7 Young NHL Teams That Should Contend for the Stanley Cup in the Next 3 Years
The allure of youth in the NHL is neverending.
Successful, veteran teams want young players to help keep the wins coming, and bad teams want young players to provide hope for a better future.
When you look around the league, there are some teams whose young players have taken prominent roles already and others whose prospects are on the verge of making the show. Usually, teams in those positions in their builds (or rebuilds or re-rebuilds) aren't too high up in the standings and are instead laying in the weeds waiting to strike.
What we're looking to do today is figure out seven young teams that are in the best shape to win the Stanley Cup in the next three years. To make my decisions, I looked at what teams have in their systems right now, both at the NHL level and further down the pipeline. This is fun, because it allows me the chance to look into the future while not forcing me to figure out where players like Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov will wind up in future drafts.
Got a problem with any of these choices? Hit me with your ideas in the comments and let me know which teams I should've considered more strongly.
It's hard not to put the Buffalo Sabres in this conversation when you look at who their top players are this season.
Tage Thompson is second in the NHL in goals, and he's 25 years old. Rasmus Dahlin is 22 years old, and among defensemen he's second in goals and third in points. The Sabres have five players with 30-plus points, and three of them are 25 or younger (Thompson, Dahlin, and 21-year-old Dylan Cozens).
At 30, Jeff Skinner looks reborn playing with Thompson and 26-year-old Alex Tuch, and they're the other two players with 30-plus points. Behind them, there are 21-year-old forwards JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn. And if you're watching the World Junior Championships, chances are you've seen other young guys on the way to Buffalo, including Sweden's Isak Rosén and Noah Östlund and Czechia's Jiri Kulich.
It's not just Dahlin doing work on defense, either. His partner, Mattias Samuelsson, is becoming one of the best young defenders in the league, and 20-year-old Owen Power is showing all the signs of being a great defenseman.
Should any of Eric Comrie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, or prospect Devon Levi turn into a true No. 1 goalie, the Sabres will be a tough team for opponents to deal with for years to come.
With the success of Buffalo's young players, the path back to the postseason isn't hard to imagine. If this young Sabres core can get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, hopes of them carrying the Stanley Cup back to Western New York for the first time ever wouldn't be far behind.
For years, the Stars were best known for essentially winning games on the talent of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin alone.
Even though those two are still there, the Stars have added a pile of young players, including a superstar, that make them even more formidable.
Not to take anything away from how fantastic defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been since he arrived on the scene in Dallas in 2018, but forward Jason Robertson has been incredible after exploding into the NHL full-time in 2021. He was an MVP-caliber player last season and should be a front-runner for the award this season if he continues the torrid pace he's been on.
Robertson and Heiskanen are the cornerstones of the Stars, and with goalie Jake Oettinger showing during the playoffs last season that he can be the guy to steal games, that trio is enough to ensure the Stars are in great shape in the years to come.
But wait, there's more—and more on the way, too.
There's stud center Roope Hintz, who has ascended to the top line and has the scoring to back it up. There's 19-year-old Wyatt Johnson, who has taken his shot in the NHL and run with it, scoring 10 goals already this season. They added 22-year-old defenseman Nils Lundkvist from the New York Rangers in a preseason trade, and 27-year-old Mason Marchment has been a nice fit there as well.
Factor in recent draft picks like Mavrik Bourque and Logan Stankoven, and the Stars' future looks even brighter. Put it all together, and you have the exact kind of group you could see taking a lap with the Cup not too far into the future.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have been a bit of a surprise this season, even though their offseason additions of Ville Husso, David Perron, and Andrew Copp pointed them in the direction of improvement. It helps to have a lot of highly talented young players on the way as well, and Detroit has them—both in the NHL and headed there soon.
Dylan Larkin, the 26-year-old who was the original building block for the Red Wings' revival, is a leader who has been as good and steady as they come. Add in Tyler Bertuzzi's agitating ability to score goals and Lucas Raymond's impressive ability to create offense, and Detroit suddenly has the pieces in place to be a team that can fill the net for years to come. Factor in supporting scorers like Jonatan Berggren and Elmer Söderblom, and things get really interesting.
Moritz Seider is the all-world defenseman the Red Wings have been searching for since Nicklas Lidström retired, and he'll be the backbone of the Red Wings blueline for years to come. Filip Hronek has been a solid defensive contributor for the past few seasons, and he's a year younger than Larkin. Prospect Simon Edvinsson is acclimating himself to North American play in the AHL for now, but he will be a fixture on Detroit's defense as well.
Husso has been outstanding already, which solves one big question Detroit had for the future, although they have young prospect Sebastian Cossa on the horizon, too. You can never have enough goaltending, right?
The pieces are there for Detroit to start making some waves. GM Steve Yzerman's next challenge will be to get the Red Wings back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings aren't too far removed from being one of the best teams in the NHL, including two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. Even though L.A. slipped out of the playoffs for a handful of seasons since that last Cup, it has been semi-rebuilding on the fly.
Lo and behold, it may end up working out for them.
Los Angeles is still led by Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, but they've got a boatload of options to pick up the torch from them. Kevin Fiala, Adrian Kempe, Arthur Kaliyev, and Gabriel Vilardi have picked up the offensive slack. Mix in top picks Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte, and that's a heck of a group.
Meanwhile, on defense, Sean Durzi, Matt Roy, and Mikey Anderson have taken over particular roles as offensive spark plugs or shutdown defenders. Add in Brandt Clarke, currently playing for Canada at the World Junior Championships, Jordan Spence who is champing at the bit to get the opportunity to stay in L.A., and 2020 second-round pick Helge Grans, and there is a lot there for the Kings to start a new run for the Cup.
Goaltending? What about goaltending? Why would you ask about that? Good one, you guys; real funny.
But seriously, it wouldn't seem likely that Jonathan Quick will still be their No. 1 for the coming years, but while Cal Petersen gets his confidence back in the AHL (4-2-0, .938 in Ontario), the Kings don't have a lot of other standout options. Pheonix Copley has played well of late, but it's hard to pencil him in as a fixture at this point.
This one might be a stretch, but stay with me here.
Seattle has taken somewhat of the opposite approach to how the Vegas Golden Knights built up a new franchise. Nevertheless, the Kraken suddenly have a bright future.
Matty Beniers, the leading rookie scorer in the NHL, has taken the Kraken by storm and helped lead them to a playoff position in the Pacific Division in the team's second season. Seattle will be in a fight with Edmonton and Calgary for that third spot in the division, but Beniers gives the Kraken's roster a top weapon. When you mix in 2022 first-round pick Shane Wright, who will be an outstanding player in the NHL, Seattle has a potentially dynamic one-two punch at center for years to come.
One part of the Kraken's build that is similar to Vegas is how they've taken advantage of other teams being willing to give away top players. They snagged Yanni Gourde, Jordan Eberle, and Jared McCann in the expansion draft and then gladly made a trade with Columbus before this season to take on Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Seattle spent ample cap space to sign Andre Burakovsky and Jaden Schwartz to add to their offense and picked up Daniel Sprong on waivers, a guy who has found a nice role with the Kraken. They'll have 2022 second-round pick Jagger Firkus to add to the forward mix in the near future, too.
If there's a reason to be skeptical about the Kraken, it's that they lack an absolute No. 1 defenseman and goalie. That they've been this successful despite haphazard goaltending means they're just a move away from being a major threat in the West.
The bar for the Canadiens was set pretty low this season, but so far, coach Martin St. Louis has set the very young Habs on a good foundation from which to build on for the future.
Montréal's three top scorers this season are 23-year-old Nick Suzuki followed by 22-year-olds Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach right behind him. Rookie defensemen Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj have all earned accolades for strong play, with Xhekaj in particular earning the ire of opponents for his physical play and ability to win fights.
Those six players alone are strong enough reasons to buy into the Canadiens becoming a threat in the near future, and I haven't even mentioned 2022 No. 1 pick Juraj Slafkovský yet. Although Slafkovský hasn't taken the league by storm right yet, the big-bodied, skilled forward will make his name in the near future.
Going beyond those players, there are forwards Owen Beck and Filip Mesar along with defenseman Lane Hutson who factor into that future. There's a lot for Montréal to work with for years to come, and with St. Louis coaching them, the Habs won't be down for much longer. They are already poised as one of those "pesky" teams that drive current contenders mad when it comes to crunch time.
It's a shame Carey Price isn't there to run the show in goal, because if ever there was a veteran for a young group to rally around, it's Price.
New Jersey Devils
If I had written this about the Devils before the season began, it may have been described as overly hopeful. It's funny how things change in a few months.
The Devils have looked outstanding this season, and a lot of that is because of the play of guys they're banking on for years to come. New Jersey's top three scorers feature 21-year-old Jack Hughes and 24-year-olds Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier. With 21-year-old Dawson Mercer and 24-year-old Yegor Sharangovich, the Devils have plenty of strong scoring options.
That's not taking into account prospects like Fabian Zetterlund or Alexander Holtz, who are each just getting their first tastes of the NHL. And these are just the forwards.
Dougie Hamilton leads their defense, but he's got recently acquired John Marino there next to him at least until 2027. Jonas Siegenthaler was an outstanding acquisition from Washington in 2021, as he helped strengthen their defensive play.
They've also got 2022 No. 2 pick Šimon Nemec, currently playing in the World Junior Championships for Slovakia, getting better acclimated to the North American pro game with Utica in the AHL. He will be an NHL stud once he arrives, giving the Devils even more weapons to throw at opponents.
Add in the fact that New Jersey may have their goaltending settled with Vitek Vanecek in net and might have more help on the way in youngster Akira Schmid, and boy, the Devils look like they'll be tough to deal with for the next few seasons. Considering they're currently fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Devils might even wind up winning the Stanley Cup this season if their play keeps up.