For many players, the transition from junior hockey, college hockey or minor league hockey to the NHL is extremely difficult. The sheer speed at which the game is played at the NHL level is enough to make most players feel overwhelmed upon breaking into the league.
This is particularly true for young players who have spent very little time, if any, playing hockey against opponents who are bigger, faster and more experienced than they are.
Here are five talented young players who haven't been able to put all the pieces together at the NHL level yet, but who I believe will do so this coming season.
A highly touted prospect prior to the 2007 entry draft, Kyle Turris was selected third overall by the Phoenix Coyotes and has not lived up to the high expectations set for him by scouts and fans. He is now 21 years old and has played 131 games in the National Hockey League, posting a total of 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points.
Turris has showcased his high-end offensive abilities at the AHL level, where he notched 24 goals and added 39 assists in 76 games during the 2009-10 season. The problem for him has been translating those skills to the NHL.
Turris is beginning to show signs of improvement, however, as demonstrated by his 25 points in 65 games last season, a slight improvement on the 20 points he registered the year before. He has also put on some weight, which should help him handle the rigors of the NHL. His lanky physique was one of the main knocks on him when he initially joined the Coyotes.
After playing a bottom-six role for the majority of last season, Turris will likely have the opportunity to compete for a top-six spot in training camp. If he can hold down the second-line center position next year, he will have the breakout season we have all been waiting for.
The first player selected in last summer's entry draft, Taylor Hall headlines a young and exciting group of forwards in Edmonton. He is a dynamic offensive player who has scored at well above a point-per-game pace at every level of hockey he has played... except the NHL.
Hall put together a respectable rookie season with 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points in 65 games, but he was outscored by fellow 2010 draft pick Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, who was awarded the Calder trophy as rookie of the year this summer. While Hall had a decent season on a team that provided him with very little offensive support, most fans were expecting a stronger performance from him.
Hall will be Edmonton's go-to goal scorer this coming season and may end up on a line with 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a crafty playmaker with incredible hockey sense. A combination of huge amounts of ice time, a year of NHL experience and improved line-mates will result in Taylor Hall breaking out in a big way next season.
Drafted one spot ahead of Kyle Turris in 2007, James Van Riemsdyk is a young power forward with good size and soft hands. He potted 21 goals in 75 games during the regular season last year for the Flyers and added an impressive 7 goals in 11 playoff games.
Van Riemsdyk is an important part of the Flyers' deep group of forwards and, due to the departure of star centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, he will be given plenty of top-six ice time and powerplay time this coming season and will be heavily relied on to make up for the firepower lost by trading Richards and Carter.
Van Riemsdyk will build on the momentum he gained during the postseason and play a huge role for Philadelphia as they pursue the Stanley Cup. He will prove himself worthy of his high draft position next season.
Selected fourth overall in the 2009 entry draft, Evander Kane brings a rare blend of size, speed, physicality and goal-scoring ability to a team with subpar depth at the forward position. He struggled to find the scoresheet during his rookie season, notching 14 goals and adding only 12 assists for a total of 26 points in 66 games.
Last season, however, Kane improved his offensive output dramatically with a 43-point campaign. Still, he is capable of being a bigger force on the ice and more of a threat with the puck, and Winnipeg will need him to continue producing points next year.
Because he will likely be used on the first line and be counted on to score goals for the Jets this coming season, Kane should benefit from increased ice time and being assigned a bigger role on the team. I expect him to improve on the 19 goals he scored last year and bury 30 next season.
John Tavares is another young forward who was selected first overall in his draft year. He has played two full seasons for the New York Islanders, racking up a total of 53 goals and 68 assists for 121 points in 161 games played.
While some may argue that Tavares' 67-point campaign last season was his breakout year, I believe he is capable of being a point-per-game player at the NHL level. He had a very impressive 2010-11 season on a mediocre team, but with talented winger Kyle Okposo returning from a severe injury that sidelined him for almost the entire season last year, Tavares will have a legitimate scoring threat on his wing next season and will have two years of NHL experience under his belt.
This will undoubtedly lead to increased point totals for Tavares, who will break out as an elite point-per-game center next year.