Saturday, September 7, 2013 by The Hockey Daily.
Ever since the major rule changes that preceded the 2004 Lockout, the NHL has become a young man’s league. To say there are only ten current NHLers on the verge of greatness is insane. Many young guns and on-the-rise defencemen fall into this category. This list singles out ten individuals who are on the cusp of elite status.
This Winnipeg Jets power forward plays a strong, fearless brand of hockey. He’s a big winger with good hands, speed and a knack for locating loose pucks around the net. Similar to Keith Tkachuk before him, this current Jet has all the makings of a future 50 goal scorer in the National Hockey League. In their 3rd season back in the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets finally return home to the Western Conference this season. That is bad news for defencemen and goaltenders hoping to shutdown Evander Kane, one of the game’s best young power forwards.
Kane scored 30 goals in his second NHL season, and he surpassed that pace last year with 17 in 48 games. This season, Kane will score 30 with ease and probably clear 40 if he remains healthy. Without a true #1 centre to help him pad his stats, Kane may not reach 50 goals this season, but he is definitely capable of the milestone mark under the right circumstances.
After a very disappointing, injury riddled sophomore season, Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner will take his game to the next level in 2013-14. The very mobile, puck possessing blue-liner had an outstanding playoff performance for the Blue & White in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At times, Gardiner showcased his ability to dominate possession and smoothly waltz his way out of trouble in his own zone. Offensively, he was constantly a threat on the power play and even strength.
This season, Gardiner will be given an opportunity to take playing minutes away from Dion Phaneuf and out produce a very inexperienced supporting cast of defencemen. Based on raw talent and skill, there is no reason why Jake shouldn’t be able to establish himself as a force for the Leafs and one of the premiere puck moving defenceman in the National Hockey League.
The big Swede has quietly become one of the most dominant and underrated players in the NHL. His size, strength, mobility and intelligence form a deadly combination very few players can compare with. After dominating overseas during last year’s lockout, Hedman rejoined the Lightning and had a stellar season in spite of his team’s inability to make the playoffs.
Another year older and wiser, Hedman will continue to improve and make a name for himself as one of the best defensive defencemen in hockey. And, he can contribute offensively as well. The sky is the limit for the former 2nd overall draft pick. His reputation will likely grow this year thanks to a restructuring of the NHL divisions. Hedman won’t be hidden away in the Southeast anymore. His incredible talents will regularly be on display in some of hockey’s biggest hot beds – Montreal, Toronto and Boston.
In his very first NHL game last season, Vladamir Tarasenko scored two beautiful goals, quickly proving that he has elite goal scoring capabilities. The guy is a finisher. Unfortunately, Tarasenko was unable to maintain his hot start due to injuries and a very deep catalogue of right wingers on the St. Louis Blues.
Tarasenko is in the perfect situation to succeed. He plays on one of the best teams in the NHL and his Blues lack one thing that he is best suited to provide them with. The Blues lack an elite goal scorer who can get the big goal when an important game is on the line. In Tarasenko, they may have their solution to that problem.
There is no denying the talent level of second year player Alex Galchenyuk. The flashy American scorer can do it all offensively, whether it be playmaking, shooting or possessing the puck. He had a strong rookie season for the Habs playing in a two-way role behind more experienced forwards. Galchenyuk displayed moments of brilliance last season, and it’s very easy to expect an increase in brilliant moments from the older and wiser future franchise player in the months to come.
With no true elite franchise centreman already in place on the Habs, the job is Galchenyuk’s as soon as he proves he can handle it. He’s so good, he may be ready this season. Expect a hike in production and sheer offensive flair this season from the Habs’ Alex Galchenyuk.
Taylor Hall has been very good so far in his NHL career, but he hasn’t been great. This season that is going to change. The flashy former 1st overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers really came alive offensively last season. His 50 points in 48 games was superb enough to rank him 7th in league scoring. This season, he will undoubtedly produce his way into the top rankings in points once again.
Hall is one of the most exciting players in the game but that hasn’t always translated to him being one of the most effective. It takes time for young players to refine their skills so they may translate efficiently in the big leagues. Young players with Hall’s superb set of offensive gifts suffer from trying to do too much with the puck and it can lead to turnovers or missed opportunities. Typically, the very talented young stars figure things out after a couple seasons and their numbers begin to increase drastically. This season, Taylor Hall will have a career year and possibly even find his way on to Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
Oliver Ekman Larsson
Much like Hedman, this big Swede is one of the best kept secrets in the NHL. Oliver Ekman Larsson is legit. As a member of one of hockey’s most well rounded bluelines, OEL will take another huge step forward this season and continue his progression toward top tier defenceman status.
Let’s face it, the Phoenix Coyotes don’t get a lot of attention unless their ownership troubles are in the news. Playing in a non-traditional hockey market hurts Ekman-Larsson’s reputation and prevents him from attracting the attention other players get in more established hockey cities. All that being said, it is becoming difficult to ignore the powerful skating defenceman who patrols the Coyotes back-end. This season will be his 4th and his best so far.
Logan Couture is different than most of the players on this list. He is more recognized and proven as one of the game’s best young talents. Couture is loaded with skill and blessed with a goalscorer’s instincts, which has translated to two 30+ goal seasons and a very impressive 21 goals in 48 games last year. We all know he can score at this level, however, this season it is likely he takes a step forward and becomes a 40 goal scorer/90 point player or better.
As Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau progressively decline offensively, Couture will take their place as the top gun on the Sharks. He’ll have more opportunity to succeed while enjoying all the key minutes on the power play. Couture was the Sharks best player in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs and he’ll be their MVP this season, as he challenges for a spot as one of the best goal scorers in the game. A great start for Logan Couture may earn him a position on the 2014 Canadian National Team at the Winter Olympics in Socchi, Russia.
It is very possible that the highly skilled former 2nd overall draft pick of the Boston Bruins was somewhat stifled offensively under the strict defensive coaching tactics of Claude Julien. That is no longer going to be a problem. Tyler Seguin’s role as a member of the Dallas Stars will be much different and more important than anything he could have expected as a Bruin in the near future. The speedy, smooth sniper will be the lead guy on the Stars, and in tandem with Jamie Benn, the two of them will be downright dangerous and borderline unstoppable.
With a brand new look and logo, the Dallas Stars are going to reinvent themselves as a powerhouse in the West once again, and Seguin has an opportunity to reinvent himself as one of the best offensive weapons in professional hockey. Seguin has already displayed his ability to produce points in the NHL. In 2011-12, the Toronto native tallied 29 goals, 38 assists, and 67 points in 81 games on a very defensive hockey team. Seguin is older, stronger, and more experienced now, which will allow him to have a career year in 2013-14. He joins one of the league’s most exciting and anticipated team coming into this season. Tyler Seguin’s skills and weaponry will be on full display as he takes his game to the next level in a more suited role as a first line centre for the Dallas Stars.
If anyone remembers Patrik Berglund from the World Junior Tournament, you’ll recall that he looked like the second coming of Mats Sundin or Peter Forsberg. However, in his first few seasons in the NHL, the numbers weren’t there. While Berglund has slipped under the radar offensively he has quietly earned a reputation as one of the best two-way centres in the league. He plays the game exceptionally well in all three zones and thanks to his incredible size, strength and intelligence, the big Swedish specialist is on the verge of becoming one of the game’s best centremen.
Berglund may never score like his Swedish predecessors Sundin and Forsberg, but his offensive output is about to take a turn for the better. Last season he really stepped into his own as an offensive threat accumulating 17 goals in 48 games, which was more than Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Getzlaf. With Andy McDonald recently retired, Berglund will be given a more prominent offensive role and he is likely to thrive.