When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals open their 2010-11 schedules, their respective captains, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, will be starting their sixth NHL seasons.
Their climbs to superstar status didn't take very long, but they were the start of what has become a remarkable youth movement in the NHL.
Now another class of players is about to enter some rarified air. Taking the lead are the three most-recent No. 1 draft picks.
The top choice of the 2008 Entry Draft, Steven Stamkos
, already has one foot into the realm of the rising superstar -- if he isn't there already -- thanks to his 51-goal outburst last season, his second in the League. It tied the Tampa Bay Lightning center with Crosby for the League lead, and his 24 power-play goals gave him that title alone.
The Islanders are hoping for a similar leap from 2009 top pick John Tavares. Tavares tied for the rookie lead with 24 goals, and his 54 points was second, and led the club.
Taylor Hall, the first player picked at the 2010 Entry Draft, is being counted on for a top-six forward presence, and is one of three rookies the Oilers are counting on this season to be the cornerstones of their future. Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have had outstanding preseasons -- including a hat trick for Paajarvi in his first game -- which portends for good things.
In Washington and Los Angeles, those teams are pegging their Stanley Cup hopes on some young goaltenders. The Capitals will start the season with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, a pair of 22-year-olds taken 11 spots apart in the 2006 Entry Draft. Varlamov is fighting an injury now, but coach Bruce Boudreau has said it's possible each goalie plays 41 games.
The Kings are looking for big things from Jonathan Bernier, the 11th pick of the 2006 draft. After spending three seasons developing in the AHL, the club hopes he's ready to serve as a backup to Jonathan Quick, who emerged as a capable playoff goaltender at just 24.
The Stars have a pair of young forwards they're expecting to take the next step in Loui Eriksson and James Neal. In the last two seasons, Eriksson, 25, has 65 goals and 134 points while playing every game. Neal, just 23, had 27 goals and 55 points last season after posting 24 goals and 37 points as a rookie in 2008-09.
In Atlanta, they're hoping forward left wing Evander Kane, the youngest full-time NHL player last season, can build on the 14 goals he had as a rookie. And Zach Bogosian, the third pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, is on his way to success. He had 10 goals and played more than 21 minutes per game for the Thrashers.
Of course, that's only a small sample of some of the NHL's rising stars. For more, check out the EA Sports NHL 11 Season Preview show here on NHL.com.Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer