The 2013-14 NHL season is just a week old, and with the NFL and the MLB postseason in full swing, chances are you still haven’t been able to wrap your head around what’s what and who’s who. This list, however, should help. Today we’re going to give you a rundown of some of the exciting youngsters (with fewer than 82 games on their resumes) you’ll want to keep an eye on this year. Not all of them will be impact players right away, of course, and some may even turn out to be total busts. However, there is a lot of potential here, and it’s likely that at least a few of these kids will be central contributors for their teams. So take a look, and get yourself primed and ready for hockey season.
Some scouts regarded this 18-year-old Fin, taken eight overall by the Sabres, as the most NHL-ready player in the 2013 draft. Then all he did was go out and earn a spot on the Sabres roster with a stellar training camp, which is no small feat for a defenseman. Of course, being a defenseman, it's likely that Ristolainen's development will be a little up and down for the first four or five years of his career. But his impact could be pretty significant for a franchise desperate to win.
13. Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres)
This Detroit native played college hockey at Western Michigan, where he eventually became the most highly coveted college free agent in the nation. Then, last year, DeKeyser signed a two-year entry level deal with the Red Wings—the team he grew up idolizing—and played 11 games at the end of last season, earning high praise from Mike Babcock and impressing everyone with his poise and maturity. This year he will almost certainly be among Detroit's top-four defenseman, and may very well prove to be another brilliant find by Red Wings GM Ken Holland.
12. Danny DeKeyser (Detroit Red Wings)
There were a number of NHL scouts who thought this 18-year-old Russian winger was the most talented player available in last year's draft—and yet the Stars managed to pick him up all the way down at number ten. He may not be an immediate impact player this season, of course, since he is so very unseasoned. However, at 6'4" and just under 200 pounds, he might be a monster when he fills out, so stay tuned.
11. Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas Stars)
The Florida Panthers selected this 18-year-old Finnish Russian with the second pick of the 2013 NHL draft. Is he going to dominate right out of the gate? Almost certainly not—especially since he's coming off shoulder surgery. However, the center is 6'3" and 209 pounds with some serious skills and could turn into a major force for the Cats.
10. Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers)
We've made an exception for this guy. He's got 102 NHL games under his belt, so technically he's no rookie. However, he's new enough and, to many, unknown enough that he merits including. Voynov was brilliant on the power play for the Kings during the playoffs last year—especially in their first round comeback against the Blues—and if the Kings are going to regain championship form, he will be a big part of it.
9. Slava Voynov (Los Angeles Kings)
Last season the Predators decided to look to the future by sending longtime Nashville forward Martin Erat to the Capitals—who were looking to add high-quality depth—in exchange for something the offensively-challenged Preds have never really had: a big, highly skilled, offensive-minded forward. That forward was prized prospect Filip Forsberg. At just 19 years of age, this young Swede is far from a sure thing. However, he has the size (6'1") and tools to be a star in the NHL, and trading a 32-year-old veteran was worth the risk.
8. Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators)
Krug, another player signed as a college free agent, appeared in two regular season games for the Bruins in 2011-12 and just one in 2013. However, during Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, all he did was score four power play goals and single-handed revitalize unit that had been struggling mightily for two years, bringing their success rate up to a healthy 17.5%—a three-point jump from the regular season. If that's all this 23-year-old does for the Bruins this year he'll be worth his weight in gold.
7. Torey Krug (Boston Bruins)
In Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan, the Anaheim Ducks had three players each taking up more than $5 million in cap space at the end of last season. Sure, those three players were great, and they helped earn Anaheim the second seed in the Western Conference last year, but it was also an untenable financial position going forward. In the NHL, unlike the NBA, you need depth to win. And the salary cap was going to be a big problem for them in the coming years—so they traded Ryan to the Senators in the offseason.
So why am I talking about all this now? Because, without a guy like Emerson Etem on their squad, the Ducks might not have been comfortable dealing a talented young player like Bobby Ryan. The 21-year-old Long Beach, California, native played 38 games in the regular season and only recorded three goals and seven assists. However, in Anaheim's seven-game battle against the Wings in round one of the playoffs, he recorded three goals and two assists. If this year should be his coming out party, the Ducks will be in good shape.
6. Emerson Etem (Anaheim Ducks)
Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. The Predators selected him with the fourth overall pick in the draft and, fair or not, are expecting (or at least hoping) the 19-year-old will turn into the next Ryan Suter and play alongside Shea Weber for years to come. Obviously that's no sure thing, but at 6'4" and with tons of defensive tools, it's a definite possibility.
5. Seth Jones (Nashville Predators)
This 21-year-old made his long-awaited debut NHL last season when the NHL actually decided to play hockey games. How did he do? He just scored two goals on his first two shots in his very first game, a 6-0 blowout of the Red Wings. After that he continued to play like a future superstar until a concussion knocked him out of action for a month, and when he returned he was rusty and looked a lot more like a rookie. If he continues to progress this year, with his size, hands, and shooting ability, the Blues will be an extremely dangerous club.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)
Signed by Dallas as a college free agent in 2012, Montreal native Alex Chiasson made his NHL debut at the very end of last season and scored six goals in seven games. Small sample size? Sure. But so far this season he's got two goals in two games for the Stars, so he's certainly picked up right where he left off.
3. Alex Chiasson (Dallas Stars)
It's hard to say at the start of the season who the favorites to win the Calder Trophy (awarded to the NHL's top rookie) are. However, anybody with any sense would have to throw this 18-year-old's name in the hat. He was the number one pick in the draft this year and has all-world wheels and tons of creativity. Throw him in with the mix with other young Avalanche players—like 20-year-old captain Gabe Landeskong—and the Avalanche could be a very interesting team for the next several years.
2. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche)
The Oilers added to their impressive stockpile of ridiculously talented youngsters by drafting this Russian winger first overall in 2012. Then all he did in his lockout-shortened debut last year was post 17 goals and 14 assists in 48 games. Obviously, if the Oilers do ever become the juggernaut people have been predicting for years, their other young would-be superstars (Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hall) will have to step up. But Yakupov will certainly do his part, too.
1. Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers)
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