NHL Stars Whose Stock Will Soar During the 2013-14 Season
The verge of greatness.
That's what we are looking at today. Players who have already established a reputation and are already good players.
However, there's no stopping these players. They are not going to be satisfied with being solid pros. They have a lot more to their game and are getting ready to soar into stardom in the 2013-14 season.
Center Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
2012-13 stats: 21 goals, 16 assists, plus-seven
2013-14 projection: 37 goals, 33 assists, plus-19
Best attribute: Couture has all the measurables to be an excellent player. He has the skating speed and agility, the hard shot and he is a superb passer. However, it's his intangible characteristics that will take him up the ladder to stardom.
Couture can handle any kind of play from his opponents and still come up with his best game. In the 2013 conference semifinal against the Kings, Couture was on the receiving end of an awkward hit into the boards by Jeff Carter in Game 3. While Couture had to come off the ice as a result of the damaging blow, he was back on for overtime and scored the winner for the Sharks.
Left Wing Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
2012-13 stats: 12 goals, 21 assists, minus-12
2013-14 projection: 30 goals, 45 assists, plus-17
Best attribute: Benn is a leader, and the Stars are going to ask him to show every bit of his leadership characteristics as they rebuild their team this season.
It's not a typical rebuilding season, as general manager Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff are hoping to get to the playoffs. If that is going to happen, Benn is going to have to put big numbers on the board and show a young and talented teammate like Tyler Seguin exactly how it's done.
For Benn, that means going into the corners, taking a hit and still finding a way to make the play. He never takes shortcuts and is expected to continue playing that way in 2013-14.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
2012-13 stats: five goals, 24 assists, minus-five
2013-14 projection: 12 goals, 38 assists, plus-11
Best attribute: Niklas Kronwall is probably the most devastating body checker in the NHL. When he delivers his hip check, it separates opponents from the puck and puts fear in their hearts for the next time they are carrying the puck down his side of the ice.
However, Kronwall is not a one-dimensional player. He has a hard slap shot from the point and he can pass the puck well to set up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Kronwall is the unabashed leader of the Red Wings' defensive crew. He may have been a bit uncomfortable with that role last year, as he inherited that position after Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Kronwall owns that position now, and he is an excellent leader for the young players on Detroit's blue line.
Right Wing Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
2012-13 stats: six goals, 14 assists, plus-seven
2013-14 projection: 32 goals, 43 assists, plus-17
Best attribute: Patrick Sharp is one of the best snipers and clutch scorers in the NHL. Injuries held him to 28 regular-season games last year, but he played all 23 postseason games and scored 10 goals.
Sharp scored 33 or more goals each of the last full two regular-seasons. He is very dangerous with the puck on his stick, and any time he is moving toward the net once he gets inside the offensive zone, he is a threat to score. He has a hard, powerful shot from distance and very quick hands when he gets in tight around the net. He has the ability to deflect shots into the net that few others could control.
Left Wing Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
2012-13 stats: nine goals, eight assists, minus-four
2013-14 projection: 32 goals, 46 assists, plus-12
Best attribute: Gabriel Landeskog is a remarkable player who came through with 22 goals in his rookie season. While he has excellent skating, shooting and passing talents, he is a remarkable leader who wants the puck on his stick when the game is on the line.
The Avs have a very interesting maekup to their team. They appear to have a boatload of young offensive talent, but there are questions about their play on the blue line and in net. They are going to try to get the best of their opponents by playing the puck-possession game, and that's where they expect Landeskog to lead the way.
He is the most responsible of the talented young players on the team, and head coach Patrick Roy needs him to have a dominant year for the Avs.
Right Wing Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
2012-13 stats: 15 goals, 13 assists, plus-10
2013-14 projection: 29 goals, 36 assists, plus-22
Best attribute: Gallagher is an easy player for most opponents to look past because the 21-year-old is tiny at 5'8" and 174 pounds.
But Gallagher plays like a man who is four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. He is fearless on the ice and will go into the areas that bigger men dominate. While he can dart in and out of those tight quarters, he can also go there, take the hit and make the play that leads to the goal.
Gallagher has excellent hands, and he has shown the ability to score clutch goals, such as the game-tying marker he scored against the Boston Bruins in the video above. Gallagher got in behind the defense, jumped on the loose puck and sent it into the net with 8.2 seconds remaining to tie the score. That's not atypical for this player, who demonstrated plenty of guts during his rookie season.
Goalie Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
2012-13 stats: 19-10-5, 2.00 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, five shutouts
2013-14 projection: 36-13-8, 2.09 GAA, .918 save percentage, nine shutouts
Best attribute: Rask showed last year that he could be a solid No. 1 goalie when he took over after Tim Thomas decided to take the year off. He knows how to rise to the occasion.
Rask had demonstrated he was an excellent backup prior to last year, but he handled the primary responsibilities without any issues. This year, he should be even better as he grows more experienced.
Rask has excellent fundamentals for his position. He also has the size (6'3") that allows him to take most of the holes away from shooters. He relishes the big moments and seems to play his best in the biggest games. He showed some weakness at holding onto third-period leads last year, but if he can clear that up, he should contend for postseason honors in 2013-14.