With the long international nightmare that was the NHL lockout now over, it is time to get excited about the season to come. Helping to fuel that excitement is some anticipated improvement by key players, ones we can expect to take that big step forward in 2013.
I tried to limit my list to players who already have some NHL experience -- which eliminates uber-prospects Nail Yakupov and Mikael Granlund -- and skaters who haven't reached a level of stardom due to playing time or roster depth rather than being hampered solely by injury, so don't expect Taylor Hall, Brayden Schenn or Kris Letang on the list, either.
Of particular note is the star power among young blueliners in the NHL, which has culminated with 21-year-old Erik Karlsson winning the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman last season and Ryan Suter receiving a 13-year, $98 million contract as a 27-year-old. With that in mind, I believe the best of the below 10 breakout candidates will be 22-year-old defenseman John Carlson of the Washington Capitals.