Who will be the next Steven Stamkos?
The Tampa Bay Lightning sniper wasn’t always the NHL's top gun. Four years ago he was coming off a rookie season that saw him total 23 goals and 46 points after being taken with the first pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. Those were nice numbers, but nowhere near good enough to make him even a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
One season later, however, Stamkos was the toast of Tampa Bay after scoring a League-high 51 goals in his breakout season. He's gone on to score more goals the past five seasons than anyone in the NHL.
Here are seven candidates for a breakout season (if not a Stamkos-like one) in 2013-14:
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers: Like Stamkos, Yakupov was the first player taken in his draft year; the Edmonton Oilers selected him with the No. 1 pick in 2012. And like Stamkos, he had his ups and downs as a rookie. But the 19-year-old Russian ended on a positive note, with a hat trick in Edmonton's season finale against the Vancouver Canucks. He finished his first season with 17 goals, tops among rookies, and 31 points, tying Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau for the lead among first-year players.
With an NHL season under his belt, including a season of physical and mental maturity, plus an improving team around him, Yakupov probably is the best bet of any player to see a major bump in his offensive numbers this season.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: It's hard to have a better start to your NHL career than Tarasenko, who scored on the first two shots he took in his first NHL game for the St. Louis Blues. He scored again in his second and fourth games, but managed just four more goals in his final 34 games -- and never was the same after a midseason concussion that kept him out for 10 games. The Blues have told him he needs to be in better shape when he comes to training camp because they expect him to play an important role. There's no question he has the skill to become the top-level scorer the Blues need to get to the next level.
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens: It only seems like the Canadiens have been looking for a big, talented center since Jean Beliveau retired. Galchenyuk, taken by Montreal with the third pick in the 2012 draft, looks like he could fill the bill. The 19-year-old had a more-than-acceptable rookie season, finishing with nine goals, 27 points and a plus-14 rating despite averaging 12:19 of ice time -- easily the lowest total of anyone with 25 or more points. With the likelihood of increased ice time in better situations, Galchenyuk could double his points total this season.
Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks surrendered four-time 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on July 5. The key player in the package they received in return was Silfverberg, a 22-year-old Swedish right wing who had 10 goals and 19 points in 48 games for the Senators last season, his first in North America. Silfverberg was a dominant scorer in Sweden and showed more than enough offensive skill in Ottawa to indicate that he can be a top-six forward with the Ducks.
Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins: As they do with most of their young players, the Bruins have been extremely patient with Hamilton, the ninth player taken in the 2011 draft. They left him in junior hockey for a season after drafting him, and then worked him into the lineup last season -- he averaged 17:07 of ice time in the 42 regular-season games he played, and he responded with five goals and 16 points. However, he was a healthy scratch for 15 of Boston's 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Now, with Andrew Ference gone to the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent, there's a top-four spot on defense available for Hamilton, and he showed during his limited time last season that he has the skills to fill that role.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings: Voynov may be on the cusp of stardom as he enters his third NHL season. After putting up eight goals and 20 points as a rookie in 2011-12, he scored six times and finished with 25 points in 48 games last season while seeing his average ice time grow to 22:18 per game. Voynov has flown under the radar on a team with stars like Anze Kopitar up front and Drew Doughty on defense; that's not likely to be the case for much longer.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: It has taken a few years, but Bishop finally may have a team he can call his own. The 6-foot-7 goaltender was lost in the shuffle in St. Louis and stuck behind Craig Anderson with the Ottawa Senators; he got his first extended chance to start after the Lightning acquired him in early April. Bishop’s 3-4-1 record and 2.99 goals-against average weren't great, but his .917 save percentage and 33.6 shots-faced per game indicate he wasn’t getting a lot of help. He could have the inside track for the starting job after getting a two-year contract extension not long after being acquired, but will be competing with Anders Lindback for playing time. If Bishop wins the competition, he could give the Lightning the goaltending they've been looking for since Dwayne Roloson led them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2011.