For my last-page column in the 2009-10 THN Yearbook – Hey! Look! It’s on newsstands and available online now! – I identified 25 NHLers under the age of 25 who are potential franchise players. (Age as of the start of the ’09-10 season.)
Call it a dedication to Joe Sakic, who announced his retirement after being the franchise face of Quebec/Colorado for 20 years.
Anyhow, I’m not going to give away the order of the top 25 under-25s in the Yearbook – Did we mention it’s available now? Because it is! On newsstands and on this website, too! – but suffice to say the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews and Alex Ovechkin made the grade.
No big surprise there. What was surprising, however, was the quantity of high quality under-25s in the league today. After paring down the Yearbook list to 25 future franchise faces, there were still several pedigreed youngsters – with NHL experience – who were left off. (For simplicity’s sake, prospects with little or no NHL experience – such as John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Nikita Filatov and Tuukka Rask – weren’t eligible to be considered.)
Simply put, despite my intention to spotlight the NHL’s best young guns, there were still a lot of worthy kids who didn’t seem to get their just due.
So, rather than name the top 25 under-25s, here’s a list of the top 10 other under-25s. They didn’t make the Yearbook list, but they may very well turn out to be the face of their respective franchise in the not-too-distant future:
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay, 19
OK, maybe the Bolts’ jolt of a center was mistakenly overlooked in the Yearbook list. Hey, it happens. Sorry, Steven. Just go out and play a full season this year like the way you played in the second half of 2008-09 and you’ll never be overlooked again. Promise.
2. Bryan Little, Atlanta, 21
After six goals in an abbreviated 48-game rookie season in ’07-08, Little scored the quietest 31 goals in the league as an NHL sophomore last season. Translation: Don’t give up on Atlanta, even if they ultimately lose Ilya Kovalchuk to the trade deadline or unrestricted free agency.
3. Luke Schenn, Toronto, 19
A hard-rock, stay-at-home defenseman – and who knows, he might even add a little offense once he becomes more comfortable in the NHL. He was solid from Day 1 and is a pillar around which the Maple Leafs will build.
4. Jack Johnson, Los Angeles, 22
A shoulder injury limited him to 41 games last year, but he’s a two-way monster (Has Pierre McGuire trademarked that word yet?) who might be underrated due to his West Coast locale. Look for him on Team USA’s blueline during the Olympics and tell us what you think.
5. Phil Kessel, Boston, 22
He might be one-dimensional, but when that dimension is scoring goals, teams will look the other way if he doesn’t always lead the backchecking charge. He jumped up to 36 goals (in 70 games) in his third NHL campaign after seasons of 11 and 19. That’s a good trend.
6. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis, 22
I’m no Oshie expert, but he was a force for St. Louis in their (albeit short-lived) return to the playoffs last spring. And post-season prowess is usually a good sign for up-and-comers. Plus, Oshie also represents the Blues’ bushel of talented young forwards, such as David Perron and Patrik Berglund (as well as ineligible, already-25-years-old David Backes).
7. Ryan Suter, Nashville, 24
He goes over the boards with fellow under-25er (Yearbook spoiler alert!) Shea Weber to form one of the NHL’s best young tandems.
8. Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia, 24
The Flyers obtained him from Atlanta for an over-the-hill Alexei Zhitnik in 2007 and now the 6-foot-5, 220-pound prodigy has new teammate Chris Pronger to pattern himself after.
9. Derick Brassard, Columbus, 22
He did enough in an injury-shortened rookie campaign – 10 goals and 25 points in 31 games – to convince us that he’s for real. Plus, it’s a chance to mention fellow fab freshman Jakub Voracek.
10. Cam Barker, Chicago, 23
The expectations are high when you’re the third overall draft pick in 2004, especially when the guys selected ahead of you are named Ovechkin and Malkin. Barker still has a ways to go, but with the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell manning the blueline in Chicago, he should be able to grow into a dominant two-way defender.
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