Who are the most unnoticed young stars in the NHL?

Jamie Benn is one of the most under-hyped youngsters in the NHL today. (AtoZedPhoto/Flickr)

Jeff Blay: In this segment of Two For Roughing, we will be looking at some of the most underrated youngsters currently playing in the NHL. We’re all aware of the seasons Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall are having, but there’s plenty more pristine crop throughout the league that has been playing exceptional hockey for their respective clubs. We’ll start with a name that is becoming more popular and starting to gain the proper recognition – Dallas Stars’ forward Jamie Benn. In his third NHL season, Benn has emerged as one of the Stars top performers, currently tied for second with Mike Ribeiro in team scoring with 52 points. As previously mentioned, Benn is starting to create some hype in the media, but he’s still overshadowed compared to some of the other young guns. With 19 goals, 33 assists and a plus-16 rating, Benn is not only an effective power forward who can play well at wing and centre, but his defensive play is also superb. Not to mention, for a rather husky player taken in the fifth round in 2007, Benn has quite the pair of hands on him with the hockey sense to match. Search Benn on YouTube and you’ll find countless highlight-reel goals. At 22, Benn still has a plentiful career ahead of him and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is eventually thrown into the mix with some of the league’s superstars.

Tim Kolupanowich: Benn isn’t even the most talked about young player on his own team; Loui Eriksson gets a lot of publicity down in Dallas as one of the top young guns in the league, despite being in his sixth year already. However, it was Benn that got the call to head to Ottawa for the All-Star Game this year, so he isn’t going entirely unnoticed. But you’re right, Benn has a little bit of everything and even an appendectomy in mid-January couldn’t slow him down. Another young power forward who isn’t garnering enough is Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. He not only leads them with 26 goals and six power play markers, but he plays with an edge and has quickly become one of the most popular players in Winnipeg due to his fantastic all-around game. The scary thing is, he’s still only 20 and already in his third full season, so by the time he really matures and gets his game to its highest level, he is going to be scary good.

JB: You said it… Kane is another player who has the whole package – offensive prowess, defensive responsibility, can hit like a truck and occasionally throw a mean punch (we all remember his fight against veteran Matt Cooke back in 2010). Currently second on the team in points, Kane has already trumped his previous totals and is on pace for a 32-goal, 57-point season. There’s no doubt Kane is a major reason why the Jets are currently knocking on the door of the post-season. I would be remised if I didn’t give the proper recognition to the next young defensive stud, who happens to be situated in a quiet market (both fan and media-wise). Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 20, has played exceptionally well on the blue line in his sophomore year. After being juggled between Phoenix and San Antonio last season, only playing a total of 48 games with the Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson has stepped into a full-time role with the big club and has become a prominent two-way defender. His eight goals and 24 points (six points coming on the power play) place him second to Keith Yandle among Yotes’ defensive point producers. He’s fourth on the team in hits (120), third in blocked shots (73) and second to Yandle in time on ice, registering an average of 21:33 minutes per game. Hardly mentioned in discussions about young quality defenseman this year, Ekman-Larsson has definitely earned the credit. He has the potential to emerge as an offensive juggernaut and top-two defenseman in years to come.

TK: Ekman-Larsson has emerged as a threat and is combining with Yandle to form the best defensive combo the team has seen since Teppo Numminen and Oleg Tverdovsky patrolled the blueline when they first moved to the desert. At his age, to be playing as much and as well as he is at arguably the hardest position to master, that’s something very special. Philadelphia has dealt with numerous injuries this season, causing many young guys to step up and play a big role. Sean Couturier came in with a lot of hype as the eighth overall pick last summer, but it is an undrafted free agent signee that has had the biggest impact. Matt Read lead Bemidji State University in scoring in three of his four years, but no one took a chance on him until he was signed as a free agent by Philadelphia a year ago. A lot of talk for the Calder Trophy is between New Jersey’s Adam Henrique and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, but Read is right there with them. He’s tied for the rookie lead with 18 goals, is fourth with 38 points and is the only rookie with both a power play and shorthanded goal showing off his versatility. His blazing speed and hockey smarts have earned him the trust of coach Peter Laviolette who plays Read over 2:30 per game on both special teams. Only veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen can also say that on the Flyers. Just like Ekman-Larsson, he is going to be a big two-way threat for a long time.

JB: All players we’ve discussed touched on are currently on playoff-bound teams, so it will be interesting to see how this group of youngsters responds to the post-season pressures. Not Benn, Ekman-Larsson, Kane or Read has experienced playing in an NHL playoff game, but I have a sneaking suspicion the aforementioned won’t have a problem adjusting. We saw the surprising performance of Los Angeles Kings rookie Kyle Clifford in last year’s series against San Jose, counterpart Logan Couture’s solid play for the Sharks, and both Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand’s key roles with the Cup-winning Boston Bruins. We’ll just have to wait and see who stands out this year.

That concludes the third segment of Two For Roughing. Stay tuned for more discussions next week!
What underrated youngster do you think we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.
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