Every season, a group of young players breaks into the big time. This year will be no different.
But who will they be?
There are a few givens, one being the first-overall selection of the 2008 Draft, Steven Stamkos.
Without rambling on, here are my five young breakout candidates for the 2008/2009 season:
Bobby Ryan: RW, Ducks
Ryan is perfect for the Ducks' system, and should be with the team all year after a cup of coffee last season.
He's a big kid (6'1", 218 lbs.) who can skate and bang bodies. He has a good scoring ability and could see some power-play time with the Ducks this year.
His production will partially depend on Teemu Selanne. If the Finnish Flash decides to call it a career, the Ducks will obviously need to fill the void—and Bobby could help do just that. If Teemu comes back, Ryan will be pushed down the depth chart.
Regardless, Ryan is an extremely talented kid with the frame to be a prototype power forward. This is going to be the year he shows the world why he was the guy selected after Sidney Crosby.
Peter Mueller: RW, Coyotes
The big Minnesotan had a strong rookie season in the desert last year, posting 22 goals and 54 points. Thanks to the big-time rookie years from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Carey Price, Mueller has flown under the radar a bit.
He possesses good puck skills and will see the top unit next year, joining Shane Doan and Olli Jokinen to form a potent punch. With those two on his line, he is almost guaranteed to see an improvement on his 32 assists from last season.
Things are rapidly turning around for the better in the desert—and Mueller is a huge reason for it.
Kyle Turris: C, Coyotes
Seems like the Coyotes have all the young talent in the league at this point, boasting Mikkel Boedker, Turris, Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and others.
Turris has been ranked in the top five of The Hockey News Future Watch, and is poised to take his big-time skills to the NHL.
He only played in three games last season but is set to take over second-line center duties. While his frame is a bit thin (just 180 pounds on his 6'1" frame), he will add bulk throughout the rest of the offseason, and probably during the year.
Playing with Boedker, the two could combine to have a tremendous campaign. If the Yotes want to go to the playoffs, Turris' development is crucial.
Rostislav Olesz: LW, Panthers
Olesz, the seventh-overall pick in the 2004 Draft, made strides last year, picking up 26 points in 56 games. This should be the break-out year for him, as he could see the top line following the departure of captain and leading scorer Olli Jokinen.
Like the others listed, he's got the frame (6'1", 214 lbs.) and the skills to be a big-time player. But the big question is, can he put it together—or will he end up like most of the Panthers prospects?
Steven Weiss has failed to live up to lofty comparisons to Sakic and Yzerman. Nathan Hornton seems to always be on the verge of a superstar breakthrough. Jay Bouwmeester is about the only Panther prospect in recent memory to actually live up to his hype.
Here's hoping that Olesz can join him.
Jack Johnson: D, Kings
The man known to some as JMFJ (and yes, it stands for what you think) has all the tools in the world to become an elite defender, and showed glimpses through his first full NHL season last year.
Jack has a good shot from the point, able to see its way through to the net. He's a tremendous skater, and can unleash a thunderous hit at his whim. His offensive skills are top notch, and he is the future power-play quarterback for the Kings.
His maturity level seems to be the only thing standing in the way of a big-time NHL career. But it's obviously too early to doubt him. He is going to be a staple of the Kings blue line, and he's going to start this year by making a huge impact.
There you have it. Should also note that honorable mention goes to Islanders winger Kyle Okposo and Thrashers center Angelo Esposito.
See you in September!