This season’s 10 most impressive young NHL players

The NHL is loaded with talent right now.

The big name veterans like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are still playing at dominant levels (although Crosby has been out with an injury). There also is the talent in the prime of their careers, like Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, Jack Eichel and Nikita Kucherov. Then there is another level of future superstars who are just now starting to make names for themselves.

This is the group we are focusing on here, as we look at the 10 most impressive young players in the NHL this season.

These are players at age 22 or younger in their first or second year in the league. That means someone, like, say, second-year player Victor Olofsson is going to be left off because he is 24, just over our age range. So do not get mad, Buffalo fans. We are not overlooking him.

So here are the young players who have stood out the most this season.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche have become one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL this season thanks to a trio of All-Stars at forward, improved scoring depth and a young defense that is led by Makar, the current front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year. He made his NHL debut in the playoffs a year ago and also has made an immediate impact for the Avalanche. In his first full regular season, he is looking like an emerging superstar. He is averaging close to a point per game and is playing 20 minutes per night for the best team in the league.

2. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. He probably deserved to at least be a finalist for the Rookie of the Year Award but just narrowly missed out with a fourth-place finish. He should make up for that snub by winning a Norris Trophy at some point in his career, and it may not be that far off. He is 20 years old, in his second year in the league and logs the most minutes of any player on the best goal-prevention team in the NHL. He drives possession and is also one of the team’s leading scorers. He is a complete player.

3. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks.  The reigning NHL Rookie of the Year has become the cornerstone piece of the Canucks rebuild, and there is no sophomore slump happening here, as he has improved across the board. The offensive production is better, he is generating more shots on goal, and the Canucks control more than 57 percent of the shot attempts with him on the ice. He has become an all-around force in the NHL.

4. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He is a franchise-changing player for the Hurricanes. The No. 2 overall pick from 2018 had a great rookie season that saw him top the 20-goal mark (rare for an 18-year-old) and has come back in Year 2 even better. He is on track for 30 goals as a 19-year-old. Only five other players (Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine) have done that over the past 15 years. The Hurricanes have lacked an elite go-to scorer up front who could take over a game, and now they finally have a couple of them in Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen.

5. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have had a Calder Trophy finalist in each of the past two seasons (Brock Boeser and Pettersson), and Hughes might be next. His arrival in Vancouver is significant because he fills a huge void on the blue line as a top-pairing defender. The Canucks deserve a lot of credit for getting him, Boester, and Pettersson as centerpieces of their rebuild without ever having the luxury of a draft pick higher than fifth overall. Not only are all three among the best young players in the league, but they also are exciting to watch and they play an entertaining brand of hockey.

6. Filip Hronek, Detroit Red Wings. Hronek is one of the few bright spots on what is turning out to be a historically bad Red Wings team. He is off to a great start offensively and is one of the few players on the team who is able to help push the pace of play. The Red Wings are a long way from contending, but they do have some interesting young players who could be a part of the next playoff team in Detroit. Hronek is part of that group.

7. Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators.  The youngest of the NHL’s Tkachuk brothers, Brady may not have the same upside as Matthew, but he is still on his way to becoming a key building block for the rebuilding Senators. His combination of goal scoring and the ability to anger every opponent in the league is going to make him the type of player you hate when he does not play for your team and love when he does.

8. Adam Fox, New York Rangers.  The Rangers have a lot of new faces on the roster this season, including a couple of promising young rookies. Fox is one of them (No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko is the other significant one), and he has probably been the most impressive young player on the roster. The Rangers acquired his rights from the Carolina Hurricanes before the season and acted quickly to get him signed. He now looks to be the future of their blue line, and his career is off to a strong start. He has provided an offensive spark from the Rangers blue line and, if we are looking at things objectively, has probably outplayed the team’s big-name veteran defense addition from the offseason, Jacob Trouba.

9. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins.   He should probably be getting more attention for the rookie season he is having. The Penguins acquired Marino’s rights from the Edmonton Oilers in an under-the-radar trade over the summer for the low cost of a sixth-round draft pick. He has stepped right into their lineup to help them become one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. He has played big minutes and has spent a lot of time on the top defensive pairing when needed due to injuries, never looking out of place.

10. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils.  His rookie season has had some growing pains, but that is to be expected for an 18-year-old. Not every No. 1 overall pick is going to enter the league and immediately play like a superstar. It took him six games to record his first point, but once he found the score sheet he tallied 12 points in 23 games, which would be a respectable 45-point pace over 82 games. Only 22 players have ever recorded that many points at the age of 18, so keep your expectations for a player this young reasonable. Every once in a while you see flashes of brilliance from him, especially as he gains confidence. It is not hard to see why he was the top pick in the draft and why the Devils wanted to make him one of the centerpieces of their rebuild alongside Nico Hischier.

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