With the first week of NHL action officially in the books it's time to look back and see which youngsters are making headlines.
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 fewer than 160 games combined (with minor exceptions).
Many players usually 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.
Now let's take a look to see who's living up to expectations and who is not.
Not many rookies have had a hat-trick in their opening NHL game but that's exactly what Derek Stepan did for the Rangers. Touted as a playmaking center, Stepan showed the league that he has a knack for the net too. The Rangers have had question marks at this position heading into the season, but that could be a thought of the past if he can prove his opening night was not a flash in the pan.
Entering the 2010 season many wondered who would pick up the slack for the departed Sergei Gonchar. Look no further than Alex Goligoski as the third year player has already chipped in with two goals and one assist to start the season. He provides a nice compliment to Pittsburgh's revamped blueline and is primed for a big year.
Anisimov is another Rangers center who is stepping up his game so far this season. With three points in two games, Coach Tortorella is hoping that Anisimov's offensive game can develop as well this year as his defensive game did last season. Consistency will be key for him in 2010, but don't be surprised if you start hearing a lot more about this 22-year-old Russian as the season unfolds.
Carey Price had a nice outing against the Penguins on Saturday, but it will take a lot more than that for Montreal fans to forget about Jaroslav Halak. He already has two steller starts under his belt backstopping the Blues to two straight wins. In both contests opposing teams could do nothing but shake their heads as Halak is ready to prove last year's playoff run was no fluke.
I have St Louis making the playoffs this year and Halak is the primary reason. If they do make it, season ticket holders will be forced to pay full price for their tickets as the St. Louis ownership had offered a conditional deal that would allow fans to only pay half if they came up short. Given all the woes this organization has gone through in recent times, something tells me they won't mind that one bit with this playoff hero between the pipes. Who will want to play them?
With John Tavares out with a concussion, Matt Duchene is taking the opportunity to make his case as the best player taken in the 2009 draft. With four points in three games, Duchene is determined to prove that this is more than a Cinderella team. This organization has done things the right way and turned things around with a rebuilding plan. With a solid year of experience under their belt, the sky is the limit for the Avalanche and it won't be long until Duchene matures into a bona fide star.
Another player taking advantage of an injury situation is Michal Neuvirth. He has made a few of my lists in the offseason including; goalies who could steal the starting job, top Calder candidates, and top emerging goalies. So far after three games Neuvirth has done nothing to change my mind. Building off of back-to-back Calder Cups this youngster has all the tools necessary to be the go-to guy in Washington. By the time Varlamov returns he could be facing a much different situation than the one that started the year. Coach Boudreau is quick to switch things up and ride the hot hand so don't be shocked if Neuvirth comes out on top.
Fans in Atlanta are excited about the 2010 version of the Thrashers and Evander Kane is one of the prime reasons for the optimism. At the moment, if you were to mention the name Kane to a hockey fan most of them would assume you are talking about Patrick Kane. Given this sophomore's upside, it might not take long before those same fans ask, "which one?" The NHL is in dire need of more power forwards and Evander is more than ready to answer the bell. His two goals led the way for an upset win over the Capitals and if he can stay healthy it will be the first of many standout games.
Has there been a more memorable debut from a highly-touted prospect than Jordan Eberle's performance on opening night? He had teammates buzzing after his highlight reel goal and captured the early spotlight from fellow young guns Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi. It will be a fascinating race as these three kids will compete for morning headlines all year long. Everyone will marvel at his skill level, but his best attribute is his effort level. The Oilers may not make the playoffs this year, but their fans will have fun watching players like Eberle develop into stars in a turnaround season.
Tyler Ennis was supposed to be a darkhorse Calder Trophy candidate this year, but he has put himself on the map after just one week of the regular season. There is no denying his offensive savvy and he's already delivering on the preseason expectations. He averaged a point per game in his 10 starts late last year and he has picked up right where he left off with four points in three games. Keep a close eye on this one to see if he can keep it up the rest of the way.
Speaking of Calder Trophy candidates, John Carlson was my pick for the award heading into the year and so far he has not disappointed. Washington was in desperate need for defensive help after 2009 and Carlson is ready to fill the void. Equally capable in his own end of the ice, he also has tremendous offensive upside. The only question after one week of the NHL season is, how high is that ceiling? At 20 years old, he already looks like he belongs in the league and that has almost as much to do with his confidence as it does his talent. Sit back and enjoy a star in the making.