NHL Rookies Showing Superstar Potential Early in 2013-14 Season
Rookies don't have to start dominating in the NHL with the first stride they take.
If the rookie's name is not Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Teemu Selanne, Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, that's rarely going to happen.
But rookies will flash their talent and show signs that they have the potential to be superstars in the years to come.
We are not talking about rookies who are good and will likely remain functional. We're talking about rookies who have that special something to become superstars who will eventually dominate.
There's a lot more refinement and development needed, but there is the innate talent at their cores that may eventually get them to the top of heap.
(Rookies like Mark Arcobello of Edmonton, Sean Monahan of Calgary, Michael Bournival of Montreal and Tyler Johnson of Tampa Bay all appear to be solid players who may turn out to be key contributors, but they don't appear to be superstars.)
LW Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
Rookie numbers: 13 games; eight goals, three assists, plus-eight
What he does well: Hertl is at the top of the rookie scoring list because he has all of the skills needed to be a star. He is an excellent skater, but the 19-year-old from the Czech Republic also has an underappreciated physical game.
Hertl also wants to be a star, and he is willing to do anything on the ice to get there. He has the acceleration to get ahead of the pack to get to the scoring areas and make plays happen.
Problem areas: Hertl can put the puck in the net, and he is hungry to do so. He also wants to pass the puck and set his teammates up, but his passing and puck-handling are not quite up to the level of his shooting at this point. He needs to work on becoming a more accurate passer.
Hertl will eventually play center in the NHL, but he's playing left wing next to Joe Thornton, which is an outstanding way to improve his passing.
C Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Rookie numbers: 11 games; one goal, six assists, plus-two
What he does well: The No. 1 pick in the draft got off to a quick start, but he had not scored in his previous five games heading into the Stars Nov. 1 game with Colorado.
MacKinnon looks like a future star because he's a brilliantly talented player with eye-catching skating speed. He has good hands, can find open teammates and will shoot when he gets his opportunity.
Problem areas: MacKinnon is not just a one-way player. He tries to be responsible at both ends of the ice, but his talent is not as developed on the defensive side as it is when he is attacking. MacKinnon is not fully developed and is still growing into his talent and getting used to this level. He may take some time to learn how to play at this level, but he is clearly on his way.
C Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Rookie numbers: 12 games; three goals, four assists, minus-one
What he does well: Aleksander Barkov, 18, is a polished player despite his youth. He excelled in his two years in Finland's top league, so he came to the Panthers with confidence far beyond his years. Barkov has the confidence because he has great technical skill and a wicked shot, and he makes the right play with the puck.
Problem areas: Barkov is a solid skater, but he still needs work in that area if he is going to get the most out of his talent at the NHL level. He's got size and strength, but he just needs more time at this level to gain more consistency.
D Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Rookie numbers: 12 games; four goals, three assists, plus-one
What he does well: Torey Krug is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman who has excellent offensive skills. His presence on the point has allowed the Boston Bruins to move huge Zdeno Chara down low on the power play in order to get in front of the opposing goaltender and create traffic in front.
This is not a new concept, but the Bruins couldn't do this with any regularity until they brought Krug up. He is fast, smart, agile and gutsy.
While Krug, 22, is somewhat short at 5'9" and 180 pounds, he does not play a small man's game. He will go into the corner and battle, giving as good as he gets. Krug is quickly becoming one of the more important players on the Bruins
Problem areas: Krug signed with the Boston Bruins as an undrafted free agent. He does not have the pedigree of many of the other players mentioned in this piece. As a result, he does not have the swagger of a blue-chip prospect.
However, he is as good as any of them, and if he believes it himself, there likely will be no stopping him despite his lack of size and reputation.
RW Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars
Rookie numbers: 12 games; five goals, four assists, minus-two
What he does well: Alex Chiasson is another player who does not have an overpowering reputation. He played the last two years with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, and he developed excellent offensive skills.
Chiasson has a powerful shot, and he also goes into the dirty areas of the ice and will pay the price to score goals. He has shown in his brief time in the NHL that he has a great chance to be a top goal scorer.
Problem areas: Chiasson will become a better and more consistent player when he develops his skating. There have been a few whispers about his work ethic, but he does not appear to have a problem in that area at this point.
D Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
Rookie numbers: 13 games; two goals, four assists, even plus-minus
What he does well: Seth Jones is a stellar puck-moving defenseman with size, intelligence, solid skating ability and the instincts to do the right thing with the puck. Jones is already playing a key role with the Predators, as he is averaging 25 minutes of ice time per night. That would be a lot for a veteran, but it is almost unheard of for an 18-year-old rookie.
In addition to his talent, Jones appears to be learning what it takes to play in the NHL. His on-ice intelligence and his propensity for making the correct decision is why he will develop into a superstar in the NHL.
Problem areas: Jones has plenty of size at 6'4" and 205 pounds. However, he has the frame to add weight and get much stronger. When that happens, he will be nearly unstoppable.
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