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Five NHL Players Who Could Surprise in 2012-13

Nail Yakupov scored a sensational goal to tie last Thursday’s game with the Los Angeles Kings. There were only 4.7 seconds left to play when he batted a puck out of the air past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to send the game into overtime.

It was an outstanding play that led to an Edmonton Oilers victory when Sam Gagner scored the winner at 3:01 of OT.

However, the people around the NHL who believe our game should be as regulated and dull as the NFL’s game, talked not about Yakupov’s brilliant play, but about his goal celebration.

OK, the goal celebration was wonderful (see it here) and maybe even a little much, but Yakuopov’s incredible skill is even more remarkable. The NHL’s No. 1 draft pick out of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, Yakupov is the type of player who can turn around a franchise. He has hands, speed and heart and playing alongside young stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz, he could make the Oilers one of the most exciting young teams in hockey history.

Huh?

In fact, just about every scout in the game believes this young group of Oilers stars will all have breakout seasons in 2013 and will probably get Edmonton back into the playoff hunt during the lockout- shortened campaign.

But the young Oilers aren’t the only players expected to make their marks in 2013. How about Alex Galchenyuk?

His dad was one of the greatest players in the history of Belarussian hockey. Old Alexander played in four world championships and eventually earned a spot with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL.
Son, Alexander, was considered by many to be the most complete player available in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and was taken third overall by the Habs. Born in Milwaukee, he most recently played for the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championship and was outstanding.
He already has a goal this season despite averaging only about 12 minutes a game. This might not be his actual breakout season, but he could battle his old junior teammate in Sarnia, Yakupov for the Calder Trophy.

Other young players such as Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida, Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis, goalie Anders Lindback in Tampa and centre Sven Baertschi in Calgary are all expected to have an impact on their respective teams this seasons.

However, to be fair, they are all part of a large group of young players who have not only cracked NHL lineups this season, but are all guys you might or might not want to take a shot at in your fantasy draft this year.

In the meantime, let’s look at five young players we know will be NHLers in 2012-13. Five players – one defensemen and four forwards — who will get a chance to play, and if they make the best of it, could have the seasons of their lives.

Here are five young stars that could have breakout seasons (in no particular order):

Mikael Granlund

Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota Wild: I’ve seen this guy play three times this season and he’s a keeper. 
In fact, there are a number of scouts who believe Granlund could be an immediate NHL all-star. He was the leading scorer for HFK Helsinki as a 19-year-old last season and represented Finland in the 2012 IIHF World Championship and World Junior Championship tournaments. He scored 20 goals with 31 assists and was plus-20 with 18 penalty minutes in 45 regular season games and was minus-two with 2 assists in four playoff games for HIFK. The Wild have been after a second-line centre for a number of years and Granlund seems to be the answer. He’s a remarkable puckhandler and playmaker who can skate and score. He’s a little undersized at 5-foot-1, 170 pounds, but he’s quick and skilled and he turns 21 in February. There is a lot of upside here.

Evander Kane, LW, Winnipeg Jets: We had Kane on this list last year and he had a great season. He had 30 goals and 57 points in 74 games. Trouble is, we erred. As good as he was last year, it was not his breakout year. This will be his breakout year and while the numbers won’t suggest it because it’s only a 48-goal season, Kane will become one of the NHL’s top players this season. Guaranteed. He already has two goals and four points in the first four games and he gets better with every shift. At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, he not only can handle the rough going, he can dish it out. “Playing in a Canadian market and playing in front of these fans every night definitely makes it fun to come to the rink,” he said recently. “I really enjoy playing in the MTS Centre and with this group of guys.” Despite his critics, Kane loves where he plays, plays hard every night and is going to be one of the NHL’s most feared players – this season.

Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins: There were some Bruins fans that weren’t sure that the young, not-yet-filled-out Hamilton was ready to be an NHL defensemen. He’s 6-foot-5, 195 pounds and was selected ninth overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft, but he’s only 19 and the Bruins have plenty of good defensemen. However, head coach Claude Julian at camp and then, in Game 2, paired him on defense with Zdeno Chara. With Chara at 6-foot-9 and Hamilton at 6-foot-5, these two “Roman columns” on the backline instantly made the Bruins a more formidable opponent than they already were. “Anybody who watched the game (Wednesday night) had to see that this guy was outstanding,” Julien told reporters. “Not good, outstanding. He was so poised and confident, and if anybody thinks he can’t play in this league, they should take some time and watch this game.” Yeah, he’s ready and he’s going to be great.

Kyle Clifford, LW, Los Angeles Kings: This 22-year-old winger is entering his third full year in the NHL and this could be a huge season for him. He already owns a Stanley Cup ring after playing 81 games last year and while he became a bit of a forgotten man in the playoffs, he’s back with a vengeance and is currently the team’s leading scorer with a goal and four assists. A second round selection (35th overall) in 2009, he made the Kings in 2010 and had 12 goals in 157 games heading into this season. The 6-foot-2, 208-pounder was never a big goal-scorer, but he’s always been a solid playmaker and with an average of 10 minutes a game so far, he’s starting to get some ice time and he’s making it count.

Kyle Palmieri, RW, Anaheim Ducks: It will be a big first 10 games for one of the stars of the Ducks farm system. The 26th pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Palmieri has been the star of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch for the past two seasons. He has 109 points over two years and earned a spot on this year’s Ducks team where he’s averaging about 14 minutes a game playing on the right side. A natural centre, he already has a goal and an assist in four games and appears to be a guy who will bounce between the second and third lines this year. He’s only played 32 NHL games since 2010, but this appears to be the year he’s going to get his shot.

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