NHL Stars of Tomorrow: Top 10 Disappointments
Before the season started I had a long list of players that were considered 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 year three and really come into their own. Some sooner, some later, but the development of a star is fascinating to watch.
Unfortunately for some, that development suffers a significant setback. Sometimes it's due to injury, other times it's due to the supporting cast and/or coach, and a lot of the time it is a normal speed bump of the rigors of the NHL.
Let's take a look at the top 10 newcomers that have crashed and burned this season.
10: Peter Regin
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When I wrote my top 50 rising stars of tomorrow article in the offseason, one reader gave me some slack for putting Peter Regin in the top 20. I defended the decision based on his performance in the playoffs and world championships last year, but after 40 games of the current regular season it seems that I had him much too high.
These are the perils of forecasting young players month-to-month and year-to-year. There is little doubt that Regin has great playmaking ability, good hands, and on-ice vision, but he has had a horrible season to date.
He has one lousy goal in 42 games and only 13 minutes of average ice time per game. On the bright side he has twice as many takeaways as he does giveaways which means he isn't a complete liability on the ice.
9: Tyler Bozak
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I must say something about Tyler Bozak up front. Do not ask a Maple Leaf fan about him after reading this. Their fans have suffered enough goal starvation this year and one of the bigger disappointments has been the play of Tyler Bozak.
He was slotted as a number one center coming into the year and a 50 point season was a general expectation.
However, as we all soon found out, Bozak was given top minutes more by default rather than by merit. He is still being given a whopping three minutes per game on the power play, but only has 7 goals and 18 points this year to show for his efforts.
Not many people are surprised though. He is a better fit on the second line and his production should improve as his supporting cast gets upgraded.
8: Derick Brassard
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Another center who had high expectations of him at the start of the season is Blue Jackets forward Derick Brassard. Unlike Bozak, Brassard has some great talent around him. Yet, he continues to be a streaky offensive player and only has 9 goals and 17 assists to show for it.
This is clearly not what management was hoping for when he got promoted to the number one line along side superstar Rick Nash. It's been a typical up and down career for Brassard so far and he's never really recaptured that magic that he showed to start his rookie year.
I would love to give him some kind of positive spin, but when you take too many dumb penalties, lose too many face-offs, and completely disappear for long stretches, it's hard to forecast good things going forward.
As it stands now, Columbus are still looking for a number one center.
7: Antti Niemi
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Has any goaltender in the NHL had a larger fall from grace than Antti Niemi? Right now Chicago look like geniuses for walking away from his two million dollar plus arbitration and the Sharks are suffering the consequences.
In 24 games he is 9-13-2 with an average .907 save percentage. Not good enough if you are the reigning Stanley Cup champion netminder.
Perhaps he is merely falling back down to earth. He started last season as a back-up and might finish this one there as well.
Is he really a playoff-worthy goalie or just someone who got on a hot streak?
Time will tell.
6: Mikael Backlund
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Another player who had high expectations of him entering the year was Flames forward Mikael Backlund. At the end of last season he was one of the few players on the team that showed any kind of offensive ingenuity and flair.
So what happened?
He has been moved up and down the depth chart and even sent to the minors this year. 9 points in 35 games will do that for you.
All is not lost for this youngster though. He has been groomed as a two-way player and sees two minutes per game on the penalty kill and has more takeaways than giveaways.
Backlund still has elite-level skills and should develop into a very good player with time. Right now he's still finding his way.
5: Jonathan Bernier
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Jonathan Bernier is a player that I was very high on a few months ago. I fully expected him to take over the number one job from Jonathan Quick by now. Instead, Bernier has had monumental struggles trying to earn playing time while Quick has played at an All-Star level.
This doesn't mean that Bernier is a bust.
Far from it.
The kid still has amazing ability and is only 22 years old. He simply needs more time to groom and find his elite-level game. The talent is there, all he needs is more time to develop.
Which goalie ultimately stays and becomes the netminder of the future remains to be seen, but LA Kings fans should be patient.
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.
4: Jakub Voracek
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Jakub Voracek is still a relatively unknown to most NHL fans. Underperforming on a small market team will do that for your stature.
Like many Blue Jackets players, much was expected of Voracek this year. Unfortunately, he only has a measly 9 goals on the year. Nowhere near good enough for a player of his talent level. You can't have three minutes of power play time per game and only have one goal to show for it.
To make matters worse he hasn't developed any chemistry with the players around him. Coaches have shuffled him around with different line combinations, but nothing seems to work. He isn't great defensively and has no physical game to speak of.
The skill is there, but what will it take for him to take that next step? A better center? More time? A trade? There are no answers at the moment.
3: Erik Johnson
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One of the more interesting stories in the league this year is what is happening on the St Louis Blues defensive core. Erik Johnson has a wealth of talent and was fully expected to take that next big step into a number one defenseman role this season, but for whatever reason it hasn't happened.
Instead Alex Pietrangelo has been the shining star. On one hand I like this development because I had Pietrangelo ranked higher than Johnson in the offseason based on potential, but on the other hand I didn't expect it to be so clear-cut.
Johnson only has one power play goal on the year and has more giveaways than takeaways. This isn't the kind of production that coaches were hoping for, but the good news is it shouldn't hamper his long-term potential.
Most young players have these ups and downs and I know it's just a matter of time before Johnson develops into that bonafide top rearguard that the organization expects him to be.
2: Zack Bogosian
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Perhaps one of the biggest things lost in the Atlanta Thrashers rise to relevancy this season has been the play of Zack Bogosian. This defenseman was drafted very high and fully expected to be the stud on the blueline for years to come.
Yet, it is Dustin Byfuglien and Tomas Entstrom who are stealing the headlines. Given Bogosian's talent, how is this possible? Not only has Bogosian's stock fallen this year, but he's been relegated to a supporting role when all indications were that he would be their number one guy.
His ice time on the power play and penalty kill have both dropped and his production has followed.
Does this mean he is headed for bust status? Not likely. While he has been disappointing, he has still played decently. The takeways and hits are there so he is actively involved, but it will take more time before his all-around game develops to the level that people expect.
We are only halfway through the season, so hopefully he can pick it up down the stretch as they challenge for a playoff spot.
1: Nikita Filatov
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Easily topping the list as the biggest disappointing star of tomorrow is Blue Jackets winger Nikita Filatov. Many pundits slotted him in as a 30 goal, 75 point guy this year.
Ok so that might have been a little far-fetched, but with a new coach and a fresh start it is very surprising that he is currently in the minors. Filatov started the year on the 'kid line' alongside Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard (two other players to make this list), but the production never developed.
The kid still has world class talent. His speed, slick moves, and scoring ability are unquestioned, but what about between the ears? There are some that have wondered if his problem is mental.
It's too early to tell what the problem has been with Filatov, but he is too skilled to remain the minors for long. Sooner or later he'll be recalled and show us why there has been so much hype around him for the last couple years.
Having said that, it might not be as a part of the Blue Jackets. A change of scenery might be what is needed to kick start his superstar potential.