All throughout the NHL season I will be following the stars of tomorrow. My criteria for these players is two years in the NHL or less than 160 games combined (with minor exceptions).
Many players take that next big step in year three and really come into their own. Some sooner, some later, but the development of a star is fascinating to watch.
The rankings will be updated as the season unfolds to reflect who's living up to expectations and who is not.
Today I begin my off-season rankings with the top 10 emerging goalies.
Thomas Greiss made an impression last season as he backstopped Nabokov. He had 16 game starts posting a respectable .912 save percentage. This 24 year old out of Germany also played in a couple games during the playoffs and did not look out of place.
He has a great attitude about him and developed his skills nicely in Europe. His strongest assets are his ability to anticipate the play which puts him in good position to make the first save.
Greiss is one the top prospects to come out of Germany and was drafted in 1994. This backup could turn some heads in San Jose. He should see more starts and might even steal the number one job if he can capitalize on the opportunity.
Normally a player with only three starts would not make the list, but he was so impressive that it is hard to leave him off. Only 22, this 2006 draft pick is ready to make his mark in the NHL. Many Kings fans were crying for him to be called back up to the big league after watching him display his skills.
Bernier is mentally strong, has quick reflexes, and bounces back quickly after soft goals. His confident demeanor can be infectious for the team in front of him and he is mature beyond his years. Has a reputation of raising his game when the pressure is on.
It could be a fast rise to the top and it won't be long until NHL snipers discover how good Bernier is.
Gustavsson might be higher on this list if it wasn't for his questionable health status. Nicknamed "The Monster" due to his large frame, but had trouble living up to it early last year. His game eventually turned around as his confidence grew.
Equipped with great athleticism for his size, he will challenge Giguere for the starting job in Toronto this season. His challenging, aggressive style bodes well for the vigors of the NHL and he will need to stay mentally tough in this hockey mad city.
Gustavsson has all the tools necessary to dominate in this league, and he will need all of them if the Leafs have any hope at a playoff spot.
Many people wondered who the Capitals would sign after letting go of veteran goalie Jose Theodore. They stood pat. Primarily because Neuvirth is ready for the NHL. This two-time Calder Cup champion is ready to shine.
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft, this 22 year old has the ability to dominate at the pro level. He showed that he can play in the NHL after starting 17 games in 2009 posting a nice .914 save percentage.
Has a nice mix of agility and technical skills while displaying poise beyond his years. Perhaps one of his best qualities is his ability to recover as he never gives up on a play. Neuvirth's strong positional understanding will be needed in 2010 as Washington looks to overcome their disappointing playoff performance.
Neuvirth could be leading the charge for the cup given coach Boudreau's twitchy trigger finger.
Just ahead of Neuvirth on this list is the man he will be backstopping in 2010 - Semyon Varlamov. After Theodore was prematurely yanked in the second game versus Montreal, Varlamov came in and never looked back. The same story unfolded the year before. In those games he proved he can play well in pressure-packed situations. Unfortunately for him, he battled some consistency and injury problems during the regular season.
It is hard to believe he is only 22 after watching how poised he is on the ice. Strong positionally, fast transitions between the butterfly style and stand up, and an impeccable glove hand.
He still needs to develop his game, improve his stick-handling ability, and fight off Neuvirth. If he can do this, he should be Washington's goalie of the future - and maybe Russia's as well.
Jimmy Howard came out of nowhere in 2009 to lead the late season drive of the Detroit Red Wings. Many wondered how he would hold up in the playoffs and he delivered a strong debut. He bounced back after a tough game and never looked back.
Never high on the Red Wings prospect list, Howard took advantage of the salary cap situation in Detroit to capitalize on his shot at the big leagues. The team's hot streak after the all-star break had as much to do with Howard's play than anything else and it earned him a rookie of the year nomination.
His acrobatic style led to one the league's best save percentages with a .924 and is firmly entrenched as the starter for 2010. His upside might be limited, but if he plays like he did last year, he won't slip on this list.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Niemi placing 4th on this list after a stellar Stanley Cup run, is the fact that he is currently without a team. His arbitration decision left him with a contract Chicago wasn't willing to pay and now he must find work with another team.
Whoever decides to land him will be acquiring a nice starting goalie looking to prove his 2009 season wasn't a fluke. With a lot of elite-level experience in Europe, Niemi showed the NHL last year that he was ready for the pros.
Much like Jimmy Howard, Niemi was never high on anyone's draft list as he was an undrafted free agent in 2008. He may never be among the elite at the NHL level, but his ability to raise his game and handle pressure will no doubt be coveted by an NHL team soon.
Coming in at third on the list is a goalie who made quite a name for himself by backstopping Slovakia in the Olympics and Montreal in the playoffs. His huge upsets of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins put his name on the map for good. Ultimately, his play turned out to be too good because the Les Habitants decided his new contract was too expensive.
After a trade to St Louis and a brand new contact, Halak will be busy in 2010 proving his play was more than a hot streak. Has incredible focus and thrives on a lot of shots. Is incredibly poised under pressure and is a super team player. He had to overcome the organizations love affair with first round draft pick Carey Price and fought hard to strangle the number one job away from him.
This former ninth round pick has determination that you can't teach a young goalie and the Blues will reap the rewards during the upcoming season.
Leading a long line of quality goalies that have come out of Finland is Nashville's Pekka Rinne. Another goalie not expected for huge heights in the NHL has quickly put the league on notice that he is among the best.
After two seasons he has allowed the Predators to part ways with Dan Ellis and proved to the organization that he was for real in his playoff debut versus the Hawks.
His massive 6'5' frame covers a lot of net and he never gives up on a play. That kind of drive is one factor that separates him from the rest. His great work ethic and athletic ability could lead to a Vezina nomination in the near future.
If it wasn't for his slow start in 2009, he could have been number one on this list. Either way, his future is bright and will emerge as a bona fide star this season.
If you are a Toronto Maple Leaf fan it could pain you to read that Tuukka Rask is the number one goalie on this list. After trading him to Boston, Rask has quickly become the hottest young goalie on the planet.
He maximizes his coverage of the net with his superb positional play. Is a big-time goalie who lives for the pressure-packed moments. Led the NHL with an unbelievable .932 save percentage. He was so good that he supplanted the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas by the second half of the season.
Without a doubt, he is one of the most competitive young goalies to grace the net in some time. His popular YouTube tirades are a direct result of this desire to win as he places all the responsibility and blame on himself for a bad goal or game.
If he would have played more games in 2009, he would have walked away with the Calder Trophy and possibly the Vezina. His ability to recover on a play is second to none and he lives to make the big-save.
He has a strangle hold on the number one spot on this list and it would be a surprise if he gave it up. Whether you are a fan of the Bruins or not, it will be fun to watch his development this season. Tuukka Rask will emerge as a star right before our eyes.