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The NHL trade deadline is just around the corner, and some teams will be loading up to make a run for the Cup, while others will be looking forward to next season. The same would apply to poolies who need to sell and acquire new bodies for next season and beyond. Below are 10 NHL players that are very young, and have really struggled this season, but should bounce back, and have great upside for the future.
Much has been made of the struggles of the young Phoenix forward, and he has been the subject of trade rumors all season. It’s quite possible that might all come to fruition in the next few days, as it’s possible that the former first round pick of the Coyotes could be moved. However, it’s easy to forget that he had 54 points in 81 games in his rookie season, and was always touted as a scoring winger that could play on the first line for any NHL team. After dipping to 36 points in 72 games last season, the 21-year-old Mueller has been downright awful this year, with only 4 goals and 16 points in 53 games. A change of scenery might pay immediate dividends, but even if Phoenix is patient with him, I believe he’ll rebound to be a productive forward in another year or two.
The youngest player on this list, Voracek still is looking to establish himself as a consistent performer for the Jackets. He has mainly played on the second line all season, but has not seen enough minutes to make much of a difference. After registering 34 points in 80 games last season, the 20-year-old has matched that total after 62 games this season. A lot of his struggles could perhaps be tied to Ken Hitchcock, as under Claude Noel, Voracek has been more creative with the puck, and actually headed into the Olympic break with a modest 4-game point streak, tallying 6 points in the process. He could break out with a 60 point campaign as soon as next season.
After breaking out in his sophomore year, Little came back to earth this season with a thud. He had 31 goals last season, and looked like he was well on his way to being a consistent 30-goal player with the potential to hit 40 a few times. The former 12th overall pick has only 10 goals in 57 games this season, and is not even close to his pace from last season. However, with Ilya Kovalchuk now out of the picture, look for Little to see a bit more ice time, he should return to the 30-goal mark in the future—permanently.
The fourth player from the 2006 draft class on this list, the 21-year-old Swede is also only the second player on this list (along with Little) that wasn’t selected in the first round as a top 10 pick. However, that means little as Berglund is one of the most skilled players to come out of that draft class, if not the most skilled. He put up 21 goals and 47 points in his rookie season last year, and bigger and better things were anticipated this season. However, that has not been the case at all. The Blues forward has struggled immensely, and has even been a healthy scratch for a few games. However, he seemed to finally be seeing some ice time since Andy Murray was fired, and should come back strong next season. A 50-point season is a given, and he is capable of much, much more.
The only true established player on this list, Vanek is still only 26, so he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. However, some have already given up on the two-time 40 goal scorer. Vanek has scored at least 25 goals in all 4 of his seasons in the league. Currently, he is on pace for about 22, and has picked up his play a bit recently, so 25 goals still seems realistic at the end of the season. He is by no means over the hill, so don’t start peddling him off when his value is at its lowest point. Did I mention that he was only 26?
The 22-year-old Montreal goaltender is an unusual case at this point in his career. He has proven to be a winner in all of his previous levels of play, but had a meltdown last season when the Montreal fans got to him in the playoffs. At the same time, Jaroslav Halak has emerged as a #1 netminder this year, taking valuable starts away from Price and also outperforming him as well. Former GM Bob Gainey did not want to move the former 5th overall pick, as goalies with his ability rarely come along. However, something should be resolved by the summer at the latest, and Price’s value will rebound. Grab him now while you can, as he’ll be valuable whether he plays in Montreal or elsewhere.
Another young goaltender on this list, the 21-year-old Mason has been even more of an enigma this season than Price. After shattering records as a rookie last season, the Calder winner has been anything but this season, as his numbers have been among the worst in the league for qualified starters. Overall, he’s not as good as he was last season, and definitely not as bad as he has been this season. He’s probably somewhere in the middle, which still makes him a solid top 15 goalie pick. Try grabbing him now before it’s too late. Similar to Voracek, Mason had started to play better under Claude Noel, posting a 3-1 record in his last 4 starts, and has allowed only 5 goals in those 4 games.
There are 6 guys on this list that were selected in the 2006 draft, and EJ is the class of that year, going 1st overall. The 21-year-old had a great rookie season, picking up 33 points in 69 games. However, he missed all of the 2008-09 NHL season with a knee injury, and then started off on fire this year, picking up 21 points in his first 30 games. He then went into a horrible slump, which included not scoring a goal for 31 games. Johnson had picked up his play heading into the Olympic break, as he had notched a point in 4 straight games. He’s not in the same league as Mike Green, Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith, but he definitely has the ability and potential to get there very soon. Try to grab him now if you can.
On the day that a trade freeze was put into effect for the Olympic break, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Barker to the Minnesota Wild in a deal to shore up their blueline depth with a veteran in Kim Johnsson. That was a day that Barker owners should’ve been thrilled with, as the 23-year-old should now have the opportunity to pick up some points and play up to his potential. Only 23, a lot of people forget that Barker was the 3rd overall selection in the 2004 draft, picked behind a few guys you might have heard of in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Last season, Barker hit the 40-point plateau, and more was anticipated this year. However, the emergence of Duncan Keith, along with the blueline depth in Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook, made Barker expendable. He wasn’t really seeing much ice time, and rarely saw any PP time. In Minnesota, he will get ample time with the man-advantage, and should play close to 19-20 minutes every night. He should become a fixture in the 40 point range going forward, starting with next season.
After having a breakout last season by posting 73 points in 82 games, the 23-year-old Krejci has really struggled to get his groove going offensively this season, as he only has 31 points in 57 games at this point. However, he was the best player for the Czechs in Vancouver, and although his upside isn’t as high as others on this list, he does already have his one big season from last year. That means he at least has the capability to repeat those numbers, if not exceed them, down the road.