John Tavares isn't on this list, because at the tender age of 23, he's a bona fide NHL star.
He's not the only young player that has made the jump from "rising star" to "actual star." From Steven Stamkos to Taylor Hall to Gabriel Landeskog, it seems like the period of time between the NHL's most exceptional young players making it to the majors and the time they're established difference-makers just keeps getting shorter and shorter. Like the interstate exit for a small town, all it takes is one blink and it's gone.
But there's something special about watching that transformation, short though it is. To watch the transformation of a player like Drew Doughty—who went from favored whipping boy of the local press to the best defenseman in the Stanley Cup playoffs—is a wonderful thing, part of hockey history. Whether the process takes some time (as it did with Doughty) or is nearly instant (as it was with Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby), it's one of those "I was there" moments.
As much as hockey is a tribal sport, with fans thoroughly dedicated to their respective clubs, there's a transcendent quality to watching the arrival of one of those players that is really going to matter—be he a Richard or an Orr, or even a Sundin or a Roenick. That's the point of this list; these players are their generation's Bourques and Forsbergs and Iginlas, the ones who leave an indelible mark on the game and, consequently, are well worth the price of admission.
Who he is: Tarasenko is a player who probably would have gone earlier than 16th overall in 2010 if not for the fact that he was playing in the KHL during his draft year. He spent parts of three more years in Russia evolving into a point-per-game forward in the world's second-best league before St. Louis managed to get him to North America for 2012-13.
Why you need to see him play: Tarasenko can play the game at both ends of the rink; he's fast and responsible and likely to stay that way playing for Ken Hitchcock. But he's also a natural scorer, a player with an instinct around the net and the kind of shot that can take advantage of it.
Who he is: Unlike the vast majority of the players on this list, Silfverberg wasn't a top-10 pick; instead, he was a 2009 second-round selection. He's of interest primarily because of his development since being drafted. Silfverberg was an important player in the Swedish Hockey League before he was 20, an elite scorer at that level by 21 and a useful NHL scorer at 22.
Why you need to see him play: The Ducks made Ottawa pay dearly in exchange for Bobby Ryan, extracting not only Silfverberg but another good prospect in Stefan Noesen as well as a first-round draft pick. So far, it's turned out very well. Silfverberg is a point-per-game player early for the Ducks and looks like he might grow into Ryan's spot all on his own.
Who he is: He's one of the guys the Leafs could have had instead of Phil Kessel, so the odds are good that most hockey fans have at least an idea of who Hamilton is. The son of not one but two Olympic athletes, Hamilton has established himself as an exceptional talent on the blue line—a 6'5" rearguard who can both skate and think the game.
Why you need to see him play: Hamilton is a future cornerstone of the Bruins. It's like the Red Wings 10-15 years ago. Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan and the whole list of future (now current) Hall of Famers could leave or retire and it didn't matter because Detroit had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg waiting in the wings. Zdeno Chara is 36 years old; it's to Hamilton's credit that he's a plausible replacement down the line.
Who he is: Trouba was the Jets' first-round pick (ninth overall) at the 2012 draft. A nearly point-per-game defender for the U.S. National Development Team, the best thing about Trouba was a varied skill set that included scoring as his weakest point. And, given the numbers, that says a lot about his strengths.
Why you need to see him play: Because there's a decent chance that Trouba is a very special defenseman. The number of players billed as "the next Chris Pronger" far exceeds the number of actual next Chris Prongers, and it isn't fair to burden Trouba with that label at this point, but it's an oft-made comparison. And with his ability to do everything, it's easy to understand why people are tempted.
Who he is: Barkov is a player with size and strength beyond his years, one who at 16 was finding his way against men in one of the world's best leagues (Finland's SM-liiga) and at 17 was a top-10 scorer and dominant presence in games against men with hundreds of games of NHL experience. He's also the future (and arguably present) first-line center of the Florida Panthers.
Why you need to see him play: He's the Panthers' own inexorable man; when he decides that he's going to go to the net, he goes to the net—and he brings space with him. He has a knack for finding scoring seams—either skating to vacant ones or passing to those containing his teammates—and he just seems to have that ability to control the play in traffic that so few players possess.
Who he is: Brodin, the 10th overall pick in 2011, is the guy who stepped in as a 19-year-old rookie and took over the No. 2 job on the blue line of a playoff team.
Why you need to see him play: Because clearly not enough people have. The voters for the Calder Trophy embarrassingly ranked him fourth among rookies last season, preferring the flash and dash of bigger-name scorers to the guy who took one of the most difficult roles in hockey and excelled in it at a ridiculously young age. He's a subtle talent (or at least he was; if his scoring keeps up this season, he'll be hard to miss) who plays the game so well that he deserves some appreciation.
Who he is: Galchenyuk was the third overall pick in 2012, a guy the Montreal Canadiens took a chance on based almost entirely on his pre-draft season because he missed all but two games in his draft year. It's not a decision the team has had cause to regret; if anything, there's a decent argument that, given his position and two-way ability, Galchenyuk might go first overall if the draft were held again today.
Why you need to see him play: The obvious answer is because he's an outstanding talent, but two things in particular stand out. First, Galchenyuk has an almost spooky ability to find space in front of the net where he's clear of coverage. Second is his backhand-to-forehand-to-top corner move, one he can seemingly execute in a phone booth.
Who he is: In terms of what they'll be in their primes, their may not be a better player on this list than Nathan MacKinnon. He's been hyped for a long time, and he's probably had unfair expectations placed on him due to the similarities between his early career and Sidney Crosby's, but there's a reason those comparisons get made: He's a very good player.
Why you need to see him play: He's a player with the speed, creativity and stick-handling ability to go around guys; he's also a player with the tenacity and strength to go through them. Then, once he gets into shooting position, he has a flat-out wicked shot. He can do so many different things in so many different ways that it's going to be a special thing to follow his career from start to finish.
Who he is: He is the single-most electrifying young player in the National Hockey League today. The first overall pick in 2012 combines a vicious shot, breathtaking speed and a love for physical play with one of the most unique personalities in the game.
Why you need to see him play: One word: joy. Yakupov's unbridled enthusiasm for the game is infectious. Last year's run for center ice after the first big goal in his NHL career got attention league-wide from both old grumps who take things way too seriously and more balanced fans who enjoyed it for the spontaneous outburst it was. It was one of many moments where Yakupov's passion and sheer happiness shone through another dismal season for the Oilers.
He's going to be a big star, but it's hard to imagine he'll ever be more enjoyable to watch than he is right now, while every goal is still a fresh and beautiful thing to him.