 despite the signings of Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson over the summer.
Nyquist wasn't spectacular during 22 regular-season games in 2013, but no one was asking him to be. Once secondary scoring became paramount in the playoffs though, Nyquist took his game to another level and his creativity was evident on a nightly basis.
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk won't be around forever. Fans of the Winged Wheel could very well be looking at their star replacement in Nyquist.
I don't typically like to include two players from the same team on these shorter lists. It's not fair to fans of squads that don't have a representative, and my hand is rarely forced when it comes to naming names.
However, this list would be incomplete without the inclusion of Jonathan Huberdeau or Jacob Markstrom, so Florida Panthers fans, this one is for you.
Long considered one of the best goaltending prospects in all of hockey, Markstrom finally got his shot at being an NHL starter in 2013. After posting a .901 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA, it's not tough to see why the towering Swede wasn't considered for the Calder Trophy.
That said, the Panthers were devastated with injury last season, leaving Markstrom on the hook to defend the crease of what really boiled down to an AHL-level team. All things considered, it's a small miracle that his GAA wasn't higher.
There were some tough lessons to be learned last year, but Markstrom will be a better player after this trial by fire. He went into the summer knowing what it takes to be a top-tier goaltender in the NHL and will begin working toward that peak in 2014.
Hopefully with a healthy, NHL-caliber team in front of him this time around.
Many pundits around the league were surprised when the Montreal Canadiens decided to keep Alex Galchenyuk around for the shortened 2013 season. The beat on him was that he needed an extra year of seasoning in the OHL anyway, and burning a year off of his contract for a team many assumed was a non-playoff squad didn't make a whole lot of sense.
And that, folks, is the reason why the people that run professional hockey teams get paid some serious dough. They decided that they couldn't send Galchenyuk back to the Sarnia Sting, and the Canadiens surprised everyone by making the playoffs.
Galchenyuk was a big part of the franchise's sudden resurgence. He posted 27 points in 48 games while adjusting to the NHL and never seemed out of place. In fact, he stood out as a special player on most nights.
It shouldn't be too long until Galchenyuk is dominating stat sheets. Like Nail Yakupov, look for Galchenyuk to take a big step forward in 2014 before establishing himself as a top-end star the year after.
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