NHL Players with Golden Opportunity to Emerge as Superstars in 2014
Every season, there are a handful of players that see their careers take flight, and suddenly, they emerge as superstars within the National Hockey League community.
For example, this past season, John Tavares went from being a talented offensive player with a seemingly infinite amount of potential to a legitimate superstar, as the skilled Islanders scorer took his team to the postseason, and finished the year as a nominee for the Hart Trophy.
In addition, Patrick Kane cemented his superstar status by leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the team's second Stanley Cup in four years and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the postseason for his efforts.
So, with that in mind, here's a look at the top contenders to emerge as superstars in 2013-14.
Like at least three other young forwards skating for the Edmonton Oilers, Taylor Hall appears to be on the brink of stardom, and that's only if he's not already there.
After two seasons that were marred by nagging injuries, Hall broke out in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and finished ninth in league scoring with 50 points.
Though a goal scorer by nature, Hall's playmaking abilities improved dramatically last season, and that's why his assist totals were more than double his goal figures—but don't expect that trend to continue.
If Hall's chemistry alongside close friends Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on point early, there's no reason the former No. 1 overall pick can't be around the 40-goal mark, but obviously, leading the Oilers back to the postseason is the priority.
Eberle may have been the first of the talented quartet to earn an All-Star Game nod, but if last season was any indication of what's in store for 2013-14, Hall won't be far behind.
Don't get me wrong, Bobby Ryan has long since established himself as a standout scorer in the NHL, but due in part to the fact that he was clearly the third-best forward behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Ducks, he hasn't quite had the opportunity to show the hockey world that he's capable of being a franchise cornerstone.
Well, as an Ottawa Senator, he'll certainly get that chance. Bryan Murray paid a hefty price to get the three-time 30-goal man, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the 2010 Olympian will ride shotgun on All-Star Jason Spezza's line.
Like Getzlaf, Spezza is a pass-first pivot, but what makes this opportunity more suitable for Ryan's game is that he'll be the No. 1 triggerman in Ottawa, because in Anaheim, Ryan had to wait for his chances with a lot of pucks going in Perry's direction and a good chunk of ice time being allotted to future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne.
With the 2014 Olympic Games just around the corner, Ryan is a virtual lock to be representing the United States, but that doesn't mean that he won't have incentive to ensure his roster spot by taking the league by storm in the early stages of the season.
If he, Spezza and former All-Star Milan Michalek click, Ryan should be in the 40-45 goal range, because given Spezza's ability to find the open man, the 26-year-old sniper will get more chances than ever before.
As the St. Louis Blues' top defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo is one of the brightest young rearguards in the game, but with just three seasons under his belt, he's still got a lot of untapped potential.
Last season, the 23-year-old King City, Ontario native registered 24 points on a somewhat offensively challenged Blues squad, and given that the former No. 4 overall pick is very much in the mix to make Team Canada's 2014 Olympic squad, one has to believe that Pietrangelo will be at his best right from the opening puck drop.
Blessed with great hockey sense and poise, Pietrangelo also boasts solid hands and mobility, so at this point, there's no reason why he can't be challenging for the Norris Trophy by season's end.
It also doesn't hurt that he plays under one of the best defensive minds in the game in Ken Hitchcock, and that he has the luxury of being paired with a former All-Star and Olympian in Jay Bouwmeester.
As the goaltender who lead the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup this past June, Corey Crawford is without a doubt one of the best big-game goalies in the league, but given his lack of experience, he hasn't quite earned the label of being an elite NHL goalie.
After the Cup win, as well as an invitation to Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp, Crawford is well on his way to being considered a top-flight stopper; all he needs to now is replicate his performance from a year ago.
This time around, he won't have Ray Emery to bail him out when times are tough, but that's OK, because as Crawford demonstrated during the postseason, he's more than capable of weathering the most difficult of storms. That's why he's got an inside track at earning a roster spot on the Canadian Olympic squad.
Even if he doesn't lead the Blackhawks deep into the postseason this year, if Crawford provides Chicago with steady goaltending, he'll earn Vezina Trophy consideration 10 months from now.
Gabriel Landeskog may be the captain of the Colorado Avalanche, but Matt Duchene is the spoon that stirs the Avs' drink on offense.
With sublime speed, skill and poise with the puck, the former No. 3 overall pick has all the tools to be a superstar, and with Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, Steve Downie, Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau in the fold, one has to believe that Duchene's breakout season is just around the corner.
He's got a flair for the dramatic, as he's scored a bucket's worth of highlight reel goals thus far in his careee. If he can get the Avs back into the postseason during Patrick Roy's first year as head coach, he'll cement his status as one of the game's most prolific offensive players.
Yes, Duchene has had trouble remaining consistent over the course of a full season, but there's no doubt that he's got the ability and talent to be a superstar in the NHL.
One of the most surprising performances last season was that of Rangers center Derek Stepan, who suddenly became New York's top pivot, which was at least one reason former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards found himself in the press box.
A former Wisconsin Badger, Stepan's poise during clutch situations, combined with his elite-level vision, shot and agility, have made the 23-year-old one of the hottest young forwards in the game.
With 44 points in 48 games, along with another four postseason goals, Stepan is clearly the Rangers' top center, and with Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan and a host of other talented wingers in the fold, you know he'll have quality linemates at all times.
And, with Alain Vigneault installed as the team's head coach, one has to imagine the Rangers playing a more up-tempo style in the offensive zone and transition, which will only help Stepan create even more scoring chances, thus increasing his star-power league-wide.
For a guy who has earned just one All-Star Game nod at the age of 31, Patrick Sharp has had one very distinguished NHL career.
Sharp, a three-time 30-goal scorer, has long been one of the game's most consistent two-way forwards, but due to the wealth of talent up front on the Blackhawks, he's been underrated for years.
Simply put, without the former University of Vermont star, Chicago would not have won a pair of Stanley Cups in the last four years, because he's been arguably (yes, Jonathan Toews has something to say here) the most consistent forward on Chicago's roster during that span.
This spring, Sharp lead all postseason scorers with 10 goals, and that wasn't even his most impressive playoff performance to date, as he tallied 11 goals and 22 points during Chi-town's Cup run in 2010.
It's true that Sharp is on the older side to be reaching superstardom now, but if he does the expected by making Canada's Olympic roster, there's no reason he won't be in the conversation when it comes to discussing the best two-way threats in the game.
The Boston Bruins dropped a bombshell on the hockey world by dealing Tyler Seguin to the Stars following the end of the 2013 NHL season, but fans in Dallas aren't complaining.
That's because newly minted general manager Jim Nill managed to acquire one of the most promising young forwards in the league, as Seguin hasn't even begun to scratch the surface with regards to his potential in the NHL.
Seguin's speed, hands and ability to rise to the occasion in clutch situations validated Boston's decision to take him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, and at just 21, the former Plymouth Whaler has all the time in the world to blossom into the top-line center he seems destined to become.
At this stage, Seguin is already a standout pivot, as he's just one year removed from his 67-point sophomore season (which earned him an All-Star Game invitation), and with the Stars considerably less deep than the Bruins up front, he'll get more than his fair share of opportunities to prove himself early on.
Obviously, the Bruins had their reasons for dealing their former star-in-waiting, but in Dallas, Seguin will get the chance to play alongside some very talented forwards, and if he continues to develop, 80 points this season isn't out of the question.
A year ago, many hockey fans were wondering whether Nazem Kadri would ever fulfill his potential as a forward in the NHL, as the former Leafs first-rounder had yet to demonstrate that his talent level translated to the professional style of play.
But last season, Kadri silenced his critics by notching 44 points in 48 games, good for second in team scoring. More importantly, the former London Knights star showed that the confidence he exuded as a prospect was merited, and though he remains unsigned as of now, one has to assume that the Leafs are too smart to let a young playmaking pivot go following such an impressive season.
At 22, Kadri still has a lot of developing to do, and while he may not reach a point-per-game numbers this season, he's well on his way to becoming Toronto's next great centerman.
And, with a quietly impressive group of forwards now in place in Toronto, Kadri will have weapons to work with in the offensive zone, so anything less than 65-70 points in 2013-14 would be a disappointment.
The time has come for former league MVP Joe Thornton and All-Star Patrick Marleau to pass the torch to budding star Logan Couture in San Jose, because right now, there's little doubt as to who is the Sharks' most dynamic forward.
With just three full NHL season under his belt, Couture has already become San Jose's virtually unquestioned offensive engine, and the best part is, he's just 24.
In each of Couture's first two NHL seasons, the Guelph, Ontario native tallied at least 30 goals and 56 points, and last year, during the lockout-shortened campaign, he posted the highest goals per game numbers of his career, and he was even better during the postseason.
Though Thornton and Marleau have had well-documented postseason struggles, Couture has excelled during the playoffs, and he was stellar last spring, notching 11 points in 11 games.
Couture is destined to be one of the sport's most prolific offensive threats for years to come, and fortunately for him (and Sharks fans), he's still got a formidable supporting cast in the aforementioned pair of Thornton and Marleau, as well as two-way stud Joe Pavelski.
Needless to say, the best is yet to come.
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded All-Star forward Jeff Carter to Columbus after the 2010-11 campaign, many fans wondered how Paul Holmgren could possibly find it logical to jettison one of the most dangerous snipers in the league for a handful of unproven assets.
Fast forward two years, and Holmgren, though not looking like a genius, certainly doesn't appear to be as foolish as he once seemed.
That's because not only has former No. 8 overall selection Sean Couturier become a legitimate top-nine forward, but Voracek, once a Blue Jackets cast-off, is now one of the league's most promising offensive threats.
After a sparkling major junior career with the Halifax Mooseheads, Voracek established himself as a gifted NHL forward, but never reached his potential in Columbus, and that trend continued during his first season in Philadelphia.
However, over the course of the lockout-shortened schedule, Voracek blossomed into a top-flight winger alongside Claude Giroux, finishing with a career-best 22 goals, and he ultimately managed to climb into the league's top-20 in scoring.
Though he'll be hard-pressed to keep up with that scoring clip next season, there's no reason Voracek can't put up 30 goals and 70 points, and if he can help the Flyers earn a postseason berth, he won't go unrecognized much longer.