As we prepare for the 2011-12 NHL season to finally kick off on October 6, we're looking forward to many things.
One of those things is seeing the 2011 NHL draft picks potentially play their first games—particularly, first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Adam Larsson.
However, there are many other fantastic players not yet in the NHL, whose NHL debuts we are looking forward to as well, in the next few seasons.
Here are the 50 best players not yet in the NHL.
Note: There are many top players not included in this list because they could be starting in the NHL this coming season, including the 2011 NHL draft picks.
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Mikael Granlund is a center playing for HIFK of the Finnish SM-Liiga. He was the Minnesota Wild's first overall draft pick in the 2010 entry draft.
Last season, he scored 36 points in 39 games for HIFK. It'll be interesting to see how he performs once he starts in the NHL.
Vladimir Tarasenko currently plays for HC-Sibir of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. He was the St. Louis Blues' first draft pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Tarasenko has had success competing internationally for Rusia, winning silver at the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship and captaining his team to gold at the 2011 World Juniors.
Center Jaden Schwartz was the St. Louis Blues' first-round draft pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Instead of going straight into the organization, Schwartz went on to attend and play for the Colorado College Tigers. In his freshman season, Schwartz scored 47 points in 30 games.
With further development, Schwartz could be an offensive threat in the NHL.
David Rundblad was the St. Louis Blues' first-round draft pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, but the team later traded him to the Ottawa Senators organization.
So far, he has remained in the Swedish Elite League.
During the 2009-10 season, Rundblad scored 13 points in 47 games. Last season though, Rundblad greatly improved, scoring 50 points in 55 games.
Jordan Maletta is currently only 16 years old and won't be eligible for the NHL entry draft until 2013. However, he's already garnering some attention and expected to be a top prospect at that year's draft.
He scored 59 points in 48 games last year for his midget AAA team and was drafted No. 13 overall in the 2011 OHL draft by the Windsor Spitfires.
Maletta will definitely be watched closely during his time in Windsor.
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Max Domi is another 16-year-old who won't be eligible to be drafted until the 2013 NHL entry draft, but is also garnering some attention.
Domi scored 57 points in 30 games last season for his Midget AAA team and was drafted eighth overall in the 2011 OHL draft by the Kingston Frontenacs.
He was then traded to the London Knights, where he should continue to garner attention until 2013.
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Curtis Lazar is another 16-year-old not eligible for the NHL entry draft until 2013. However, as he plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, he should warrant considerable attention until then.
Last season, Lazar played six regular-season games for the Oil Kings and scored one point. He played four playoff games and scored another point.
He'll be one to watch as he gets more experience and playing time in the WHL.
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Defenseman Darnell Nurse is another 16-year-old already getting attention for the 2013 NHL entry draft.
He scored 29 points in 38 games last season in Midget AAA. He will join the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this fall after being drafted third overall by them in the OHL Priority Selection.
He'll continue to be watched up to the 2013 NHL entry draft.
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Defenseman Ryan MacKinnon will be eligible for the 2012 NHL entry draft and it is already being speculated that he'll be a top-round draft pick.
MacKinnon currently plays for Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, an elite club that has produced many NHL stars, most notably, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
MacKinnon will surely get a lot of attention this coming season.
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Sixteen-year-old defenseman Seth Jones is already gaining recognition, despite his young age. At 16, he's already 6'3" and 183 pounds, which bodes well for his future physique.
He scored 14 points in 28 games last year on the U.S. National Development team and should have a bright future ahead of him.
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Forward Thomas Di Pauli is another 2012 NHL draft prospect who's garnering significant attention.
Di Pauli is already 5'10" and 173 pounds and should bulk up quite a bit over the next couple years, which should give him good size to compete in the NHL.
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Defenseman Jake McCabe is garnering attention after two years playing for the U.S. National Development program.
McCabe will turn 18 next month and is already 6'0" tall and 195 pounds.
He won gold at the 2011 IIHF U18 tournament for the United States and is eligible to be drafted in the 2012 NHL entry draft. He'll be playing for the University of Wisconsin Badgers this year.
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Collin Olson is only 17 years old, but he's already garnering attention as a potential top goaltender in his draft class.
Last year, he had a save percentage of .903 and GAA of 2.84 for the U.S. National Development team and he'll probably keep doing better.
He's a goaltender to keep an eye on.
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A.J. Michaelson is another 17-year-old prospect, but at 6'0" tall and 185 pounds, he's already a sizeable player.
He spent last season playing a few games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL.
He's already won a national championship in high school and hopes more are ahead of him, in higher levels of competition.
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Ville Pokka is a 17-year-old Finnish defenseman. He's played junior hockey, spent some time for the Finnish Liiga and logged some time in international competition.
Pokka will be competing for a spot in the upper Finnish league before he fights for a spot on an NHL squad.
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Matia Marcantuoni is already being projected to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft. It's a little early yet, but if he continues to play as he has in the past, it probably will happen.
He scored 27 points last season for the Kitchener Rangers and looks to improve upon that this season.
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Andreas Athanasiou is only 17 years old, but is already impressing many and have many looking forward to the opportunity to draft him in 2012.
He scored 22 points last season for the London Knights and scouts will be watching him closely again this year.
Jordan Subban—yes, P.K.'s little brother—is only 16 years old but is already capturing attention in anticipation of his 2013 draft class.
He's a defenseman too and he scored 64 points for his Midget AAA team last season. He'll be watched closely during his first year in the OHL, playing for the Belleville Bulls.
Michael Matheson will be eligible for the 2012 NHL entry draft. However, he'll be playing for Boston College then.
Before joining BC, he'll take his talents to the USHL this coming season.
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Gianluca Curcuruto is a 17-year-old defenseman and he'll be eligible for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Until then, he's playing in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He's also competed internationally for Canada Ontario, where he won an U17 WHC gold medal.
Pontus Aberg is a 17-year-old forward playing in his home country of Sweden.
He's had success in the Swedish junior leagues and scouts are looking forward to what he can do in the Swedish Elite League.
Cristoval Nieves burst onto the scene before this video went viral and it's just spiraled from here.
NHL teams await the opportunity to draft and develop him in their system, but they'll have to wait a little longer, as Nieves has committed to the University of Michigan.
Last season was Scott Laughton's first in the OHL, playing for the Oshawa Generals.
He made his presence known, accumulating 23 points and 58 penalty minutes in his first season. He'll be watched going into next season, before he can be drafted in 2012.
Nicolas Kerdiles is from California—not a traditional hockey market, but he's still found a way to be mentioned among top prospects for 2012.
He's been a part of the U.S. National Development team and he should be a pretty high draft pick in 2012.
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot will be beginning his third season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, his second full season.
In his first full season with the team, Pouliot scored 30 points and there will be many watching to see what he can do with the team next.
Defenseman Cody Ceci has spent the past two seasons playing for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL.
In his first season with the team, he scored 12 points; last season, he improved to 34. It'll be interesting to see what he can accomplish next.
Sebastian Collberg is another young Swedish prospect.
He has been playing in the Swedish junior leagues, scoring 44 points last season in 35 games. Once he makes it up to the Swedish Elite League, he'll definitely be watched closely by scouts.
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Last season was Brendan Gaunce's first season in the OHL, playing for the Belleville Bulls.
He scored 36 points in 65 games, but if he goes down the path of most, he'll improve his next season, this coming season.
Slater Koekkoek had a busy 2010-11 season.
He played for the OHL's Petersborough Petes, then went on to represent Canada at the Canada Ontario WHC U17 tournament and then Canada at the WJC U18 tournament.
Zemgus Girgensons is from Latvia, in case you were wondering the origin of his name.
He's played for the USHL and will play another year there before moving to play for the University of Vermont for the 2012-13 season.
Perhaps after that, it'll be on to the NHL?
Henrik Samuelsson is from Arizona, another non-traditional hockey market, but has developed into a top prospect for 2012.
He's played for Team USA in the USHL for the past two seasons and he'll be watched closely heading up to the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Zack Kassian was the Buffalo Sabres' first-round draft pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, but has yet to play a game for them.
He spent the last couple of seasons in the OHL, most recently for the Windsor Spitfires, where he had a successful 2010-11 season, scoring 77 points.
Kassian will probably spend some time in the AHL, but should be in the NHL pretty soon.
Nino Niederreiter was drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
He played nine games for the Islanders last season. However, the rest was spent with the Portland Winterhawks, earning him a spot on this list.
With 70 points in 55 games for Portland, Niederreiter won't spend much more time in the minor leagues.
Ryan Johansen was selected fourth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2010 NHL entry draft, one spot before his Portland Winterhawks teammate Nino Niederreiter.
Last season, Johansen scored 92 points in 65 games. He won't be spending much more time in the WHL.
Mathew Dumba is 17 years old and he'll be eligible for the 2012 NHL entry draft. He'll probably be a hot commodity then.
Dumba spent last season in the WHL for the Red Deer Rebels and was awarded the WHL's Rookie of the Year.
If he performs as well or better, he'll be a top pick in 2012.
Following Olli Maatta's play for his country, Finland, in the 2011 World U18 Championship, he was drafted first overall in the CHL import draft.
He's still only 17 years old and after playing for the London Knights, he'll probably be selected high in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Martin Frk has been playing in his home country of Czech Republic, but this past season he joined the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads.
Frk scored 50 points in 62 games and looks to improve upon that this coming season with the team.
Last season, defenseman Morgan Rielly made his WHL debut playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He scored 28 points.
Rielly looks to improve and move up in the rankings for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Alex Galchenyuk isn't the most high-profile Russian going into the 2012 NHL entry draft, but he's a top one nonetheless.
Last year was his first season in the OHL and he scored 83 points in 68 games for the Sarnia Sting.
He looks to improve and rise in the projections for the 2012 NHL draft.
At 14 years old, Jordan Schmaltz made waves after verbally committing to playing hockey at the University of Wisconsin.
Now, as his draft eligibility approaches, he's making waves for his play and projections that he'll go high in the draft.
Oh, and he's changed his mind about his collegiate team, as he's decided instead to go with the University of North Dakota.
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Defenseman Griffin Reinhart is being projected as one of the top prospects at the 2012 NHL entry draft.
He spent last season in the WHL, playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He accumulated 25 points last season.
It'll be interesting to see what he does this year, leading up to the draft.
Another top defensive prospect for the 2012 NHL entry draft is Nick Ebert.
Ebert spent last season with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. He scored 41 points in 64 games. Scouts will definitely have their eye on him this season.
Jacob Trouba is another top defensive prospect for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
He's spent the past couple of seasons on the U.S. National Development team and represented the U.S. internationally this year.
He's another player to definitely keep an eye on this season.
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Braden Holtby played in 14 games for the Washington Capitals last season and was fantastic, posting a save percentage of .934 and GAA of 1.79.
Despite these numbers, it looks like Holtby will remain in the AHL, as the team has Tomas Vokoun as their most likely starter and Michal Neuvirth to back him up.
Holtby is definitely one of the best goaltenders and players not playing in the NHL.
Ryan Murray is another top prospect leading up to the 2012 NHL entry draft. Murray is another defenseman.
He currently plays for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and has another year before he's eligible for the draft.
He's another player scouts will have their eyes on.
Filip Forsberg is a forward in Sweden and he's another top prospect for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
He's really shined internationally on Sweden's U18 team, scoring five points in five games in this year's tournament and 10 points in 11 games in last year's.
Mikhail Grigorenko is another top Russian forward eligible for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
He'll be playing his first North American hockey beginning this season in the QMJHL for the Quebec Remparts.
He'll be an even better prospect after getting some experience in North America.
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Evgeny Kuznetsov was the Washington Capitals first-round draft pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
He hasn't played for the team yet, instead continuing to play for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. He also was part of the Russian junior gold medal-winning team at the 2011 WJC.
He'll be a great player in the NHL one day.
Jacob Markstrom is considered to be the greatest goaltender not in the NHL yet. He was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers.
He's only played one game in the NHL so far, but it's just a matter of time before he becomes the Panthers franchise goaltender.
Nail Yakupov is the very early favorite for the first overall pick of the 2012 NHL entry draft.
The Russian had a breakout year last year with the OHL's Sarnia Sting, his first year in the league, scoring 101 points in 65 games.
Just think: He'll only get better the more experienced he becomes and the more accustomed he gets to North American hockey.