Hockey pool heroes: These five players are the next NHL stars

Canada

Members of the Carolina Hurricanes organization go out of their way to not heap the heavy burden of high expectations on 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov.

No one uses numbers to predict what the teenage winger could do this season.

But if Svechnikov nets 30 or more goals, no one within the organization could honestly say, “We didn’t see that coming.” The general impression of Svechnikov is that he works too hard not to have a dominant 2019-20 season.

“Every NHL player is committed,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. “But his commitment is off the charts.”

Waddell said Svechnikov might be the “most dedicated young player I’ve ever seen.”

The Hurricanes have a spot near their dressing room where players can work on their shot. Waddell estimates that Svechnikov spends an hour to two hours every day honing that aspect of his game. He might spend more time there than any other player.

“He lives in the rink,” Waddell said.

Svechnikov scored 20 goals (on 189 shots) last season, and none came on the power play. During that rookie season, Svechnikov played fewer than 15 minutes on most nights. This season, he likely will get top-line minutes and be a fixture on the power play. Given his speed, six-foot-two frame, work ethic and the heaviness and accuracy of his shot, projecting him for 30 goals seems reasonable.

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Here are the others in our top 5 breakthrough candidates for this season:

  • Brady Tkachuk, left wing, Ottawa: It wouldn’t be shocking to see Tkachuk flirt with 30 goals. Many in the hockey world have opined that he is the most talented of the Tkachuk hockey family. That’s saying something when you consider that his father scored 538 goals in the NHL and his brother, Matthew, is an established force.
  • Miro Heiskanen, defence, Dallas: Think of him as a Finnish version of a young Nicklas Lidstrom: smooth, poised and skilled. At 20, Heiskanen is almost indispensable. He is central to the Stars’ defensive coverage and offensive attack. His 33 points from last season could grow to 50 this season.
  • Samuel Girard, defence, Colorado: The Avalanche’s decision to give Girard a seven-year deal speaks to the confidence they have in his potential. He has quietly used his skating and instincts to become one of the more dangerous young, puck-moving defencemen. His offensive touch will continue to mature. He could go from 27 points last season to 45-plus points now.
  • Carter Hart, goal, Philadelphia: He’s only 21, but Hart has the talent to carry the Flyers. Because goalies need NHL game experience, it could be a couple of seasons before Hart is at his best. But it’s not unthinkable that the second-year goalie could play well enough this season to keep the Flyers in the playoff picture. Hart, who had a .917 save percentage in 31 games last year, is the team’s most exciting goalie since Ron Hextall.

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