Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty Top List of 50 Emerging NHL Players

Bobby Brooks@BrooksBetsAnalyst IIISeptember 23, 2010

Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty Top List of 50 Emerging NHL Players

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    OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 20:  (L-R) Third overall pick Zach Bogosian of the Atlanta Thrashers, first overall pick Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and second overall pick Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings pose for a photograph after being selected i
    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Last month I published my list of the top rising stars heading into the 2010 season.  I ranked them by category, with top 10 emerging goalies, 15 defensemen, and 25 forwards.  Now I put them all together for a final list of 50 players.  

    My criteria for these players is two years in the NHL or fewer than 160 games combined (with minor exceptions).

    Throughout the season I will track all these players to see if they fulfill, exceed, or fail my expectations. 

    Without further ado, let's get to the rankings...

50: Steve Downie

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    Steve Downie is a menace on the ice.  He is a world-class agitator with the ability to score and make things happen.  Opposing players need to keep their head up when he is on the ice because he is determined to rip some heads off.  This bodes well for the other Lightning skill players, as Downie’s reckless style will draw more attention to him and open up ice elsewhere.    

    Due to his full-tilt style he is prone to taking bad penalties, but his overall game more than makes up for it.  Already a fan favorite, Downie wears his emotions on his sleeve and brings loads of character to the rink.  New GM Steve Yzerman has a nice handful of young players to work with and Downie is near the top of that list.

49: Alex Goligoski

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    At 25, Alex Goligoski is the elder statesman of this group despite only being in the NHL for two seasons.  He is very mobile blueliner with good offensive ability.  He has good hockey sense, which allows him to jump into the play to utilize his solid puck-moving ability.

    Goligoski can use some work with his defensive coverage but has already made strides in that area.  Look for him to pile up the points quarterbacking one of the league's most potent power plays.  Already a capable top-four defenseman with potential for more.

48: Derick Brassard

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    Once considered a potential Calder finalist, Brassard took a major step backwards last season.  Much was expected of him after he blew out of the gates in his rookie season.  A lot of Blue Jackets had down years last season, and with a new coach, expectations will once again be high for this kid to step up his game.

    He’s blessed with great skating and offensive instincts and could be a major leader if he can improve his focus.  Brassard will need to overcome the injury concerns and play with more consistency, or Columbus will be looking elsewhere to fill their top center position.  With his superb playmaking skills and on-ice vision, there should be no reason why he won’t shoot up this list in 2010.

47: Tyler Bozak

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    Tyler Bozak saw his stock rise significantly in 2009 as he was counted on to play a lot for an offensively-challenged Maple Leafs team.  Fortunately for Toronto, he played very well in his 37 games, registering 27 points.  More of the same will be expected of him this season, as the Leafs are still rebuilding up front.  It’s uncertain if he’s a legitimate top-line talent, but time will tell.

46: Zack Boychuk

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    Zack Boychuk, along with Jamie McBain, will lead the youth movement for the Carolina Hurricanes this season.  Boychuk is a very speedy and shifty skater and is not afraid to lay the body.  This upcoming season you can expect to see him used in all situations and especially on the power play.  He could start the year on the second line and should stay there if he plays up to his potential.

45: Ondrej Pavelec

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    ATLANTA - MARCH 25:  Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Atlanta Thrashers against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Philips Arena on March 25, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Ondrej Pavelec is Atlanta's goalie of the future, so you can understand why a lot of fans were a bit surprised when the team went out and signed Chris Mason early in free agency.  People knew they needed to add a veteran goalie, but Mason has come in with the understanding that he will get the majority of the starts. 

    Pavelec will have a lot to say about this because he is on the verge of breaking out this year.  Once he puts all his skills together, Atlanta will have a bona fide starter on their hands and Mason will be holding pom-poms on the bench.  The chances of this happening are quite high given how Mason is winding down his career. 

    Last season Pavelec lost his confidence and was single-handedly responsible for a boatload of bad goals during the World Championships in Germany.  Keep an eye on this situation because I believe he has the best chance to be the starter sooner rather than later.  This save is a sign of things to come for the Thrashers.

44: Colin Wilson

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    Colin Wilson worked his way onto Nashville’s roster last year and played respectably in his 35 appearances.  He’s a bull of a centerman at 6’1", 215 pounds and is naturally strong on the puck.  He possesses excellent playmaking skills and has good goal-scoring potential.  Wilson plays a smart game utilizing his impressive hockey sense and should anchor the second line this coming season.  The Predators traditionally draft well, and Wilson is no exception.

43: T.J. Galiardi

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    T.J. Galiardi was a pleasant surprise of sorts for the Avalanche in his rookie season.  He’s a strong skater and plays at 100 percent every game.  At 6’2", 190 pounds, he still has room to improve his strength and become a dominant two-way player.  He plays with underrated hockey intelligence and passing ability and showcased his preference for big-game situations in the playoffs.   

    Galiardi still has untapped offensive upside and should create a lot of scoring opportunities with his creative play with the puck.  His vision helps him anticipate plays, which makes him an additional asset on the penalty kill.  He could find himself much higher on this list as the year unfolds.

42: Artem Anisimov

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    This 20-year-old Russian is looking to build on a solid rookie season for the New York Rangers.  Anisimov is a pretty good skater for his size and shows flashes of offensive brilliance at times.  (Check out this goal.)  He worked hard at becoming an all-around player and did a nice job at his two-way game last year.  He is gifted with above-average hockey sense, play-making, and on-ice vision.   

    All the tools are there for him to become a really good player in the NHL, but he will need to become more consistent.  Many Rangers fans wish that he were put on the top two lines so he could play with better wingers, but if he continues to develop on the same path, he will get that chance.  Keep an eye on him as he could surprise.

41: Niklas Hjalmarsson

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    At the age of 23, Niklas Hjalmarsson is already a Stanley Cup champion.  Yet, his best days are still ahead of him.  The San Jose Sharks recognized his talents and gave him an offer sheet this past summer, but the Blackhawks matched it.

    Smart move.

    This kid logs big minutes and was an underrated part of Chicago's success; he's a gritty shutdown defenseman who brings a calming presence to the blue line.

    Hjalmarsson will not hesitate to use the body and still has some underutilized offensive ability.  Look for bigger things from him in 2010.

40: Michael Del Zotto

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    This future power-play quarterback for the New York Rangers had an up-and-down rookie season.  Not afraid to use the body, this 20-year-old has offensive ability to spare.  With his great vision and skating skills, opposing teams will soon learn to respect his game.

    Before that happens, he needs to drastically improve his defensive zone coverage.  If it were not for this, he would already be higher on the list.  John Tortorella gave him free rein to learn on the fly and they need him to be better to trust him with more ice time.

    Del Zotto was also benched in the World Championships due to his defensive liabilities.  He should show marked improvement this season.

39: Logan Couture

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    Logan Couture finally made the jump to the pros late in the NHL season last year, and he’s never looked back.  In the playoffs, he showed management why they drafted him in the first round of 2007.  A born leader, Couture will be part of a solid foundation in San Jose for many years to come.  

    He has a great two-way game with good offensive upside.  Although he’s a better playmaker than scorer at this point in his career, he has the potential to grow in both areas.  Couture is smart and defensively responsible, and he would probably be centering the second line already if it wasn’t for Joe Pavelski.

38: Tyler Ennis

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Tyler Ennis only played 10 games last year and six more in the playoffs with the Buffalo Sabres, but he played so well that he will easily stick in the pros this season.  Ennis is part of the new wave of smallish and speedy NHLers, as the rules are tailored to let players like him shine.

    Blessed with elite hockey intelligence, Ennis is able to make something out of nothing when the puck is on his stick.  His elite-level speed and quickness make him a nightmare for opposing defenders as he has the ability to make people look silly.  With a quick shot and a fiery edge to his game, he is always a threat when he’s on the ice.  He might be small, but that won’t stop him from turning a lot of heads this year.

37: Jamie McBain

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    One guy who does not need drastic improvement is 22-year-old Jamie McBain.  This youngster turned many heads in his late-season callup last season for the Hurricanes.  

    He has a good all-around game and already looks like a polished NHLer.  Carolina will hope this continues, as they need all the help they can get on defense.   

    McBain will see big minutes in 2010 and might be a dark-horse Calder candidate.

36: T.J. Oshie

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    T.J. Oshie, one of the bright young stars for the St. Louis Blues, will look to improve on his point totals this upcoming season.  He has excellent offensive talent—especially puck-handling, skating, and playmaking.  He is not afraid to play a physical game despite his size and plays with all-out effort every game.  With a little bit more consistency, he could take his game to the next level sooner rather than later.

35: Jonathan Bernier

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    Normally, a player with only three starts would not make the list, but Bernier 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.  He 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.

34: Michael Grabner

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    Michael Grabner is a talented winger who comes with a lot of promise, but it is unknown if he can put it all together yet.  Without question, he will get a significant chance to prove himself, as he was traded from the stacked forward ranks in Vancouver to the offensively-challenged Panthers during the draft.   

    In Florida he should see a lot of ice time on the top two lines, where he is best-suited to display his great skating and goal-scoring abilities.  He has a knack for the net, and his soft hands should get him at least 20 goals in 2010.  (Check out his hat-trick here.)  If given time in open space, he will punish opposing goaltenders, and if the space isn’t there, he’ll create it with his blazing speed.  Before he cracks the top 10 on this list though, he will need to improve his consistency and defensive zone coverage. 

    Having said that, 30+ goals isn’t out of the question.

33: Jonas Gustavsson

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    Gustavsson might be higher on this list if it wasn't for his questionable health status.  Nicknamed "The Monster" due to his large frame, he 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 rigors 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.

32: P.K. Subban

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    Making the list as an exception is top Montreal prospect P.K. Subban.  While he has only played two regular season games for the big club, he did make an impressive playoff debut last year.

    Already a fan favorite with his poise and superb skating ability, he should be a key cog on the Canadiens defense for years to come.    Not afraid to lay the body despite his size or quarterback the power play, Subban displays excellent offensive skills and creative vision.

    Like most young rearguards, he will need to improve his consistency and know when to join the rush and when to sit back.   But if can live up to his hype and works on his flaws, he will emerge as one of the best young blueliners in the game today.

31: Jamie Benn

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    As a rookie last year, Jamie Benn hit the 20 goal mark and looks to secure a top-six role in Dallas this season.   He is talented in many areas of his game and is a very versatile forward.  His greatest attribute is his ability to put the puck in the net with his great shot and slick moves.  Benn knows how to find space and put himself in a position to score goals.   

    While he wasn’t horrible defensively, he could improve in this aspect of the game and utilize his great size a little bit more.  He can also play center but due to his sub-par faceoff and passing skills, he is better suited to the wing.   Nevertheless, he will be fun to watch as he continues to develop this season.

30: Michal Neuvirth

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    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 second 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.

29: Dimity Kulikov

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    Cracking the top 30 is Florida Panthers young gun Dimitry Kulikov.  This 19-year-old teenager has confidence galore.  He is a gifted offensive talent with a huge shot.  

    Florida's future power play quarterback will continue to turn heads in 2010 as he improves his overall game.

    One of the things you have to like about him is his commitment to defense.   Many times players with his offensive ability neglect the defensive aspect as they get acclimated in the league.

    Not Kulikov.

    He is a gem and many around the league will take notice soon.

28: Mikael Backlund

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    As Calgary’s best prospect, MiKael Backlund made his NHL debut last year and did not disappoint.  This 2007 first round pick is expected to produce goals for an offensively starved Flames squad in 2010.  His impeccable hockey sense and playmaking ability should provide the kind of spark this team needs.  He is not a liability in his own end and has speed to burn.  

    Fans around the league will notice his elite passing ability and powerful shot almost every time he is on the ice.   Like most young players he will need to add pounds to his frame and improve his consistency, but that will come with time.   Backlund is one of the few bright spots on an otherwise uninspiring club.

27: Niclas Bergfors

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    This young Swede was traded to Atlanta as part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade last March.  In retrospect, the Thrashers got an excellent young player who will be an important piece of their rebuilding plan.  New Jersey brought him along slowly as he played almost four full seasons in the minors before his jump to the NHL.   

    He’s a slick player with great hockey intelligence and is strong at both ends of the ice.  At times he is reluctant to get his nose dirty, but he is savvy enough to pick his spots.

26: Semyon Varlamov

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    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.

25: James Van Riemsdyk

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    In the Stanley Cup Finals, JVR played opposite of Patrick Kane.   Kane was the only player taken higher than JVR in the 2007 draft, but that is where their paths diverged.   JVR stayed in university hockey for a couple years before he finally made the big jump to the big leagues last season.    

    The Flyers have been patient with him and the only thing holding him back from more scoring opportunities was the great depth ahead of him.   His upside is unlimited and he has been working hard to gain strength in the offseason to better handle the vigors of a long, grinding NHL season.   

    His big frame is complimented nicely with good speed and impressive skill with the puck.   Look for him to make big strides if he can secure a top six winger spot.

24: Jimmy Howard

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    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.

23: Chris Stewart

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    Coming in at 23 is Colorado’s Chris Stewart.  This prototypical power forward is a key component  of the Avalanche youth movement and broke out with 28 goals in 2009.  He has great size and strength which helps open up a lot of space for his line-mates. 

    For a player his size he has great hands to go along with his top-notch work ethic.  He’s an underrated passer and a very strong skater.  He is the perfect compliment for players such as Duchene or Statsny.  He should become part of the 30-goal club this season and might even hit 40 if some things go his way.

22: Antti Niemi

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    Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Niemi placing fourth on this list after a stellar Stanley Cup run, is the fact that he is no longer playing for the Hawks.  His arbitration decision left him with a contract Chicago wasn't willing to pay and now he must reestablish himself on San Jose.

    The Sharks are 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 .

21: Evander Kane

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    Evander Kane is one of the young, exciting power forwards of the NHL.  After an up and down rookie season, Kane played well down the stretch and in the world championships.  Has a great combination of skating ability and grit.  Can accelerate on a dime with an even faster shot release makes him a threat anywhere on the ice.  

    Once he improves his strength, this kid will be tough to contain.  Atlanta is stacking their lineup with youth and Kane is their shining star.  Expect a big surge in production in 2010.

20: Erik Karlsson

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    Erik Karlsson shot up the rankings in the months leading up to the 2008 draft.  Now people know why.  He has great offensive talent and plays with an edge despite having a smaller frame.

    The Senators have a stud of a defenseman on their hands and he will dramatically improve on his rookie point totals as his career takes off.

    Blessed with great hockey sense and a powerful shot, Ottawa will have a great power play tandem with him and Sergei Gonchar.

    He still needs to improve his defensive game and improve his strength, but that will come with time.  He did not look out of place playing for the Swedish team in the World Championships and is primed for a breakout season.

19: Luke Schenn

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    Luke Schenn went through some growing pains this past NHL season but started to come into his own near the end of the year.  As a natural leader, he will thrive in the Maple Leafs defensive core this upcoming season.

    His offensive upside is still unknown but whether it comes or not, it will not diminish his value.  Toronto is a tough place to win over the fans, but he has done so with his solid play.

    He wins battles with his stick and his body and his size and strength allow him to challenge any forward.
    He has shutdown ability written all over him.

18: James Neal

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    James Neal is leading the next wave of big young forwards in the NHL.  At 6’3, 205 pounds he can hold his own in the physical department.   He could still play with more aggression, but that part of his game should come with time.   Blessed with an amazing shot, he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net.  There is not much he can’t do on the ice.   Neal can shoot, score, pass, and play a two-way game.

    He will be a great team leader for the Stars for years to come as he has natural leadership ability.     Opposing teams would be wise not to try and knock him off his game either because Neal isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.  Dallas struck gold with this second round pick.

17: Peter Regin

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    Coming out of nowhere in 2009 was Ottawa’s Peter Regin.  He didn’t turn many heads for most of the season, but when it mattered most this kid picked up his game to an elite level.  Regin carried this momentum into the playoffs and world championships where he was one of the best players on the ice from either team.  

    Touted as a playmaking center, Regin showed his ability to score as well (check out his world championship end-to-end goal).  He sees the ice incredibly well and his soft hands make him the perfect center for sniping wingers.  Once he builds his strength a little more, this sophomore will be tough to stop.  Look for him to make a serious splash in 2010.

16: Alex Pietrangelo

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    Many have not heard of Alex Pietrangelo yet, but that should change this season.  He models his game off of Chris Pronger and could have easily been a Calder candidate in 2010 if he was eligible.

    Rated by many as the top NHL prospect, he has a lot of expectations to live up to.  That won't be a problem for this 6'3'', 205-pound blueliner.  St Louis has taken a developmental approach with him letting him refine his game in the minors after two short stints with the big club.

    A franchise defenseman in the making, his superb on-ice vision is only matched by his impeccable hockey intelligence.  With all the skills one could want from a player, he will be a household name for years to come.

15: Jaroslav Halak

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    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.

14: Nikita Filatov

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    Nikita Filatov was perhaps one of the most anticipated rookies to see the ice last year only to see it cut short after 13 games.  Many have made a big deal about his icy relationship with ex-head coach Ken Hitchcock, but in the end he will be better off for it.  While playing in the KHL, he gave more attention to his defensive game and has put on 10 pounds.  

    Coming back to Columbus as a more complete package, Filatov could very well be a Calder Trophy finalist in 2010.  His explosive offensive talent should be on full display with the chance for top-six minutes.  This is one exciting prospect.

13: Jakub Voracek

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    This highly skilled scoring winger is a key cog of the Blue Jackets youth movement.  He is an explosive skater with unlimited offensive creativity.  He also knows how to take care of his defensive responsibilities which makes him a highly valuable two-way player.   Columbus is hoping Brassard can live up to expectations to give Voracek a first-line centerman.  

    Voracek’s vision makes him a high-end playmaker and his scoring touch should improve with time.  Much like Filatov, he will benefit from Hitchcock’s firing.  Look for him to play an essential offensive role for Columbus in 2010.

12: Claude Giroux

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    Debuting on the list at the 12 spot is Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux.  This 22-year-old really broke out in the playoffs last year as he was a key contributor in the march to the finals.  He is supremely gifted offensively with great moves, scoring touch, and playmaking abilities.    

    A gritty player despite his size, Giroux is willing to get dirty to win a battle or make a play.  The only thing holding his development back is the Flyers depth at forward, but he will not need to wait long before he becomes a dynamic first-line winger in this league.

11: Erik Johnson

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    Erik Johnson has all the makings for a top offensive talent in the NHL.  In fact, he has the potential to be a top-pairing two-way defenseman given all his skills.

    He is a smooth skater with great stickhandling and passing skills.  He is reliable in his own end and plays with a physical edge.  At 6'4'', 225 pounds, Johnson has the size and strength to keep the front of his net clear and win the tough battles in the corner.

    The sky is the limit for this youngster and it won't be long until he puts it all together.

10: Zack Bogosian

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    Originally drafted third overall by Atlanta, Bogosian has the makings of an all-around stud on the blueline.  He has natural offensive ability along with a booming shot.

    He should live up to his franchise-defenseman potential with his high hockey intelligence.   Is already solid in his own zone and will be a top-pairing shutdown defenseman for the Thrashers for years to come.

    Keep an eye on this one.

9: John Carlson

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    John Carlson introduced himself to the national stage in the 2009 playoffs by quickly establishing himself as a top-four rearguard.   Has explosive offensive upside with the potential for an all-around game.

    Capitals fans are excited to see what he can do for a full season as he should become one of their most reliable defensemen in 2010.  He uses his size and skating ability and can easily quarterback the lethal Washington power play.

    Responsible in his own zone, he is incredibly smart and systematic with his game.  Will play in any situation and log big minutes.

    Carlson will rack up the points with the Capitals and will eventually surpass Green as their best defenseman.

8: Pekka Rinne

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    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 even higher on this list.  Either way, his future is bright and will emerge as a bona fide star this season.

7: John Tavares

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    Coming in at the number seven spot is the number one overall draft pick of the New York Islanders.  His rookie season was one of long streaks.   Good, then bad, then good again.  He topped his season off by playing very well in the World Championships in Germany.   

    Blessed with amazing hand/eye coordination and high hockey intelligence, Tavares is often in the right place at the right time.  Expectations are sky high for this youngster and it’s unknown whether he will be able to live up to them or not because the biggest flaw to his game is his skating.  The other aspect he needs to work on is his defense, but he’s already made strides in this area.

    Tavares also has an underrated grit and toughness to his game that should become more of his arsenal as he gets stronger.   All eyes will be watching closely to see how he develops in his sophomore season.

6: Victor Hedman

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    Victor Hedman should be even higher on this list but tailed off a bit as he adjusted to the North American game.  Loaded with an impressive skill set, Hedman is the complete package and will anchor Tampa Bay's defense for the next decade.

    The No. 2 overall draft pick is already touted as the Lightning franchise defenseman and if anyone has seen him play they will agree he is the real deal.

    At 6'6'', 220 pounds, no one is going to intimidate him and he has unbelievable skating ability for a player his stature.   His size and skill combination are unique and he will be a Norris Trophy candidate sooner than later.

5: Matt Duchene

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    This rookie of the year candidate manages to snag the number 5 spot despite being drafted behind John Tavares.  It won’t be long until scouts re-evaluate that decision and many already believe he has the higher upside.  

    One the things that sets Duchene apart is his speed and skating ability.  He is dangerous in any situation on the ice.  He loves the game and it shows with his fiery play.  He is getting comparisons with Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, but in time people will be comparing young players to him.  His unique combination of offensive ability and defensive awareness make him one of the best all-around rookies to hit the NHL in some time.

    He loves to play in the clutch and isn’t afraid to make highlight reel goals when the game is on the line.    (check out his shootout goal vs the Canucks or his goal in the World Championships).  It is not often you get a franchise player at No. 3 overall, but that’s what the Avalanche got in June of 2009.

4: Tuukka Rask

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    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 goalie 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.

3: Tyler Myers

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    What more can be said about the rookie of the year?  When he was drafted 12th overall in 2008, no one expected him to become so dominant so quickly.  His confidence really took off in 2009 and he never looked back.

    With size that is only matched by Chara, Myers combines great offensive skills and skating ability with a massive frame.   Was by far and away the Sabres best defenseman playing in all situations and logging impressive minutes.

    It takes years in the NHL to reach the level he has already achieved.   Look for him to improve his game even more in his sophomore season.  This is bad news for opposing teams.

2: Drew Doughty

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    Taking the top defensive spot in this list is Los Angeles Kings youngster Drew Doughty.  He plays well beyond his years and at 20 he has already been nominated for a Norris Trophy.  Some believe he should have won it but it will not be the last time he contends for best defenseman honors.

    He is incredibly poised and has offensive instincts you cannot teach.   Is equally talented defensively as he is offensively.   There really isn't much he can't do.

    A bona fide star in the making, Doughty will cement his name among the elite in 2010 proving last year was no fluke.  He will be the undisputed franchise defenseman for the Kings for years to come and might go down as their best ever before all is said and done.

1: Steven Stamkos

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    Easily the fastest rising NHL star in the game today is lightning bolt Steven Stamkos.   In only his second season, he is tying the likes of Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy and has put his name on the map to stay.   

    It is scary to think what this 20-year-old can do with some more experience in the league.  He has top level talent in most important areas: skating, shot release, playmaking, defensive responsibility, stick handling, etc.  New GM Steve Yzerman is fortunate to have a franchise forward like him and will lead the way in the Tampa Bay rebuilding phase.

    One of the few things he needs to work on is his strength and faceoff skills.  Other than that, he is clearly among the top new faces of the NHL.