Commentary

The next wave of young talent

Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog lead most likely Top 25 Under 25 additions

Updated: October 10, 2012, 2:38 PM ET
By Grant Sonier | ESPN Insider
Ryan Nugent-HopkinsFinlay MackayRyan Nugent-Hopkins should join the ranks of the NHL's young elite players.

As you can gather from the outcries stemming from the perceived snubs in Neil Greenberg's Top 25 Under 25 rankings, there is no shortage of young talent in the NHL. And there's more on the way.

Due to Greenberg's criteria, his list omits players who do not have a proven NHL track record of success, which he sets around two seasons. But based on the early returns from several top rookies in 2011-12, we can already see a new crop of stars ready to take their place on the list in a year's time. And they're not alone.

There are a number of players already playing in the NHL or about to step into the league who I can see someday cracking the Top 25 Under 25 list -- some even with the potential to join the elite company at the top. Below you'll find my top 20 candidates most likely to join a future installment of the rankings -- as well as my assessment of their ceiling for future editions of the rankings -- but you should know that my method of evaluation differs slightly from Greenberg's.

While he focuses mainly on NHL production using a variety of standard and advanced statistics, the list below focuses on my projection of a player's NHL potential based on my 14 years of experience as a coach and an NHL scout. That said, I do factor in Greenberg's timeline, as well. Players closer to the age of 25 have less time to make the cut and that plays a role in my list. If you're a 23-year-old with only one high-caliber season under your belt, you're less likely to prove yourself to be elite in one do-or-die season than, say, a 19-year-old recent top draft pick. That's why I've added a note on each player's U-25 ceiling, as well.

But even with that explanation I'm confident there will be disagreements on my assessments. So, without further delay, let's dive into the list of most likely future additions to the Top 25 Under 25.

Note: Ages listed are as of Feb. 1, 2013.

1. C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Edmonton Oilers (NHL), 19 years old
U-25 Ceiling: Top 5

After a rookie campaign that proved his No. 1 overall draft status was legit in 2011, this slick, skilled, puck-moving forward someday could top the list as the best under 25 player in the league. With 52 points in 62 games (limited by a shoulder injury), this is just the beginning for the Canadian center. His dimensional vision and passing makes others better around him. He could be No. 1 on the U-25 list in time, and potentially very soon.


2. LW Gabriel Landeskog

Colorado Avalanche (NHL), 20 years old
U-25 Ceiling: Top 5

The Calder Trophy could be just the first of Landeskog's NHL awards. Already named the captain of the club, this Swedish-born winger seems destined to lead Colorado back into the postseason with his power, grit and skill. He is going to make everyone around him better due to his pro attitude and on-ice work ethic. His pedigree is great and he just keeps adding to his accolades. No reason to believe he won't continue that trend.


3. C/RW Evgeny Kuznetsov

Washington Capitals (Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL), 20 years old
U-25 Ceiling: No. 5 - 10

There is little doubt about this player's skill and offensive output. Averaging more than a point a game in the KHL again this season, I believe he will be an instant top player when he decides to come to the NHL. The only factor that could keep him off the Top 25 Under 25 list would be if he somehow waits until he is 25 to cross the ocean. He's definitely the top player not yet in the NHL.