Top 25 NHL Rising Stars Of October
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 their third year and they really come into their own. For some its sooner and for others 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.
Next month, I'll rank the rising stars according to position. But for now let's take a look at who had a great first month to start the new season.
25: Mark Letestu
I got some slack for leaving Letestu off my weekly lists during October, but it wasn't because he was playing badly. In my opinion, he was playing above his head and I wanted to see if he could keep it up.
Letestu was slated by scouts to be a reserve center in the NHL, so when he shot out of the gate with seven points to start the year, he turned some heads.
However, since then he has gone pointless in six straight games. We'll see if he can recapture some of that offensive spark he had to start the year, but if he continues to struggle this will likely be the last time he's on the list.
24: Steve Downie
Steve Downie started the season No. 25 on my list of top 25 rising forwards this season. One month into the year, he's already made it into the top 25 overall list.
After 11 games, he has two goals and six assists for eight points. That is not bad for an agitator. Much of his point production is a benefit of who he gets to play with, but don't let the ice time fool you...this kid can play.
He is a flying kamikaze on the ice as he already has 41 penalty minutes in 2010. Given who else is on Tampa Bay, he might fly under the radar this year. But if the Lightning make the playoffs he will have his own fair share of media attention.
23: T.J. Galiardi
Not many fans in Colorado expected T.J. Galiardi to be playing big minutes on the top line this season. There has been a lot of debate about whether to play him at wing or center in a third-line role.
This is understandable because it's unsure what his offensive upside truly is. But for the time being, he's bringing a lot of the intangibles to the top line. He provides a lot of speed, grit and defensive responsibility to that line and he helps make things happen for Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart.
The Avalanche are lucky to have a player who is this versatile, but it remains to be seen if he stays on that line all season. Stay tuned.
22: Michael Del Zotto
Michael Del Zotto was a nightmare defensively in his rookie season. Coach Torts gave him a ton of ice time and freedom to learn his way, but most of his production came on the power play.
In fact, only Tyler Myers had more power-play ice time out of rookie defenseman last season. When he played in the World Championships in Germany following the NHL season, he was benched after a few games because he could not be counted on defensively.
Fast forward to October 2010. Del Zotto has really stepped up his game this season. He is logging big minutes once again, but he has an impressive plus-six rating to go along with his four points.
He's playing physical, blocking shots and he is being put on the ice in key situations. I expected him to improve this year, but he's taken his game to another level.
21: P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban didn't make any of my weekly lists in October, but that doesn't mean he wasn't playing well. In fact, he's been quite solid this year, tallying six assists in 11 games with a plus-five rating. Not bad for a rookie.
Many are expecting big offensive numbers from him, but patience is important with young defenders. His production will come because his offensive ability is no joke.
He has a flair for the dramatic and it's only a matter of time before he's among the upper echelon of defenders in this league. The best part of his season thus far is his defensive game.
20: Victor Hedman
Victor Hedman is another player flying under the radar this year. Steven Stamkos and the high-flying Lightning offense is making headlines every other day. But Hedman is quietly putting together a solid start in his sophomore season.
He logged a lot of minutes as a rookie last year, but he struggled with consistency for the most part. This year he looks a lot more comfortable out there and he should be a tower of power for years to come.
He already has six assists this year and he is playing on both the power play and penalty kill. If he keeps it up, you'll be hearing a lot more of him as the season unfolds.
19: Magnus Paajarvi
Some might have a problem with me having Magnus Paajarvi on this list instead of Taylor Hall, but Paajarvi has been the more consistent of the two.
He has six points on the season to go along with a plus-three rating.
This slick Swede has a very bright future and it will be fun to watch how he stacks up against Hall and Eberle the rest of the year. So far he's holding his own just fine.
18: Pekka Rinne
I had Pekka Rinne as the top emerging goalie heading into the season and he lived up to the hype for the first few weeks. He was among the leaders in save percentage and a key reason Nashville was off to a hot start.
However, due to injury and a couple of subpar games, his ranking has slipped a bit and he's been surpassed by a couple other young netminders.
He'll need to prove that he can stay consistent for an entire year before he's back on top. But the skill is there. It's just a matter of doing it game-in and game-out.
17: Jimmy Howard
Jimmy Howard might be the oldest player on this list, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on it. Not much was ever expected out of him last year. He had a mediocre career in the minors and he struggled a lot with his consistency.
Yet, when he was thrown into the fire last year, he stole the show and stayed hot the entire time. This was a nice story and people thought he would be solid once again this year. But he is proving that he is much more than a stop-gap goalie for the Red Wings.
So far this year he is 5-0-1 with a sparkling .926 save percentage. These are not Chris Osgood numbers. He seems to be well on his way to a nice career in Detroit.
Sometimes we don't know what a player is truly made of until they are put on the ice in pressure situations. Howard is showing everybody just how good he can be.
16: Luke Schenn
After two up-and-down seasons in Toronto, Luke Schenn was expected to make a big leap this year. As you can see by this list, young players are taking over the NHL in a big way and Luke Schenn is one of the faces of that movement.
Typically players make a big jump in their third year, and Schenn is another great example of this developmental curve. He's logging a lot more minutes for the Leafs this season and he has been as steady as they come.
His offensive upside still remains a mystery, but with Dion Phaneuf out for 4-6 weeks, fans might find out a lot sooner than later what he is capable of. Keep an eye on him. He has all the makings of an NHL stud.
15: Jordan Eberle
Leading the youth movement in Edmonton this season is phenom Jordan Eberle. Taylor Hall might have gotten all the headlines coming into the season, but there was a lot of discussion about whether to send Hall down to juniors.
Sending Hall down would have been silly, but it is a reason why Eberle is the current talk of the town. He has four goals and four assists thus far and he is on his way to a very nice rookie season.
Can he maintain the lead over Hall and Paajarvi the rest of the season? Stay tuned to find out.
14: Alex Goligoski
Alex Goligoski was the only player to make my weekly list of rising stars multiple times this season. He's cooled off a bit as he only has one assist in his last six games. But he still has three goals, five assists, and a plus-seven rating on the season.
This leads all defensemen with two-or-less years experience in the league.
He has stepped up in a big way to help alleviate the scoring that Sergei Gonchar took with him to Ottawa. And he is really having a breakout start in his third season.
He has all the skills to keep it up the rest of the way. He's no flash in the pan.
13: Tyler Ennis
If the NHL handed out overachiever awards, Tyler Ennis would be a clear-cut finalist. Ennis only played 10 games last year and six more in the playoffs with the Buffalo Sabres, but he consistently put up points.
He is part of the new wave of smallish and speedy NHLers, as the rules are tailored to let players like him shine. Yet, Ennis has taken it a step further. He ranks near the top of the list in points per minute played.
He hasn't tallied a point in his last four games, but he still has seven points on the year despite playing third-line minutes.
The jury is still out on how high his ceiling is. But if he continues to out-produce his playing time, Ruff may have no choice put to promote him into a top six role sooner than later.
12: Artem Anisimov
Artem Anisimov was No. 19 on my top-25 emerging-forwards list, but he is another player skyrocketing up the list. Most people knew he had the talent. But like a lot of young players, his offensive upside was a bit of a question mark.
He made great strides defensively last season and this year he's rounded out his game in a big way. Center was a significant concern for the Rangers coming into the year, but Anisimov has responded with three goals and six assists in 11 games.
He had a bit of a scare with his knee last week, but everything checked out okay and he's continued his strong play.
11: Evander Kane
Evander Kane is another rising star making a name for himself this season. In the World Championships in Germany, he was overshadowed by Matt Duchene and John Tavares, but he quietly put up nice numbers alongside those two.
This year he was intent on improving his offensive production and becoming a key player in Atlanta's youth movement. He hasn't disappointed one month into the season.
With six goals and two assists so far, he's meeting his own high expectations. He models his game after Jerome Iginla's, and it might not be long before he draws legitimate comparisons.
10: John Tavares
John Tavares is off to a great start this season. I think I might be one of the only ones a little bit surprised by this. It was tough to tell what to make of him after this rookie season because he had such a polarizing year. Up, then down, then up again.
He showed that he has a knack for the net in the World Championships and he was averaging a goal per game this season before going scoreless in the last three. The biggest reason I had him below Matt Duchene was his skating ability, but he's improved in that area since last year.
He's not about to win a race at the skill competition anytime soon, but his hockey sense seems to make up for it. I still want to see how consistent he is throughout the season, but for the time being he deserves to be high on this list.
9: Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene isn't taking the league by storm yet, but he's providing crucial secondary scoring for the Colorado Avalanche this season. He is stuck on the second line only because of the high-level talent playing ahead of him.
It would be amazing to see what he can do with Peter Mueller on his wing instead of David Jones, but he's still putting up nice numbers regardless.
Milan Hejduk is healthy and the main beneficiary of Duchene's talents and Matt will remain high on this list until I have a reason to move him down.
Many said Avalanche fans were spoiled in the 1990s and early 2000s, and people might start saying the same thing again with this young team. They are fun to watch.
8: T.J. Oshie
Another T.J. on the list is T.J. Oshie of the St Louis Blues. With an expanded role in 2010, he is a key part of the youth movement going on in St Louis this season.
Oshie is averaging a point per game so far this season and he is leading the Blues towards a playoff spot this year. I had this team rising the ranks this year and he was one of the primary reasons.
He is a versatile and hard-working forward with a knack for the score-sheet. Get familiar with his name because you'll be hearing a whole lot more of him as the year goes on.
7: Claude Giroux
Another forward making big strides in his third season is Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. In his first two seasons, he was finding his way in the league and he was limited due to the Flyers depth at forward.
This year, he's been given the green light to lead the way and that's exactly what he's done.
With seven goals and five assists so far, there is little doubt that Giroux is the real deal. He's one of the best young players in the league.
6: John Carlson
I had John Carlson winning the Calder Trophy this season. After one month, I don't see many reasons to change my mind.
It's funny that a player on his own team might have stolen the rookie limelight because Michal Neuvirth has played incredibly so far. But if you get a chance to watch Washington soon, pay close attention to Carlson.
He is an unbelievable talent and he's exceeding expectations already. Touted as an offensive defenseman, Carlson is proving he's much more than that.
His all-around game is years ahead of most kids his age and Boudreau is trusting him in key situations game-in and game-out.
I still believe he'll wind up as the Caps' best defenseman soon and if he keeps playing like he is, it will be sooner than later.
5: James Neal
James Neal is off to a hot start this season. By the midpoint of the season he might officially graduate to legitimate stardom if he keeps up this pace.
He has five goals and six assists in 11 games and he is leading the Stars to an impressive start to the season.
Not a lot of people expected much from the Stars this year, but when you have a rising star like Neal in your lineup, it shouldn't be such a surprise.
The prototypical power forward seemed like it was a thing of the past after the lockout. But players like Neal are showing they are here to stay.
4: Michal Neuvirth
What more can be said about Michal Neuvirth? He has been a rookie sensation in October and was promptly awarded the Rookie of the Month award from the NHL this week.
Many people had questions about the Capitals goaltending situation coming into the year because there were those that thought they should have a veteran presence. I couldn't have disagreed with them more.
Neuvirth isn't a goalie that has come out of nowhere. He was taken only 10 spots lower than Varlamov in the draft and he led the Hershey Bears to two straight Calder Cups. He played very well when he filled in last season and he was primed-and-ready for a back-up role this season.
With Varlamov going down with multiple injuries this season, Neuvirth has stepped up and stolen the limelight with an 8-3 record and a .929 save percentage.
Bruce Boudreau is the kind of coach who rides the hot hand. So don't expect Neuvirth to be warming the bench anytime soon.
This is great news for the kid, but it also means that if he slumps for a few games, he could easily lose the job to Varlamov as quickly as he stole it.
3: Johnathan Quick
Many media members and fans (including myself) thought that Jonathan Bernier was in a prime position to take over the No. 1 role at some point during the season.
That train is stuck at the station because Jonathan Quick has had a spectacular first month of the season for the LA Kings.
He has backstopped them to a 7-1 record and an incredible .936 save percentage. Bernier will be waiting a long-time for starting minutes if Quick continues at this rate.
We might be seeing the birth of a bona-fide star in LA. Every coach/GM in the league will want to have the problem of depth that the Kings have.
2: Jaroslav Halak
T.J. Oshie might be a big reason why St Louis is doing so well this season, but the biggest part of their success is thanks in large part to Jaroslav Halak.
It might seem like he has been around forever and people might question him being on this list. But playing behind Carey Price limited his ability to establish himself as a star. He made monumental strides last year, but people still wanted to see what he could do when he was expected to dominate and do it for a full season.
If the first month is any indication, wonder no more. Halak is well on his way to becoming a full-blown star in this league and I expect him to join the ranks of Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty as graduated rising stars soon.
1: Chris Stewart
Topping the list in a big way is Colorado Avalanche winger Chris Stewart. In the offseason he made a huge effort to improve his conditioning for the upcoming year. The hard work is paying off in a big way.
Last year he only had one goal in his first 20 games and one goal in his last 11. This year those consistency issues seem like a distant memory as he has a whopping nine goals and seven assists in 11 games.
He is not only one of the top rising stars of the league, but he's among the among the best overall, too.
There is no reason to believe he'll fizzle out because he has all the skills and physical ability to keep it up the rest of the year.
If you get a chance to watch an Avalanche game soon, don't pass it up. This youngster is becoming a legitimate star.