The future of the NHL is looking extraordinarily bright these days as the junior and minor leagues have begun to become flooded with some extremely bright young stars with a real flair for the game.
With names like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall all making significant impacts on their respective teams from their teenage years, there's no question that the NHL has turned to younger players in the new, faster game format.
So this begs the question of who will be next? Who is the budding superstar biding his time and waiting for his shot with the big club?
Let's have a look at one potential player from each team who is poised to take the league by storm when he makes his way up to the NHL ice.
While he may have been drafted in the same year as Cam Fowler and Devante Smith-Pelly, both of whom are up with the Anaheim Ducks in their teenage years, Emerson Etem has been forced to bide his time down with his junior squad for the past couple seasons now as he was one of the final players cut from this year's training camp roster.
However he's doing everything in his power to prove he deserves an even closer look next season.
The 19-year-old native of nearby Long Beach, CA currently is setting a blistering scoring pace for Medicine Hat of the WHL, scoring 58 points in just 32 games, third-best in the league.
His lightning-quick speed and ridiculous shooting accuracy hint that those numbers should only even go up further.
With this kind of a performance, don't be surprised if he skips the AHL all-together next season and finds himself up with the big club to start the 2012-13 season.
The Niagra Ice Dog was a killer pickup for the Boston Bruins, being taken ninth overall by Boston in the 2011 draft. And thus, Hamilton became the final piece of the infamous Phil Kessel deal that sent the high-scoring winger to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This trade alone already has also produced Tyler Seguin for Boston, and Dougie Hamilton should prove to be another stellar piece in the future.
Hamilton is a BIG boy, standing at a towering 6'4", but he is far from a bruiser. In fact, Hamilton's hands and ability to run a play have him currently sitting pretty in the OHL, leading the Niagra IceDogs and tied for fifth in the league with 45 points in 30 games.
Known for this offensive poise, Hamilton could see time with the big club within the next couple seasons, and should at least expect a good long look at the next Bruins' training camp.
Joel Armia was a big pickup for the Buffalo Sabres this past summer, refilling a development system that's becoming rather depleted with guys like Luke Adam and Zack Kassian graduating to a regular spot with the big club.
The Finland-native became the first European-born draft pick by the Buffalo Sabers in five years this summer when they took him 16th overall.
And you want to talk about being tried by fire?
Armia's primary development thus far has been with Assat in the Finnish Elite League, one of the top European leagues with some of the best talent not currently playing in the NHL.
As a 17-year-old, Armia scored 18 goals for that team.
He may not be in a Sabres uniform for a while, but expect him to be another brilliant Finnish scorer in the NHL one day.
The Calgary Flames find themselves in a bit of a pickle.
On one hand their forwards, with the exception of Roman Horak and Mikael Backlund, is one of the oldest offensive groups in the NHL, and most of the talent for Calgary that's in line to replace them is a few years away from being able to replace them.
That being said, let's hope they don't have to rush the development of Sven Baertschi.
He's not the biggest guy to grace the NHL, standing 5'10" and weighing 180lbs. but this Portland Winterhawk has lot of fight and a lot of resilience, a big reason he tallied up 34 goals and 85 points last season.
That being said I think he's going to need at least another two years before he'll be NHL ready, and let's hope the aging offense in Calgary doesn't force him to have to move to the big club too soon.
He claims he models his game after Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, but if his future is as bright as it looks, Ryan Murphy might even be better than his idol.
Early in the scouting process, the offensively-minded defenseman was touted by Don Cherry to possibly be the first-overall draft pick this past season.
And with these numbers who can blame him.
As a 17-year-old for the Kitchener Rangers last season, Murphy tallied 79 points in 63 games, and was even named the player of the game in the CHL's Top Prospects game.
Murphy didn't make the big squad and is back with Kitchener this year, but that isn't too surprising. The Hurricanes, who are relatively short on blueline talent right now, don't want to rush his development and risk burning him out early, particularly with other hot defensive prospects Brian Dumoulin and Justin Faulk bringing some exciting promise to the future in Raleigh.
Between his stickhandling skills, his brilliant hockey sense and his pretty nasty edge on the ice, Jeremy Morin has all the makings of an NHL star in the making just itching for an opportunity to prove he deserves to stay up with the big club.
He's received a few call-ups from the Chicago Blackhawks in his career thus far, but in the talent-stocked lineup the team boasts, it's tough for a young kid to stay up.
I mean come on... just check out this pass that wowed the crowd at last year's Chicago Blackhawks training camp.
If the Blackhawks do get a roster opening, don't be surprised if Morin fills it - he looks about as ready as anybody to burst into the league.
The Colorado Avalanche are a team whose storehouses in the development system are starting to run rather dry as most of their major talent has graduated to playing with the big club.
Duncan Siemens is an extremely talented young defenseman who's not shy of playing a gritty, hard-nosed style with his big 6'3", 196 lbs. frame.
However, he's got a knack for playmaking as well. Last season with the Saskatoon Blades, Siemens put up 43 points, 38 of which were assists.
It might take him a couple years to graduate to the Colorado Avalanche lineup, but with the team in need of some solidification on the blueline (they're currently 21st in the NHL in goals-against per game after finishing dead last in the previous year), don't be surprised if this future leader is getting his feet wet with the big boys soon.
With a thundering slapshot, deadly wrister and gritty, physical play style, it's no wonder so many fans in Columbus are excited about David Savard.
The hotshot defenseman prospect became the first defenseman in history to lead the QMJHL in the 2009-10 season when he racked up 64 assists and an incredible +32 rating.
And get this, despite scoring 77 points that season, he was a nominee for the award for the league's best defensive defenseman.
Talk about an all-around guy.
Savard made the team out of training camp this season, but has only seen seven games in the big leagues, where he posted two points and a -2 rating for the hapless Blue Jackets.
He could be up with the big club on a more regular basis at any time, however, and hopefully for Columbus could provide a good counterpart for James Wisniewski, who plays a very similar style.
Possibly the brightest goaltending gem on the horizon for any team, 19-year-old Jack Campbell is rapidly gaining a reputation as the next great American goaltender.
For a Dallas Stars team that has for many years struggled to find solidity in net, they couldn't be happier he's their property.
Campbell has made a name for himself in international play, backstopping the United States to a U20 World Championship, including a huge save that led to the game-winning overtime goal over rival Canada.
The greatest part for Dallas: he's already showing this much potential and he's only 19 years old.
At the rate he's maturing, it might only be two years or so before Campbell is playing backup to Kari Lehtonen with the Stars in Dallas.
How's this for pressure: many people are saying Brendan Smith will be taking over a lot of the defensive duties that Nicklas Lidstrom will be vacating when he eventually retires (whenever that is...).
The Detroit Red Wings are always difficult to accurately gauge when looking at their prospect and development system because on paper they appear to be relatively thin, often times what happens when your team is consistently amongst the best in the NHL every single year.
But that being said both Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall) are just two examples of the brilliance of the Red Wings' European scouting system, so I've learned never to doubt what they see in players.
Brendan Smith has certainly had his time to develop.
Drafted in 2007, Smith played for the University of Maine and is now biding his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. He's seen three games with the big club this year, and has 13 points in 19 games in the minors thus far.
For a team known for it's extraordinarily talented young forwards (see names like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle among others), much of Edmtonton's promising talent waiting in the wings happens to be defensemen, such as Swedish-born Oscar Klefbom.
You want a resume? This kid has one.
At the age of only 17, he made his debut for Swedish Elite League champions Farjestad. While there, he generated a lot of buzz as one of the best defensive talents in the entire league.
He's got a big stature to boot, standing at a whopping 6'4" in height.
And the other big plus for Edmonton is he's got the gift of leadership: he was the captain of the Swedish team that won the silver medal at the 2011 World U-18 championship, while generating four points in six games.
You want to talk about a team that's stacked in the prospect department? Look no further than the Florida Panthers, who have had 23 picks in the last two drafts.
At the pinnacle of all of these prized possessions sits Jonathan Huberdeau, selected second-overall in the 2011 NHL draft, and who had the Panthers organization thinking long and hard about whether he should stay up with the team full-time this season.
They decided it would be better for his future if he spent another year in Juniors so he's back with the St. John's Sea Dogs. He hasn't been on quite the same pace as he was last year for the talent-loaded squad, but his 28 points and +20 rating are nothing to sneer at.
Don't be surprised if we see Huberdau taking a full-time role with the big club next season, particularly if he can bring those numbers up again.
The results of spending the better part of the last decade at the bottom of the NHL? Ladies and gentlemen I give you the young and extremely talent-deep Los Angeles Kings.
Defensive prospect Thomas Hickey, dubbed "Mr. Hockey" by some Kings fans, is a defensive prospect the Kings have certainly taken their time in letting develop. He's much older than some of the names on this list, currently 22 and playing for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL.
Known for his puck-moving skills, Hickey has proven himself to be a valuable puck-moving defenseman who generates a fair amount of scoring for the Monarchs.
He has struggled a fair amount with injury however, and hasn't had the most stellar year this season, with only four points to show for 26 games. His defensive talent has been stellar though, as he is currently second-best on the team with a +9 rating.
They call him "The Magician" and when you see his playmaking abilities it's easy to figure out why.
Mikael Granlund leads a pretty talented pool of Minnesota Wild prospects and is another example of a European boy running with, and most of the time beating, the men of one of Europe's best leagues.
Grandlund, aged only 19 years, currently plays for HIFK of the Finnish Elite League and already has 38 points in 30 games this season.
While no plans for him to jump ship to North America are in the balance yet, he has publicly declared his desire to play in the NHL, making Wild fans extremely excited.
One of the hottest and biggest prospects in the Montreal Canadiens system that's lacking a bit in significant potential-superstar talent is playmaking defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.
Known for his brilliant playmaking ability, sound defensive play and brilliant skating speed, Beaulieu has the makings of a future franchise defenseman, which is good for the Canadiens who could use a blueline boost in the near future.
Beaulieu, who combined a +84 rating through his first three seasons with the St. John's Sea Dogs, will need to physically mature a good amount before he'll be NHL ready. Despite standing 6'1" tall, he only weighs 182 lbs.
But that being said when you can consistently put up 45 points two seasons in a row in a league as talented as the QMJHL, you've got the makings of something special.
Despite the fact that he's only 20 years old, Taylor Beck looks to be a match made in heaven with the Nashville Predators organization that thrives on his style of gritty, two-way hockey.
Beck isn't the highest-scoring forward on the team's AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, but his 10 points in 21 games is nothing to scoff at, particularly for a rookie in a new league.
If his performances with the Guelph Storm are any sort of indicator as to what's coming, the Preds can expect a player with a lot of grit to go with his speed: a perfect match for the style of hockey Nashville plays so well.
That being said don't expect to see him up with the big club full time for at least a couple years still. He needs to master the AHL game before jumping up to the big time.
Now here's something you don't see every day: a top prospect hailing from the hockey hotbed (sarcastically speaking of course) of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Indeed the 19 year-old defenseman leads a pretty talented group of young, developing blueliners and should have adequate time to develop into a pretty good stay-at-home guy.
The big 6'3", 200 lbs. kid has a good amount of time still to develop before he's NHL ready, but that being said the Devils will be more than happy to have him under their colors in about three years or so.
He's got hands, he's got dangles, and boy does he have some pretty goals.
While the one you see in this video doesn't technically count for anything more than maybe a few YouTube props, Ryan Strome is a superstar in the making for the talent-packed New York Islanders.
While he was sent back to the Niagra IceDogs for this season, Strome should get get a very good look for an NHL roster spot next season, where a lot of people on Long Island are extremely excited about the possibility of a pairing between him and another prized young hotshot Nino Niedereitter.
And come on if he can pull off shootout shenanigans like those in his first real appearance in front of New York Islanders fans to win them over... you can bet he's going to become a favorite there really quick.
The Rangers are well-stocked with forwards that will most likely develop into third and fourth-line guys, but Boston College product Chris Kreider is one guy that's got the potential to be a first-line superstar.
I mean come on... if you can score highlight reel goals like that against one of the best college hockey teams in the United States you've got to be something special.
Kreider has been developing extremely well with Boston College, where he leads the team in scoring this season with 23 points in 18 games.
Should BC continue to have an excellent year, don't be surprised if Kreider considers foregoing his senior campaign and signs a pro contract, possibly landing him a spot in the NHL within a couple years.
Mark Stone is more or less the complete package when it comes to a player and is going to make a killer power-forward in the NHL one day.
The 19-year-old prospect, taken in the (get this) sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Ottawa Senators is absolutely tearing the WHL apart right now, leading the entire league with a whopping 65 points in 33 games (just under two points a game... seriously!?).
And to top it off, he's got a really nasty edge to his game as well. About 80% of his videos on YouTube are of him fighting someone else.
A guy with great scoring hands who's not afraid to throw down the gloves? Man the Senators are going to be loving this guy soon. And by soon I mean possibly as soon as next season if current losing trends in Ottawa continue.
The Philadelphia Flyers are a team whose development pools are starting to run extremely dry.
With hotshot young talents like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn graduating to the NHL level, the honor of top prospect now falls to young Eric Wellwood, who to be honest I'd hardly call a superstar in the making.
For those of you asking, yes, he's the younger brother of Kyle Wellwood.
The 21-year-old has bounced around between the big club in Philadelphia and the organization's minor-league affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms for the past couple seasons and hasn't really found where he fits yet.
He's only played one game with the Flyers thus far this season, notching an assist, and has a further 13 games with the Phantoms, scoring 11 points in 13 games.
He's big, he's solid, and he's a proven puck-moving defenseman who can set up plays and run a power play with the best of them, and that's got the Phoenix Coyotes excited.
Despite the fact that he fell down the draft board a ways, don't let that take anything away from his talent.
Currently back with his junior team, the Moncton Wildcats, Gormley leads their defensemen in scoring with 27 points in 26 games.
Additionally, nine out of his 10 goals have come on the powerplay.
Combined with defensive prospects Maxim Goncharov and Connor Murphy, Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett has a group of defensemen who fit his style of play perfectly, giving the Phoenix Coyotes organization a bright future... or at least on the ice.
Taking a page from the book of Mario Lemeiux himself, Eric Tangradi is a power-forward prospect with the makings of an NHL great.
Tangradi currently sits second on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in scoring with 20 points in 24 games.
To add to it, he also sits fourth on the team in penalty minutes with 30.
He's big (6'4"), strong (232 lbs.), and has a knack for really getting on the nerves of opponents, whether it's on the scoreboard or on the ice with his physical play.
On a team so heavily loaded with forward talent as the Pittsburgh Penguins, it might take him another year or so before he can truly break into the roster, but that being said he's about as ready as ever, just waiting for his chance to get the call up to the big club.
Much like the Detroit Red Wings, the San Jose Sharks are feeling the effects of an extended period amongst the elite in the NHL when it comes to talent stock in the draft pool: it's starting to look pretty barren.
At the forefront: Taylor Doherty - a 6'7", 230 lbs. stay-at-home defenseman with a definite edge to his play style.
The big man is known for his booming slapshot and bone-crunching physicality, as you can probably imagine, but his offensive contribution is more or less negligible.
In 20 games with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL, Doherty is yet to record a point this season, but he does boast a +8 rating which speaks to his defensive talent.
In those 20 games he has also accrued 25 penalty minutes, not innocent by any means but not past the point where he becomes a liability to his team, making him a good balance for a stalwart blueliner.
The St. Louis Blues are starting to see their years of draft pick-stockpiling come to fruition with one of the most talent-laden groups of youngsters on any roster in the NHL today, but still sitting in the wings and waiting are a few quality gems.
Vladimir Tarasenko is one of these prospects, currently biding his time developing overseas in the KHL for HC Sibir Novosibirsk, where he is quickly developing a name for himself as one of the premiere young forwards in a league that's becoming increasingly more talented.
Tarasenko has also managed to shine on the international stage, playing an instrumental part in last year's Russian squad that put an end to Canada's five-year reign atop the World Junior Championship podium. He performed extremely well at that tournament, scoring 11 points in seven games.
Odds are he's at least two years out from seeing any NHL action, but he's definitely going to be in good company when he does come over as the Blues are rapidly becoming one of the most promising teams for a few years to come still.
Carter Ashton, son of NHL journeyman Brent Ashton, has a lot of promise and has drawn some pretty good praise from those around him.
The tall and bulky power forward (6'3", 215 lbs) can play well in both ends of the ice, as well as find a comfortable role in both power play and penalty killing special teams.
Compared to Joe Thornton when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009, Ashton also has a pretty nasty physical edge to his game as well, and he plays particularly well when he has a chip on his shoulder.
Tampa Bay's depth on the right wing does seem to be lacking a little bit beyond Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell, meaning Carter Ashton, now 20 and playing for Norfolk of the AHL, could see time with the big club within a year or two.
It's a lingering question on the minds of many Toronto Maple Leafs fans: when will Nazem Kadri be ready for full-time duty in the NHL?
He's seen some time in the big leagues, such as at the tail end of last season when he netted this gem of a shootout beauty, but so far the Leafs are yet to employ their prized prospect full-time.
And he looks all but poised to make the jump as well. Kadri is second on the team's AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies with 21 points in just 18 games this season.
Kadri is a scoring superstar in the making, and should provide a big offensive boost to the Maple Leafs almost as soon as he makes the jump to the big squad. Don't be surprised if that comes as soon as sometime possibly this or next season.
The Vancouver Canucks have pretty much seen the extent of their developing talent graduate to the NHL level, leaving their stockpile looking rather baren.
However, that being said Nicklas Jensen, the team's first-round pick (29th overall) at the 2011 NHL draft is no slouch.
Known for his speed and skill with his hands, the Danish-born Nicklas Jensen appears to be a brilliant fit with the Canucks system, and has even drawn comparisons to Michael Grabner, the talented Swiss-born forward who the Canucks drafted and then traded away.
Don't expect to see him in the NHL for at least another two years, if not more, but Jensen does have the makings of another brilliant goal scorer with some dangerous shooting accuracy.
The Washington Capitals number-three goaltender has a lot of Capitals fans excited, particularly since the team has struggled to find consistent goaltending for the past couple seasons (prompting the signing of Thomas Vokoun this past summer).
Holtby had 14 games of NHL action last season, going a stellar 10-2-2 and proving what kind of a gem the Caps have in waiting.
With Vokoun likely coming toward the end of his career (he's in Washington on a one-year deal), Holtby could become the number-two or even steal the starting job in Washington as soon as next year, giving the Caps a little bit of breathing room when it comes to their netminding position.
The Capitals would like to see a little bit more consistency from him at the AHL level this season, however, where he currently has an 8-6-1 record with a .897 save-percentage.
Well the good news for Jets fans: they got their team back.
The bad news: they're not very good, and with the players currently coming through their development system, they probably won't be for a while still.
Mark Scheifele is an extremely talented future first-line forward who gave the Jets coaching staff a good reason to take a long, hard look at him through the first few games of this NHL season, but ultimately they decided it would be better not to rush his development and they sent him back to the Barrie Colts of the OHL.
So far this season, Scheifele boasts 36 points through 19 games, making the Winnipeg faithful extremely excited. This coming after a season in which he notched 75 points.
However, the budding superstar really is all the Jets have to show for when it comes to true talent.
The rest of the system features forwards that will make decent two-way players but lack a scoring punch, and the defense has no true top-pairing player.
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