NHL Rising Stars: Top 10 Late Bloomers
I have written many articles this season ranking the best young players in the game today.
Many websites and pundits showcase prospects for the draft. On the other end of the spectrum, established stars get the NHL headlines. However, there is not enough publicity for the emerging stars of tomorrow.
The guidelines I use for these under-served players are that they must have two years of NHL experience or less, or less-than-160 games combined (with minor exceptions). The problem with these guidelines is that there are a handful of young players who have taken longer to develop.
As a tribute to these guys, I present the top 10 late bloomers emerging on the scene today.
10: Keith Yandle
One of the most mentioned young guys by readers is Keith Yandle.
With 218 games under his belt, he is not a newcomer to the NHL. But, in the last couple seasons, he has made tremendous strides as a power-play quarterback.
Last season he had what some would call a breakout, with 12 goals, 29 assists, and a plus-16 rating. Yandle is proving this year that last year wasn't a fluke. He's on pace for the same production this year and he provides the Coyotes with some offensive stability at the back end.
9: Mason Raymond
Another player that readers have wanted on my lists is young gun Mason Raymond. He is the primary reason Vancouver shipped out Michael Grabner in a draft-day trade last June.
He is a speedy scoring winger and broke out with 25 goals and 28 assists last season. He shows no sign of slowing down, with similar numbers this year.
He can be a game-changer for the Canucks on any given shift, and he gives them nice depth. Some say the Canucks have so much talent that they wouldn't miss Raymond. His teammates would disagree with that.
8: Alexander Edler
One of those teammates is defenseman Alexander Edler. I included him in my top 10 bargain contracts and he easily makes this list as a top late bloomer.
It's not like he has suddenly become a factor in the NHL because his previous seasons have been solid. But late last year he began to take his game to another level. This year he is logging extensive minutes and he plays in all situations. He is currently on pace for a career year offensively.
Vancouver was patient with this young Swede and it's starting to pay big dividends.
7: Ryan Callahan
Many people questioned who would provide offense beyond Marian Gaborik in New York this season. Ryan Callahan is quickly providing an answer. He is averaging almost a point per game through the first quarter of the season and he is on pace for a career year.
Up until this point, he has been a 40-point-per-year player and fans have wondered if that kind of production was all they could expect from him.
Callahan was drafted in the fourth round and was never slated to be a top point-producing forward. But at 25, he is showing people he can be more than just a two-way winger.
6: Brandon Dubinsky
It would be foolish to include Ryan Callahan on this list and overlook Brandon Dubinsky.
The Rangers couldn't be happier with the development of their young players and Dubinsky could turn out to be the best of all of them.
He already has 10 goals this season and he is on pace to shatter his career-best numbers. Time will tell if he can keep it up. But for now he's become a serious threat to light the lamp.
He brings more to the game than just offense. He is a solid leader too. It might have taken him four years to reach his potential, but it was clearly worth the wait.
5: Dustin Byfuglien
Raise your hand if you thought Dustin Byfuglien would be as effective as he has been as a defenseman this season.
Jeremy Roenick isn't the only person who thought it was a dumb idea. I was in full agreement and thought his talent would be wasted on the back end. How wrong were we?
Byfuglien has been nothing short of outstanding on defense this year and he even scored an end-to-end highlight-reel goal a couple weeks ago.
He has five goals and 11 assists from the blue line and provides Atlanta with a complimentary offensive threat opposite of Tobias Enstrom. It's a real credit to him to make this transition after his incredible postseason run as a forward last year.
It looks like Dustin is having the last laugh.
4: Ville Leino
Speaking of players who are having the last laugh, how about Ville Leino?
It's not very often that Detroit lets a player go only to see them go on and blossom on another roster. The Red Wings pride themselves on identifying untapped potential in under-the-radar guys, but Philadelphia is reaping the rewards.
Leino really stepped up in the postseason last year and he's carried that play over into this season. Even in a lineup full of talent and depth, Leino has managed to put up 15 points this season.
He's strong on the puck and a gifted playmaker. If he stays healthy all year, he will surpass all of his previous season totals combined.
3: Carey Price
You can count me as one of the people who heavily criticized the Jaroslav Halak trade. I thought it was preposterous to trade away the backbone of the team in favor of a career underachiever. I understand why they did it at the time because Montreal had to navigate finances and worry about contracts up and down the lineup. But it didn't take away the sting.
Halak is proving that he is the real deal in St. Louis and only time will tell how bad that trade will hurt Montreal. But in the meantime, Carey Price has stepped up and given the team the kind of goaltending they need to make the playoffs.
I am not a Carey Price fan and I am not about to crown him with anything until he proves himself in the playoffs. But I will give him his due credit for what he's done so far this year. I doubt any goaltender has faced more pressure, fan hatred, and higher expectations coming into an NHL season. Playing in net for the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more mentally tough positions not only in hockey, but in all of sports.
For now, this youngster has delivered and could be on his way to late-blooming stardom.
2: Jack Johnson
Coming in at No. 2 on the list is L.A. Kings phenom Jack Johnson.
He is another player who made my top 10 bargain-contract list and it's no surprise why. Johnson is off to a great start on the upstart L.A. Kings, but it's not the first time he's played this well.
Drew Doughty stole all the headlines last season, but a big part of Doughty's success came from having Johnson as a partner.
Johnson quietly had an outstanding season and he is really becoming an irreplaceable part of the Kings blue line. He can do it all defensively and offensively. He has great mobility and he jumps in the rush with his great skating ability.
Keep an eye on this guy. He's a stud.
1: Kris Letang
Topping the list is youngster Kris Letang.
When I included Alex Goligoski on my lists of top rising stars, many people asked about Letang. Ask no more as he is easily one of the best things about the Penguins lineup. Letang is currently the league's highest-scoring defenseman with 17 points in 19 games.
It seems like Goligoski wasn't the only player to benefit from Sergei Gonchar's departure. Pittsburgh saved a bunch of cash that was better spent elsewhere.
Letang is finally living up to his potential and should be a mainstay on the Pens back end for years to come.