NHL: The Top 10 Underachieving Young Guns of October
Prior to the 2010/2011 season I had published a list of the top 50 rising stars in the NHL. After one month of action it's fair to say that many players fell down the list and many went up. This is to be expected from young players. They all develop at a different pace. Some are thrive with an opportunity while others are victim to circumstances.
What doesn't change are expectations. Fans are usually impatient out of the gate and talk a lot of doom and gloom with their young guns. You will never hear the word "bust" more than in the month of October. Fans wait all off-season long for another chance at the cup or to make the playoffs and when things don't work out right away there is a wave of disappointment.
No one knows how it will turn out. Some turn it around and break out. Most struggle with consistency. Others get demoted or sent to the minors.
Let's take a look at the top 10 players not living up to the hype thus far.
10: Niclas Bergfors
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Niclas Bergfors starts off the list with a very bad month of October. A lot is expected of this youngster and he will forever be attached to Illya Kovalchuk by the fans of Atlanta. I'm sure they are happy they are not Devils fans, but they have high expectations for this promising Swede. He has already been a healthy scratch a few times this season and has only been averaging about 13 minutes of ice time.
Thrashers fans don't need to get in a panic over this guy though. Coach Ramsay commented on the situation, saying "It's never fun to be the guy that gets pulled out. It won't last. There will be adjustments. He'll be back." He was reinserted back into the lineup on Wednesday and responded with a goal and an assist. Expect a much better November.
9: Erik Karlsson
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Another Swede who had a month to forget is Erik Karlsson. It seemed like the sky was falling in Ottawa in October and Karlsson was in the eye of the hurricane. Despite being given almost four minutes of power play time per game he did not produce. He consistently turned the puck over and was a major liability defensively. These were known issues last year, but the Sens expected more improvement in these areas than they've seen so far. Like Bergfors, he's played better of late, but he'll need to keep it up to avoid a further fall from grace.
8: Semyon Varlamov
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Semyon Varlamov is a player that has been a monumental disappointment to start the season. Why is this not bigger news than it is? Two words. Michal Neuvirth. I was very high on Neuvirth coming into the season and I thought he would eventually win the starting job, but I didn't expect it would be this soon. Varlamov has not only been injured this year, but he hasn't played good in the two games in which he did play. Varlamov is still a top young player in the game today, but if he can't stay healthy he'll be warming the bench on a nightly basis the rest of the year. I would suggest to keep an eye on this situation, but it might already be decided.
7: Taylor Hall
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I'm not as down on Taylor Hall as a lot of people are, but I still expected to see more than what's he's done so far. The effort level is there. The flashes of brilliance are on display from time to time. But it's clear that he's struggling quite a bit. There isn't any particular reason why. Even good players go through slumps. There is no sense sending him to the minors because he's already dominated the lower ranks. His time will come and it could be as soon as the next game. He will certainly do better in November than one assist in seven games.
6: Jacub Voracek
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Jacub Voracek was quite high on my offseason rankings. He has superstar level skills and was primed for a dynamite start to the season playing on the second line with Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov. Things didn't work out that way though. The line turned out to be invisible most nights. Brassard lost most of the faceoffs which left them chasing the puck to start most shifts. There was zero grit or physicality on the line and they turned into perimeter players. After scoring 50 points last year, zero goals and three assists to start October is not what the Blue Jackets brass expected.
5: Nikita Filatov
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It wouldn't make much sense to have Voracek on this list without his linemate Nikita Filatov. I put Filatov higher because of all the hype surrounding this guy in the offseason. He played in the KHL last year and with a fresh start and a new coach most had him penciled in as a Calder trophy candidate. 30 goals and 75 assists was not out of the realm of possibility, but with two assists on the season it's going to be a long shot for him to break out this year. After starting on the second line and being given plenty of power play time, he's been taken off the PP and dropped to the fourth line. I'll be watching this one closely because he was considered the best player not playing in the NHL last year.
4: Tyler Myers
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It might be a little unfair to have Myers this high on the list. He is averaging over three minutes of power play time, three minutes short handed, and 23 minutes overall per game. He has three goals and an assist in 10 games. So why is he on here? The simple answer. Expectations. He is the reigning Calder trophy winner and was expected to be even better this season. He lost his steady defensive partner in Tallinder and they have yet to find a suitable replacement. He is a dreadful -9 and has a staggering 18 giveaways already. Some might say he is going through the sophomore jinx, but he has too much talent to struggle like this all season. He will find his game again, but he had an October to forget.
3: Peter Regin
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There is no better way to say this, but Peter Regin has been downright pathetic this year. I was expecting a huge year for him, but he has struggled mightily. After a late season breakout last year and an even better playoffs, Regin all but cemented himself as one to watch in 2010/2011. He has no goals in nine games and only 13 minutes of ice time. Coach Cory Clouston commented on the Danish winger's play, saying "(He's been) a little bit inconsistent. At times I've been very happy and at times he's kind of left me wanting more." I'm not sure what to expect of him for the rest of the season, but things can't get much worse. Can they?
2: Antti Niemi
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Antti Niemi might be a co-number one for this list. What can be said that isn't already the obvious? It's tough to believe that he went from a key cog in a championship run to warming the bench 10 games into the following season. In four games he has let in 14 goals and has an embarrassing .854 save percentage. It's unsure how long he is going to be second fiddle in San Jose, but he needs to pick up his game soon if he wants to avoid a permanent back up role. No one really expected big things from him when he came into the NHL so it wouldn't be a total shock if he fell back to earth for good. It's possible that he got hot at the right time and walked away with a ring. It's much harder performing at an elite level when people expect it. Chicago might be thankful they walked away from that 2.7 million dollar arbitration decision this summer.
1: Tuukka Rask
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Without question Tuukka Rask tops my list as the most disappointing rising star of October. I had him pegged as a Vezina candidate this year and I thought it was even possible that he could be in the running for the Hart trophy. How far away do those awards look right now? Everyone knew that Tim Thomas wasn't about to roll over and give Rask the undisputed starting job without a fight, but Rask didn't do himself any favors in his two starts. There is no doubt that he has all the talent in the world and has an incredibly bright future, but right now he's carrying water bottles for Thomas. He might be experiencing a little deja vu because he now finds himself in the same situation that he was in to start last season. Boston merchants should monitor their sales of voodoo dolls because if they hear someone speaking Finnish in aisle four, it could be Tuukka looking for other ways to get his job back.