Finding a player to anchor a franchise for the years to come is arguably the toughest task for a General Manager to complete during any given tenure. Given the nature of pro sport, finding that player, a player a team can hitch their wagon upon and ride to the promised land, takes more than securing a high draft pick and having a bit of luck along the way.
Imagine, then, the monumental task of building a dynamic duo, a two-piece cornerstone that will decide the fate of an organization for the foreseeable future, one that can lead to sustained competitiveness in a parity-driven league, and, should fate have it, multiple championship runs along the way.
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (or any number of names alongside The Great One). Lemieux and Jagr. Crosby and Malkin. Toews and Kane. Each generation has seen its fair share of legendary duos, Hall of Fame talents that have altered the history of their franchises and the sport during their illustrious careers, careers forever linked to that of their partner in crime - for better or for worse.
It's hard to imagine that the NHL will ever be able to continue produce those types of tag-teams that we've seen over the past hundred years, but one can make the argument that hockey is about to enter a golden age of young talent. A notable amount of that youth is already making its mark on the league and some happen to suit up for the same team - some even skate on the same lines.
Take a look into the future of the dynamic duo as we countdown the top fifteen pairs to keep an eye on in the coming years.
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15 Clayton Keller & Dylan Strome - Arizona Coyotes
The majority of the players on this list already have a taste of the National Hockey League or have already established themselves – at the very least – as the next generation of stars. As a bonus, we’ve thrown in a “futures” entry to make the process a little more difficult.
It wasn’t easy to narrow it down to one duo, but all signs point to Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome (should they both end up suiting up for the Coyotes) as the next dynamic duo to grace the league.
Keller hasn’t made it to the NHL yet and Dylan Strome got a sip (not even the whole cup of coffee) in the league, so we’re projecting based on potential.
Strome might be the more familiar name for most, as he played alongside a certain Connor McDavid for the Erie Otters during McDavid’s reign of terror in the Ontario Hockey League. Keller’s star shone brightest in the lead up to this summer’s draft, as his play with the U.S. national development program was thrust into the spotlight by draft pundits around the league.
The Coyotes already have a potential dynamic duo on their roster (more on them in a moment), but this duo might be the one that truly carries Arizona back to relevancy in the next few years.
14 Anthony Duclair and Max Domi - Arizona Coyotes
The duo of Anthony Duclair and Max Domi is one of the few on this list that doesn’t include two players that were drafted by the same franchise. Domi, son of former Leafs super-pest Tie Domi, was taken 12th overall by the Coyotes back in 2013 and while he’s shown the ability to drop the gloves and get under opponents skin, this generation of Domi will make his mark on the league with his offensive abilities.
Duclair, meanwhile, came over from the New York Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade and while he got off to a promising start in the desert, his production has ground to a screeching halt this season.
Nevertheless, both players are still 21, playing on a mediocre (at best) roster and with time, both will come into their own and settle in as a fearsome duo for Arizona.
13 Victor Rask and Sebastian Aho - Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes haven't had reasons for optimism over the past half-decade, but things appear to be trending in the right direction (on the ice, anyway) for the Canes.
A Stanley Cup championship in 2006 can only buoy the much-maligned franchise for so long and part of the turnaround starts with the development of two of their young stars, Victor Rask and Sebastian Aho.
Rask is entering his third full season in the NHL and is already on pace to smash his personal bests from last season – which were an improvement upon his rookie year. The consistent growth and improvement, on the stat sheet and in his play, are signs of the things to come for the 23-year-old Swede.
Its only appropriate that the young man on the fast-track to filling the second slot of this dynamic duo is a Finn. Sebastian Aho has impressed at every level he’s played at and has already racked up 11 points in his first 25 NHL games while averaging just over 15 minutes a game. Expect both numbers to increase, especially as he gets more opportunities to lineup next to Rask. This duo is low on the list for the time being, but has the potential to climb over the next couple of seasons.
12 Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha - Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have been blessed with a plethora of dynamic duos, dating back to Gordie Howe’s heyday. You could write a separate article counting down their best over the course of their history. Some will say Yzerman and Shanahan, while a younger generation might make the argument that Datsyuk and Zetterberg were better.
While Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha don’t project to be the next duo the Wings send to the Hall of Fame, they have the potential to be a lethal combination for years to come.
Larkin burst onto the scene last season, scoring 23 goals in his rookie year and made a case to win the Calder Trophy. Mantha, on the other hand, has taken a bit longer to gain traction in the Red Wings lineup, but he’s starting to get first-line minutes alongside Henrik Zetterberg.
When Larkin inevitably takes over top line duties, him and Mantha will become the cornerstone of Detroit’s offense and will be called upon to uphold the Red Wings longstanding tradition of winning.
11 Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky - Washington Capitals
In theory, this duo should be a bit lower on the list thanks the Kuznetsov’s earned reputation and Burakovsky’s immense potential, but the fact that they are both a bit “older” hurts them a little. That’s not to say they don’t have the chance to be the best of the bunch, though.
Kuznetsov has already established himself as top-line player, while Burakovsky is slowly but surely asserting himself as a bonafide top-end winger. Both are entering their third full season in the league, so the time is now to show the hockey world that there’s another show in town (besides, you know, those other two guys the Capitals have on their roster).
Besides the fact that they are currently sheltered by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström, Kuznetsov and Burakovsky are already playing together on a regular basis. With time, the chemistry between the two offensive dynamos will only continue to blossom – giving all the more reason for Capitals fans to be extremely excited about the next few seasons.
10 Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson - Florida Panthers
Defense wins championships and if the Florida Panthers have any hopes of getting back to contender status, they are going to need their defense to meet the expectations that will no doubt be placed on them in the coming seasons.
While Florida has locked up known commodities like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, the future of the Panthers blueline rests on former number one overall pick Aaron Ekblad and former first-rounder Michael Matheson.
They’ll likely never up end paired up together on a consistent basis, as they are both currently playing on the right side for Florida, but sometimes splitting up your two best assets is the better than putting all your eggs in one basket. Regardless of where they line up, or who they line up with, they will remain the foundation upon which the Panthers will try to continue to build their already impressive young roster over the next decade.
9 Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere - Philadelphia Flyers
If you asked Flyers fans, they might not be able to tell you what they are more excited about: the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere, the raw potential of rookie Ivan Provorov, or the possibility of a three-headed monster on the back-end once behemoth Samuel Morin establishes himself on the Flyers blueline.
For now, the combination of Provorov and Gostisbehere gets the spot. Gostisbehere, according to some, was robbed of the Calder Trophy last season, but that shouldn’t take away from his remarkable rookie season. Provorov, meanwhile, is already averaging 20 minutes a game as a 19-year-old, racking up an impressive 11 points just 27 games into his young career.
Now the Flyers boast two of the best young defensemen in the league and while they are playing on separate pairings for the time being, they’ll be patrolling the Flyers backend for 25-27 minutes a game together before long. As the NHL continuously adapts to a speed-based game, having two pillars on the backend who can fly with the quickest forwards in the league (several of whom are on this list) will give the Flyers a huge advantage if they can continue to build a strong roster.
8 Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck - Florida Panthers
It must be bittersweet for Panthers fans to see their team show up twice on this list, because it remains a subtle reminder of the years of futility leading up to the selection of the top-end talent on their current roster.
Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck are a unique duo, insomuch that they both can be classified as “surprises,” for their own reasons.
Barkov was the surprise 2nd overall pick in the vaunted 2013 Draft, with names like Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin still on the board when the Panthers went up to the podium. Turns out the brass knew what they were doing, as Barkov has been the third most productive player in that draft class up to this point, surpassed only by first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon and Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan (more on him later).
Trocheck falls more into the “pleasant surprise” category – he broke out last season with 25 goals and 53 points. Not bad for a 22-year-old third round pick.
This duo gets a bump thanks to them both playing center. It’s a subjective argument, no doubt, but it can be argued that General Managers would rather have two studs up the middle of the ice rather than two top-end wingers, or a great center carrying a very good winger (Datsyuk and Zetterberg). To each their own – we’ve seen all types of duos lead to success, but nothing tops having elite talent at the center position.
7 Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart
The Buffalo Sabres were terrible for several years, but the resurgence of the franchise has begun – and it starts with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Both could be classified as centers, but for the time being Dan Bylsma has his two young stars playing alongside each other, while Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo man the top line (for now).
There’s no need to get too much into Eichel – he’s an elite talent and if he hadn’t gotten hurt just before the start of the season, he would likely be near the top of the points race alongside his pal McDavid.
The key to the duo is Reinhart. The former second overall pick is slowly but surely coming into his own and, at 21 years of age, there is plenty of room for growth. He should be able to surpass his 42 points from last year relatively easily this season, especially if he gets an extended look flanking Eichel.
6 Zach Werenski and Seth Jones - Columbus Blue Jackets
Surprised? Don’t be.
The Colombus Blue Jackets have been trying to solidify their blueline for years. They tried by trading for Jack Johnson. They tried by drafting Ryan Murray. While both are good players, they were not cut out to shoulder the load of top-two defensemen.
That problem appears to have been solved in Columbus.
While both are still very young – Jones just turned 22, while Werenski is a 19-year-old rookie – the two have already shown the flashes of a potential top defensive duo in the entire league down the road. Yes, they are going to be rough patches. Every young player goes through tough stretches, but for two players with a combined age that is three years less than Jaromir Jagr’s age, it's truly impressive.
The best part for the Jackets is that they can allow the combination to grow together, playing massive minutes together while the rest of the franchise’s young talent comes into its own. Before long, Columbus could become a dreaded opponent for the rest of the NHL…for reasons other than their goal cannon.
5 Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau - Calgary Flames
There probably isn’t much that you don’t already know about these two. Sean Monahan, the calm, collected, franchise center that General Managers across the league would likely kill to have on their top line. Johnny Gaudreau, the eccentric, pint-sized goal-scoring dynamo with enough talent for the entire Calgary Flames forwards group.
The two broke out a few years ago with Jiri Hudler by their side – and while things haven’t gone as planned since that magical season, the duo are way too talented not to be put near the top of this list.
The Flames are far from being a really good team – they can hardly be considered a good team at this point. There are still a lot of holes to be filled on their roster, but they can rest assured that their top-end scoring talent is good enough to matchup against almost any team in the NHL. If the rest of the roster can come together, Monahan and Gaudreau could be the duo that revives the championship hopes and dreams of a Flames franchise that has been patiently waiting for something other than Lanny McDonald’s mustache to hang their hats on.
4 Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin - Tampa Bay Lightning
This might seem like a strange one for some of you. Shouldn’t it be Kucherov and Steven Stamkos? Tyler Johnson and Kucherov? Drouin and Brayden Point?
Kucherov and Drouin are the youngsters of the bunch. Believe it or not, Kucherov is still only 23 years old, while Drouin is still adjusting to the pros at the age of 21 – not to mention his public feud with the team and Steve Yzerman cutting into his development last season (he has no one to blame but himself for that).
The other reason Kucherov and Drouin get this spot is that they have already developed reputations as playoff performers. Kucherov has been unbelievable in the Lightning’s long playoff runs the past few seasons – he’s already racked up 22 goals and 42 points in 45 playoffs games, remarkable numbers for such a young player.
After last year’s fiasco and subsequent return to the team, Drouin stepped up his game when it mattered most with a surprising 14 points in 17 playoff games.
If lightning has in fact struck, and Tampa Bay has managed to secure two young, outstanding offensive dynamos with the moxie to elevate come playoff time, the Stanley Cup will find it’s way back into Yzerman’s hands before long.
3 Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine - Winnipeg Jets
Are we jumping the gun on these two? Some might think so.
Others, like myself, will point to Mark Scheifele’s 61 points last season, his point-per-game production this season, and the fact that Patrik Laine is leading the league in goals, in a year where Sidney Crosby is coming off a Stanley Cup win and is playing some of the best offensive hockey of his career, a year where Nikita Kucherov is breaking out of the shadow of Steven Stamkos, a year where Vladimir Tarasenko is scoring on nearly 15% of his shots, and a year where Alex Ovechkin is still bulging twine at his normal pace.
Laine has invigorated a Jets franchise that needed a shot in the arm – the honeymoon phase ended a long time ago and it's time for this team to start doing some damage. They might have found their next Teemu Selanne and Scheifele is finally starting to live up to the Dale Hawerchuk comparisons that have followed him around since the day he was drafted by the Jets.
If the first quarter of this season is any indication of things to come, the Jets might have on their hands one of the best duos in the entire league, period.
2 Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner - Toronto Maple Leafs
Sorry, Leaf fans.
At the end of the day, there's really nothing to feel bad about here. Auston Matthews is the next American hockey Superstar and Mitch Marner is making fans in cities that have historically had a blood-lust for any player to don the blue and white.
Matthews is the franchise center that the Leafs have lacked since Mats Sundin’s bizarre departure and Marner is already one of the most exciting players in the league. It is, in fact, still very early, but these two have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane written all over them.
Matthews and Marner, along with the many other young stars on the Leafs roster, are going to drag the Leafs out of hockey purgatory and will probably play a role in a long-awaited championship run, but they'll likely never top this list. That won't matter if this dynamic duo continues to rack up points, vault the Leafs up the standings, and eventually lead a long Leafs Cup run.
Singing Bon Jovi on the bench during timeouts is just icing on the cake.
1 Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton Oilers
Some of you are going to imply that the only reason these two are at the top of the list is because Connor McDavid is already one of the top three players in the NHL, and that, quite frankly, McDavid could have John Scott on his wing and they would still top this list.
And you would likely be correct. McDavid is that good.
He's the encapsulation of what the NHL is about to become. McDavid is going to force the NHL to reconsider the former "Fastest Game on Earth" slogan from years past, because of his blazing speed and incredible skill that is going to reshape the landscape of the league (and the sport) for the next fifteen years.
Luckily for McDavid, his right winger is not John Scott - it's Leon Draisaitl, one of the many top draft picks the Oilers have selected over the past decade, but one of the few who is going to avoid the purge of the pre-Peter Chiarelli era (Nail Yakupov and Taylor Hall are already gone, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be the next one on his way out).
Draisaitl was drafted as a center, but for the time being he's playing on McDavid's right side and the results are already promising (then again, why wouldn't they be). If the Oilers decide to keep "The Nuge" as a second-line center, Draisaitl could find his niche as McDavid's own Jari Kurri - not a bad gig if you can get it.
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