We’ve spilled a lot of ink in recent months celebrating a golden age of young stars, a time when a seeming horde of early 20-somethings have either grabbed the torch of stardom or have their hands held high.
Of course, it’s not all goals and hugs; not every prospect has developed as planned. There are a handful of players – guys between the ages of 23 and 25 who’ve been in the league a few years and have had the opportunity to make a big splash – who have fallen short of expectations. It’s their time to show whether they’re going to enter an upper stratosphere or remain in the OK-range.
Here, in alphabetical order, are seven guys I’d like to see more from:
Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta, 24 (drafted second overall, 2002).
The Thrashers goalie was a two-time THN minor pro prospect of the year. His career goals-against average is a middling 2.82 and he has yet to win a playoff game.
Joffrey Lupul, Philadelphia, 24 (drafted seventh overall, 2002).
He finished last season on a pace that pro-rates to 29 goals over 82 games and, at times, he played inspired hockey in the Flyers’ post-season run. But we’ve yet to see sustained excellence or a 30-goal campaign. It’s time.
Joni Pitkanen, Carolina, 24 (drafted fourth overall, 2002).
By this time, he should have been lumped in with the group of stud young defensemen that includes Dion Phaneuf, Brent Burns, Mike Green and Duncan Keith among others, but the consistency hasn’t been there…yet. He figures to see a ton of ice time in Carolina, so he won’t be lacking for opportunity.
Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina, 25 (drafted ninth overall, 2001).
There was a time when he was “the future” in Chicago, collecting 23 goals as a rookie in 2003-04. Now, he’s just looking to find his way – and remain healthy – in Raleigh.
Alex Steen, Toronto, 24 (drafted 24th overall, 2002).
Perhaps our expectations should be lowered; maybe he’s simply a third-line guy. That being said, he has tantalized with moments and games of brilliance. Now that Mats Sundin is out of the picture (at least temporarily), Steen has his best chance to make the quantum leap to stardom.
Stephen Weiss, Florida, 25 (drafted fourth overall, 2001).
With Olli Jokinen in Phoenix, Weiss will be featured as the No. 1 center and have the opportunity to better his career highs of 20 goals and 48 points. If he doesn’t do it this year, it’s time for the Panthers to go shopping.
Nikolai Zherdev, Rangers, 23 (drafted fourth overall, 2003).
The Rick Nash-Nikolai Zherdev glam show we anticipated in Columbus never really materialized…at least not the Zherdev part. Sixty-one points last season would have been fine for a player of lesser talent. Maybe Manhattan will inspire him.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.