Blake’s Takes: Future Stars Edition

This week, we look to the future and shine a spotlight on a few emerging stars. Plus, another unloved team and a major milestone. 

1. Nikita Kucherov is Due for a Hart Trophy

[Photo Credit: NHL]
Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy last year as the leading scorer in the NHL. He was the league’s most consistent force, yet lost out on the Hart Trophy to Taylor Hall. Unlike the Art Ross Trophy, which is given to the league’s leader in points, the Hart Trophy is given to the player most valuable to his team. Value is what makes the Hart Trophy subjective. Hall won last year because he was one of the top players in the league and carried the Devils on his back to the playoffs. Players like Kucherov are often snubbed because they play alongside so many other stars and that can hurt them in the voting. Voters are more likely to vote for a player like Hall because it’s clear how valuable he was to his team. 

Kucherov will not be snubbed again this year. He has once again been the league’s best player. He is also the best player on the best team. The Lightning currently lead the league with 108 points, 15 more than the next closest team, the Boston Bruins. Kucherov has already passed his career high of 100 points and sits at 110, with 33 goals and 77 assists. That’s 13 more points than Patrick Kane, who is in second place with 97.

There is no one left to spoil Kucherov’s party. There is no player even close to matching Kucherov’s level of dominance and he should be able to walk to the Hart Trophy finish line. 

2. The Emergence of Another Olympic Star: Troy Terry

[Photo Credit: USA Hockey]
Last week, I wrote about Ryan Donato and how he has emerged since being traded to the Wild. Donato broke onto the scene after putting together a memorable performance in the 2018 Winter Olympics as one of the few NCAA players selected for the squad. One of the other college players on the team was Anaheim Ducks forward, Troy Terry. Terry was a key cog in the machine that helped the University of Denver win an NCAA National Championship in 2017.

Terry has only played in 22 games this year, but has figured it out as of late. In three games last week, he scored seven points and had back-to-back three-point games. Don’t let his 10 points this season deceive you; Terry is going to be a stud in the NHL. I am definitely excited to watch him down the stretch to see the next star in Anaheim.

3. Another Unloved Team: Colorado Avalanche

As we go deeper into the season, our crop of unloved teams will start trending towards teams that get plenty of love because I want to feature every team. This week’s semi-loved team is the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are a solid team. They are far better than being the worst team in the league that they were two years ago. They are not quite as good as they were last year when they made the playoffs. They are currently on the outside looking in on the playoff race. The Avs remain one of the four teams scratching and clawing for one of two Wild Card spots in the West. Dallas and Minnesota are currently holding down both spots with 75 and 74 points, respectively. Arizona remains one point behind Minnesota and one point ahead of Colorado with 73. And Colorado sits one point behind the Coyotes 72 points. With one month left in the season, the Avs have a real shot to sneak in the playoffs.

Colorado definitely has talent and boasts what is arguably the best forward line in the league with Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. MacKinnon has proved that he really is one of the best players in the NHL after he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy last year. He leads the team with 35 goals and 87 points. Rantanen made a name for himself last year after he more than doubled his point total from the year before. He was a force at the beginning of the year and looked like he was going to run away with the Hart Trophy. He has since cooled but is still 8th in the league in points. Landeskog rounds out the group and his having the best season of his career. He set a new career-high in goals with 33 goals and points with 69. Unfortunately, he might not play again this season as he is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury. The issue for the Avs is not their first line, but their next three. There just isn’t any depth behind their top three guys and that is the reason why they might miss the playoffs.

The story on defense is the same. They have two great defensemen in Tyson Barrie (7-40-47) and Erik Johnson (5-15-20). There just isn’t much depth.

On the bright side, this team is on the cusp. All of their top players are young and immensely talented. I truly believe that the Avalanche will soon start competing for championships. This year won’t be that year. You can’t win a Stanley Cup with one great line. You need a lot more depth and a few great role players to make that happen. But, you can’t win a Stanley Cup WITHOUT one great line. Colorado has that, and I have lofty expectations for this team in the future.

4. Welcome to the Show, Filip Zadina

[Photo Credit: NHL]
One of the few reasons for hope for the Detroit Red Wings this year was drafting Filip Zadina. Zadina was one of the best players in the QMJHL last year and was projected to be a top-five pick. He slipped to the Red Wings at six and everyone in Detroit was thrilled. Zadina has the makings to be a 40-goal scorer and superstar in the NHL — something Detroit needs badly.

Zadina scored his first goal against the Avalanche this week and added an assist against the Lighting. He has two points in six games but has shown flashes that have everyone excited. He hasn’t yet officially arrived in Detroit because they will send him back to Grand Rapids so he doesn’t burn the first year of his contract. But if this kid lives up to expectations, he could be the key to the rebuild in Detroit.

5. Congrats to Ryan Kesler on 1,000 Games Played

[Photo Credit: NHL]
This past Tuesday, Ryan Kesler played his 1,000th game in the NHL against the Arizona Coyotes. 1,000 games is obviously a major milestone in one’s NHL career. After reading a feature about him in Sports Illustrated, I have a new appreciation for what it takes to have that kind of longevity in the NHL. Kesler has been battling major injuries over the past two seasons and basically had to teach himself to walk again. I’ll let that article go more in-depth on what Kesler had to go through just to play in his 1,000th game.

I will say that Kesler has been one of my favorite players in the NHL since I watched him in the 2010 Olympics. He was a major contributor for the Americans and they needed him to win that Silver Medal. His big moment came when the US played Canada for the first of two matchups in the tournament. The US was up 4-3 with under a minute left. Canada had pulled their goalie and was desperately trying to tie the game. The puck was cleared and Corey Perry was chasing after it near the left circle. Kesler chased him down the entire way, dove, and hit the puck off Perry’s stick and into the net. It was the dagger and sealed the win for the Americans.

Kesler would go on to have a great career in Vancouver. He helped the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals while winning the Selke Trophy and scoring 40 goals. He has scored 250+ goals and 570+ points over his 1,000+ games in the NHL. Kesler is famous for his defensive prowess and shutting down his opponent’s best forward. Congrats to one of the grittiest players in the NHL on 1,000 games played. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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