The Best Young Core in the League - Third Heat

Justin K. Aller

Do you prefer a few elite talents or excellent depth?

Although the voting isn't quite closed, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens are probably going to win the second heat in order and join the Edmonton Oilers--who were absolutely dominant in the first heat--in the finals. Today, we'll establish our next finalist as two challengers take on the seeded Tampa Bay Lightning (Lazy Blogging Community, Raw Charge, has just started their first edition, which means I had to do the work even though they'll have rankings done themselves... what a bunch of jerks): the Florida Panthers (Lazy Blogging Community) and the Ottawa Senators (Silver Seven Sens). This post will also include the Boston Bruins (Stanley Cup of Chowder), but their group of young players is terrible compared to everybody else.

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I've once again highlighted the player that I like the best in each group, and as you can see by the highlighting, there are three teams with a chance (any votes for Boston will serve as a reminder that democracy isn't perfect).

Why should Tampa Bay win? I picked them to win the heat because I think the top end is just too good. Stamkos and Hedman are already excellent players, and I think Drouin is going to be fantastic (I'd have had him at #1 for the Panthers or Bruins). The drop-off is pretty steep after that but Tyler Johnson was the AHL's MVP last season, and it's quite possible that one of the four defensemen pushes into a top four role, especially given the age and quality of Tampa's blue at the NHL level today (I've got The Radko Gudas first in the group since he's probably going to make the team out of camp). Still, the Lightning are all about the top three.

Why Should Florida win? Quality and depth. It seems much more likely than usual that all ten players listed will be players in the NHL. Not the ten games and out kind, the actual NHL player kind. And even if the top end isn't as good as Tampa's, it's still pretty darn good: Jonathan Huberdeau just won the Calder Trophy, Aleksander Barkov projects to be a top-line center, Jacob Markstrom is on the verge of becoming a starting goaltender, and the two defenders in the top five may well end up being half of Florida's top four for a decade. The combination of high-end talent and excellent depth is pretty compelling.

Why Should Ottawa win? I think they're pretty clearly third here, mostly because I don't think they have the same quality as the other two contenders second through fourth. But if you believe that Kyle Turris, Robin Lehner, and Mika Zibanejad are going to become stars in the NHL, the Senators have an excellent #1 and have the depth to challenge Florida in slots 5-10.

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