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Hockey’s New Breed

We’re only a handful of games into the 2013 lockout-shortened National Hockey League season and yet the names at the top of the league’s scoring list are quite familiar.

In fact, with the possible exception of San Jose’s Joe Pavelski – who is a very good scorer – the names are the same names we’ve read for a few years now. Patrick Marleau, 33, and Joe Thornton, 33, from the red-hot Sharks No. 1 line; Martin St. Louis, 37, and Steven Stamkos, 22, from the Tampa Bay Lightning; Zach Parise, 28, Thomas Vanek, 29, Patrick Kane, 24, Marian Hossa, 34, and Marian Gaborik, 30.

With Pavelski, 28, at No. 5, there’s your Top 10.

These are not young guys. OK, Stamkos is 22 and Kane is 24, but this is Stamkos’ fifth year in the league and Kane’s sixth. You could sort of call them veterans.

And, when you consider that five of the Top 10 is over 30 and four of them are 33 or older, it’s as if the old guard still claims most red lights in the NHL.

However, as you look down the list of early-season scoring leaders, you see some names that are unfamiliar. At least, they are unfamiliar when it comes to the list of Top 20 scorers in the NHL.

How about 21-year-old rookie Vladimir Tarasenko? Do you know 23-year-old rookie Cory Conacher? And while most hockey fans are aware of 2010 No. 1 draft pick Taylor Hall, this is the first – but probably not the last – time we’ve seen him in the Top 15 in scoring.

Let’s be brutally honest, hockey pundits (at least, the ones who aren’t going on relentlessly about the Toronto Maple Leafs), fans and fantasy players, spend most of their time focused on the game’s big names: Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Kane, St. Louis, Brad Richards, Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, the Sedin Twins, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley etc., etc.

And while Crosby, 25, Stamkos, 22, Patrick Kane, 24, and Toews, 24, are among hockey’s great young players, they are simply the leaders of a new group poised to take over the game.

These are the young guns, the players, born in 1989 or later, who play tough, gritty hockey every night, score some goals, make plays and generally show up on the score sheet without getting a whole lot of recognition outside of their own markets (Canada excepted).
No that we’re a couple of weeks into the start of a new season, let’s take a minute to honor those players, the members of hockey’s new breed and the guys that fantasy players don’t spend a lot of time talking about, but couldn’t win a pool without.
And here’s a guarantee: By the start of the 2013-14 season, these will be the players that fantasy winners will all be selecting, every season, with their top draft picks.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave Crosby, Stamkos, Patrick Kane, and Toews to the masses. They already know about those guys anyway. However, for those hockey fans who are either simply following the game or are playing in keeper pools this season, here’s a look at the next batch of big stars about to take their rightful places on the NHL marquee.

The NHL’s 10 “Next Great Scorers.”

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers: He’s a 20-year-old first round draft pick (22nd overall) who as emerged as one of the NHL’s premier players. Last season, his second in the NHL, he had 34 goals and 42 assists and then went on to play for Canada at the World Championship. He’s a great skater with a nice touch that isn’t afraid to go the dirty parts of the rink. This season he has three goals and three assists in his first five games and will probably finish in the Top 20 in scoring.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: is this the year? We think so. There has never been any concern about Kadri’s ability to score, but in the NHL, most coaches believe in defense first so Kadri has been riding pine or playing with the Marlies since he joined the Leafs organization in 2009. A first-round draft pick, seventh overall in 2009, the 6-foot, 188-pounder has had to learn to play at the NHL level. Apparently he’s done that and Leafs coach Randy Carlyle is giving him a shot. He had three goals and three assists in his first six games this season and has earned a spot among the Leafs top forwards. This looks like the year.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Rockies: Duchene is only “obscure” because he plays in Denver and doesn’t get a lot of TV exposure in Canada. After all: Who was the No. 29 scorer in the National Hockey League in 2010-11? Yep, Matt Duchene. Last year, injuries held him to only 58 games and he finished with 14 goals and 14 assists but this year he’s healthy and is scoring at a point-a-game clip. The third overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft has arrived on the scene and announced his presence with authority. As a rookie in 2009-10, Duchene had 24 goals and 31 assists. In his second year, the 23-year-old, 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from Haliburton, Ont., had 27 goals and 40 assists. He’s a big time player and if he stays healthy will be among the top scorers in the game.

Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s hard not to like this guy. An undrafted free agent out of Canisius College in New York, he’s only 5-foot-8, 179 pounds but he sure has impressed the Lightning. In his first six NHL games, he has jumped into seventh spot in scoring in the NHL. He’s 23 (a December ’89 birthday) and spent last year with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL where he had 39 goals and 41 assists in 75 games. This is small player who, unexpectedly, found his game. If he keeps up his current pace, he’ll beat out the likes of Galchenyuk, Gallagher and Yakupov for the Calder Trophy.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Another former first-round pick (ninth overall in 2007), Couture just turned 24 (January ’89) and is also another former under-18 Team Canada member. Last season he scored 31 goals (14th overall) and dished out 34 assists and recorded his second straight 30-goal season and yet there are still people who ignore him because, well, he plays in San Jose. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Guelph is already one of the game’s best players. He was a finalist for the 2011 Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year and is now a legitimate threat to be a Top 10 scorer.

Logan Couture

Logan Couture

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers: Last season, he took the first big step. This year, much is expected. Six games into the season, Hall is 13th in scoring with a goal and seven assists. He plays with Jordan Eberle on the team’s top line and is another reason why the Oilers could be a real threat in the lockout-shortened season. Last year, in an injury-plagued season, Hall had 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games. This year, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft could become a dominant NHL player. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he certainly has the size to get the job done in the dirty parts of the rink.

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets: The “other” Kane is off to a great start. Last season, he started out in the doghouse of head coach Claude Noel and developed into one of the best players in the league, big at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, when he flies down left wing, drops his knee and cuts to the middle, he looks just like Bobby Hull. Another former first round pick, Kane had 30 goals and 27 assists last year. This is a kid who has already played in the World Junior and the World Senior Championships for Team Canada and at 21, he’s starting to put up some impressive numbers. After this year, he will be considered as important an NHL player as the “other” Kane.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators: The third overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft by the Coyotes, it feels like Turris has been around forever. In fact, he’s only 23 (August 1989) and yet he played his first NHL game in 2008 with Phoenix after starring for Canada at the 2007 and 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship. Last year, he had his best year in the NHL after being dealt by Phoenix to Ottawa. Now, in Ottawa, he’s one of the team’s most dangerous forwards and has four goals and three assists through his team’s first seven games. If this guy stays healthy and continues to improve defensively, he could be one of the top scorers in the game.

Kyle Turris

Kyle Turris

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: After the 2010-11 season, Skinner was the next big thing. He had 31 goals and 32 assists in his rookie year and won the Calder Trophy. This 5-foot-11, 200-pound forward who was taken seventh overall in 2010 was on his way to the top. Then, as the NHL often does, it gave him a swift kick back to reality. In only 64 games last season, he had 20 goals and 44 points and was a minus-eight. He dropped off the radar of a lot of fantasy players. But now, as the 2013 lockout season arrives, Skinner is healthy again and apparently ready to get back to where he started from, as they say. He has five goals in his first games and is playing on the ‘Canes top line. He’s second in the league in goals and looks like he’s at his best.

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers: Another of Edmonton’s young superstars, Gagner is just coming into his own. Like Turris, he’s another guy who has been around “forever,” and while he’s played regularly since he was the No. 1 draft pick of the Oilers in 2007 (sixth selection overall), he’s never scored more than 18 goals or more than 49 points in a single season. This year, however, that could change. He’s off to a great start and has been logging 16-20 minutes a game. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound rightwinger already has two goals and five assists and is one of the leaders on the young, exciting Oilers. And he’s still only 23 (August 1989)

Sam Gagner

Sam Gagner

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