Five young NHL stars who, in my opinion, have so far received less than their fair share of acclaim.
John Tavares, NY Islanders. He’s probably been overlooked because he plays for the poor cousin of the New York-area NHL teams – a franchise which seems in a perpetual state of rebuilding – but the 21-year-old Tavares is on the cusp of superstardom.
After netting 54 and 67 points in his first two seasons, Tavares is on pace for between 80-85 points, making significant strides in his development as a franchise player.
The Mississauga-born Tavares dashed the dreams of some Southern Ontario hockey scribes – hoping he’d one day join the Maple Leafs after his entry level deal expired – by re-signing a long-term extension last year with the Isles, remaining loyal to the team which drafted him, and determined to build them into a playoff contender.
Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers. Oilers fans know how talented Eberle is, but outside of Edmonton, he’s been overshadowed by the promise of 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2011 first overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Eberle, 21, was selected 22nd overall in 2008, and had a good debut last season, with 43 points in 69 games. In his sophomore campaign, Eberle’s on pace for potentially 40 goals and 85 points. He leads his more touted younger teammates in scoring by a wide margin, and is among the league’s top ten scorers.
Perhaps another reason Eberle hasn’t garnered his just due is the Oilers remain a non-playoff club in the midst of their second rebuilding process. If he continues developing at this pace, the Oilers won’t be outside the playoff picture for much longer, and Eberle won’t be overshadowed much longer.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said it best: “I think he’s one of the finest young players in the league that nobody knows about. If this was a kid in Toronto, they’d be making statues of him”.
Since joining the Stars as a rookie in 2009-10, Benn has done nothing except steadily improve every season. The 22-year-old is currently on a point-per-game pace and could finish the season with between 75-80 points, which would be his best single season numbers to date.
Benn was the second-last player selected in this year’s NHL Fantasy All-Star Draft. That’ll be the last time he’s picked that low.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. Hockey fans were surprised last February when the Blues dealt away former first overall pick Erik Johnson in a four-player deal with Colorado, which also brought them blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk.
The reason was Blues management believed Pietrangelo, not Johnson, would become the anchor of their defense corps. They were right.
Pietrangelo had an impressive rookie season last year, with 43 points and a plus-minus of +18. This season, the 22-year-old’s offensive numbers are down slightly, but only because he’s improved his defensive play. No sophomore jinx for Pietrangelo, who is on pace to one day become a Norris contender, and remains the lynchpin of the Blues blueline.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Now in his fourth NHL season, his third as a starter, the 26-year-old Quick is among the league’s elite netminders, yet it seems he still hasn’t received his just due.
Two years ago, Quick set the Kings record for most victories in one season for a goalie with 39. This season, he currently has the third-best goals-against average (1.90), third-best save percentage (.934) and is tied for most shutouts (6) of all NHL goalies. He’s on pace to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Maybe it’s because the Kings have yet to establish themselves among the league’s elite teams, or failed to advance beyond the first round in the past two years. Whatever the reason, Quick deserves more plaudits than he’s been getting so far.