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NHL 2020: Predicting The Top 15 Stars Four Years From Now

On many counts, fans and NHL pundits have been correct about which NHL superstars would blossom. Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, the Sedin Twins, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin and Rick Nash are some great examples of hyped-up prospects who'll be in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day (if they aren't already there). But many of us were tricked into believing some can't-miss prospects would really emerge as new faces in the NHL---From Alexandre Daigle to Nail Yakupov to Brian Lawton. The list goes on and on.

The point I'm trying to make is you never know which NHLers will be great and which ones will be busts when they've gotten their fair share of opportunities.

In four years time, the NHL is going to look a lot different. It's safe to say some of the league's top stars now won't be in their primes by 2020. Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar will be 33, Evgeni Malkin 34, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane 32, Alex Ovechkin 34, Joe Thornton and the Sedins likely retired. But there are some current stars who have many more prime years left. There are also some upcoming prospects who'll be the faces of the NHL in four years. Here is a far-too-early guess of who the top NHL players will be in 2020.

16 Mitch Marner

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While the focus of the Toronto Maple Leafs' rebuild is centred around Austin Matthews, don't overlook Mitch Marner, the fourth-overall selection of the 2015 NHL Draft. The 5-foot-11 centre/winger had 301 points in 184 OHL games with the London Knights.

Whether Toronto puts him and Matthews on the same line or not, Marner is bound to be a huge success. Yes, he's a undersized compared to most other elite NHL centres, but he's incredibly crafty with the puck and will develop great chemistry with William Nylander and other young Leafs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins success is thanks in large part to carrying elite centres in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There's no reason to believe that the Leafs can't form a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with these two. Marner ranks highly in many prospect rankings. He may be one or two years away from securing top-six minutes, but it won't be long until he flourishes into one of the NHL's best.

15 Sam Bennett

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth-overall pick of the 2014 draft was limited to one game in 2014-15 because of a shoulder injury. But in his first full NHL season, he blossomed on an otherwise terrible Calgary Flames team. He managed 18 goals and 36 points despite having to play in the shadows of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

Bennett's decent size, incredible hands, and crafty all-around play led him to being such a highly-touted prospect. That's one of the few reasons why we believe he's going to shine for real in four years time. But we really can't help but be excited about the possibility of playing with Johnny Hockey and/or Troy Brouwer down the stretch. As great as Sean Monahan is, Bennett should jump over him for the team's number one centre in the coming seasons.

Then again, does it really matter who the better centre is? The Flames have a great foundation in place and are built to contend for years. We're just betting that Bennett will be the team's nucleus centreman in 2020.

14 William Nylander

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's great to have a father who was a superstar himself in the pros.

William, the son of Michael Nylander, went fourth-overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014. He impressed with a solid 13 points in 22 games last season with the Leafs, even though they were far-and-away the NHL's worst team and he had virtually no star power to work with. Now he gets the chance to work with Marner and another obvious name you'll see later on this list.

Truth be told, with the Leafs carrying three elite centre prospects, one would figure that Nylander moves to wing down the road. He's known for having excellent puck possession with great all-around speed, a combination that's rare in today's NHL for a centreman--considering the heavy two-way game most of them are asked to play.

Nylander is going to be great for his talents alone--but the chance of playing with other rising stars in Toronto will make him one of the NHL's best in 2020.

13 Dylan Strome

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

When Eliteprospects.com compares you to Ryan Getzlaf, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Stanley Cup winner, then you know you're incredibly talented. Dylan Strome was drafted third-overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015. People often forget how much upside he is because of the fact Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were taken before him.

Strome is big at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds. He may be the most intriguing prospect the Coyotes organization has ever had. That franchise, even though they won't have many fans watching (sorry, it's true) is blessed with a rising star in Strome. Linemates won't be a problem, as Maxi Domi and Anthony Duclair are already showing flashes of breaking out in 2017.

The talented centreman is going to have to work his tail off to earn top-six minutes in 2017, but who cares? All that matters is he's on the verge of making a huge name for himself in the NHL. By 2020, he's going to be one of the NHL's elite at the position. Maybe his talents will draw more than 10,000 fans to Coyotes games on a consistent basis.

12 Drew Doughty

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

You may question having Drew Doughty on this list, as he will be 31-years-old in 2020. But consider that Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy in 2011 as a 40-year-old. My point? Blueliners are able to play at All-Star levels well into their mid-30s and beyond, as long as they keep their hockey IQ in tact.

Doughty is the best defenceman in hockey when it comes to actually playing defence (sorry, Erik Karlsson and fans). There's a reason he's won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings as well as two Olympic gold medals. The Kings have plenty of stars, but their success always depends on Doughty's hockey vision, shutdown ability and puck-moving talents.

He's stayed healthy his entire career and he easily has seven-plus All-Star seasons left in him. NHL defenceman prospects can take years to develop, but Doughty blossomed right away in 2008-09--his rookie season. Don't even think that any guys under 21 right now will dethrone Doughty as a superior NHL blueliner.

11 Carey Price

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Carey Price is not only the NHL's top goalie, but he's actually the league MVP if you look at the word "valuable." After winning the Hart and Vezina in 2014-15 (leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Atlantic Division title), the Habs started out 2015-16 at 9-0-0--their best in franchise history.

That was with Price in goal. His MCL sprain limited him to 12 games last season, where he posted an incredible 10-2-0 record with a .934 save percentage. After missing the last week of November until the end of the regular season, Price's Habs faltered and went from the Eastern Conference elite to the basement. He means that much to his team.

Price will be 32 when the year 2020 comes, and that's not a popular age for goalies to slow down (see 36-year-old Roberto Luongo this year and 35-year-old Chris Osgood helping Detroit win the Stanley Cup in 2008). Price's stats show he's the NHL's top goaltender right now and there's zero reason to believe that'll change in 2020. He's been as consistent as it comes for most of his career.

10 Patrik Laine

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Hyped as the next Alexander Ovechkin because of his ridiculously awesome goal-scoring ability, Patrik Laine joins a Winnipeg Jets team that won't be lacking flashy superstars. Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor and Nic Petan will give Laine every opportunity to be a consistent 40-goal scorer.

Laine's already a favourite to win the Calder Trophy this upcoming season, but he'll be the top-notch favourite to win the Rocket Richard Trophy by 2020. He's one of the NHLers who will blossom right when his career starts. Laine has the incredible speed and hands that accumulate his ability to do nothing but score goals. We saw how Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos took their awful teams and turned them into Cup contenders. Laine will be doing the exact same in The Great White North soon enough.

If you're upset about knowing Ovechkin only has so many good years left--not to worry. Laine will replace him as the NHL's prominent goal-scorer soon enough.

9 Filip Forsberg

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Washington Capitals packaged Filip Forsberg in a trade to get career second-liner Martin Erat--whom they ended up buying out? Good times if you're a Nashville Predators fan. Bad if you're in the nation's capital.

The 22-year-old started out slowly with just six points in his first 18 NHL games. But once Forsberg cracked the Preds roster in 2014-15, it took off from there. He scored 26 goals 63 points that year and was an incredible plus-15--showing how great he is at both ends of the ice. Forsberg followed that up with 33 goals and 64 points in 2015-16. This comes on a team that's known for playing more sound defence than worrying about scoring.

Though P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Pekka Rinne will gain most of the attention for the Preds' success, Forsberg is going to keep carrying the offence. He's already been a bonafide superstar at the age of 21. In case you didn't know, players don't often reach their primes until 23 or a bit later. In other words, Forsberg has nowhere to go but up. A scary thought for the NHL as he's bound to dominate for years and years.

8 John Tavares

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

John Tavares' 70 points in 2015-16 were a far drop-off from the 86 he posted the season prior. Things are going to get interesting as Andrew Ladd replaces Kyle Okposo as Tavares' new go-to winger. But there's no reason to believe that the 26-year-old centre hasn't hit his prime yet.

86 points remains the career-best for Tavares so far, but there's plenty of room and time for him to reach 90-plus. Now that the Islanders young players have finally gelled together and are becoming a force, the sky is the limit for Tavares. As aforementioned stars like Crosby, Toews, and Ovechkin decline with age, the 30-year-old Tavares won't be going anywhere.

He's registered 30-plus goals in each of the last two seasons--the first time he managed to repeat that feat. Tavares' hands, sniping, and playmaking abilities won't be going away for ages. For all we know, he could be the NHL's leading scorer in 2020--or sooner.

7 Erik Karlsson

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt who the NHL's most dominant offensive defenceman has been since the Bobby Orr, Raymond Bourque, and Paul Coffey days--it's undoubtedly no. 65.

Erik Karlsson set a career-high with 82 points last season--fourth most in the NHL. That was more than Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, and Steven Stamkos. His defensive play is bound to get better with a healthy Marc Methot as his partner. Otherwise, Dion Phaneuf will help him out more after shining in a mid-season trade with the Sens.

Karlsson will be just 30 in 2020, meaning he's got plenty of prime years left. It's a bit of a stretch to think he'll repeat an 82-point season, but he's going to remain an offensive force. Furthermore, Karlsson has improved the play in his own end in the past several seasons. You figure that gets better, too. Which means he's going to still be a Norris frontrunner for many more seasons.

6 Tyler Seguin

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins have the dishonourable award of the worst trade since the new millennium. They gave up on the 2010 second-overall selection way too quickly, and Tyler Seguin's made them pay for it.

Seguin's reached the 70-point plateau in all three seasons with the Dallas Stars, and would have stretched that to 80 points if he avoided injuries in 2014-15 an 2015-16. He and Jamie Benn are the NHL's most dynamic offensive force, as the latter won the Art Tross Trophy a year ago. Seguin will be just 28-years-old in 2020. Last time we checked, superstars don't decline by that age.

The key for Seguin to maintain this high level is for Benn to be healthy, and he's going to be just 30 in 2020. Seguin, one of the NHL's most consistent forwards in the last three seasons, isn't going anywhere in four years. Sorry to the 29 other teams.

5 Steven Stamkos

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren't for Crosby and Ovechkin, there'd be no doubt as to who the NHL's premier superstar forward is. Steven Stamkos is a four-time 40-plus goal scorer and even hit 60 in the 2011-12 season. He hasn't been asked to do as much in recent years with the emergence of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan, and Nikita Kucherov.

Still, the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner is in prime position to dominate for many more years. Just look at Alex Ovechkin--he's won the last four Rocket Richard Trophies, the most recent one coming at age 30. Stamkos isn't asked to play the demanding defense of other two-way centres like Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar, so his body won't wear down that quickly. He's easily going to be a threat for 50 goals for at least seven more seasons. That of course includes going to 2020. Don't worry, Lightning fans. He's going to be a force for a long time.

4 Jack Eichel

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NHL Draft shall always be remembered as the day where the NHL's faces of the 2020s were drafted. Another guy to be named later and Jack Eichel had their names called to the podium and it was only the start.

On a rebuilding and pretty terrible Buffalo Sabres team, Eichel managed 24 goals and 56 points in his rookie year. Everbody knows those numbers will improve. What'll also help Eichel is the fact that the Sabres core is also young and all those future stars have room to grow. Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, and Zach Bogosian will help Eichel enhance his superstardom.

The talented centre can do it all. He can snipe and will score 40-goals a year while also dishing out 50-plus assists. Many thought Eichel had a chance of going before Connor McDavid, the man hyped as a "once-in-a-generation prospect." That's just another reason to believe that a 24-year-old Eichel will be dominating the NHL in 2020.

3 Auston Matthews

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Many scouts and pundits believed that if Matthews was eligible for the 2015 draft (his birth date was off by just days to make him available), that he could have easily challenged McDavid and Eichel for the top draft selection.

Matthews spent 2015-16 in the Swiss NLA league. As an 18-year-old, he managed 24 goals and 46 points--and this is in a professional league where the guys are much older than him. In other words--ya gotta believe! The Maple Leafs, as we touched base on, are loaded with rising talented forwards. Even if you put Matthews with a couple of guys in a beer league, he'll still be a force in the NHL.

Matthews has the rare ability to be dangerous at both ends of the ice and is the complete package with his speed, stickhandling, and set-up skills. Matthews will be the next generation's Jonathan Toews. Oh wait, he might actually be better. And yes, I'm serious.

2 Connor McDavid

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

What, you thought it was going to be someone else?

From the days he was 14-years-old, scouts were raving about Connor McDavid. He was already being compared to Sidney Crosby, except some think he might even be better than No. 87. McDavid is easily the man who defines a "once-in-a-generation" prospect. He has the speed, sniping, playmaking, and toughness needed to be an NHL great. Everyone knows the Edmonton Oilers are loaded with promising forwards, but McDavid will succeed no matter who is on his line.

We didn't get to see the magic in his rookie season, as a broken clavicle limited him to 45 games. He still managed 14 goals and 48 points on the NHL's second-worst team. McDavid is going to be in 2020 what Howie Morenz was in the '30s, what Gordie Howe was in the '50s, what Wayne Gretzky was in the '80s and '90s, and what Crosby and Ovechkin have been since the mid-2000s.

He's going to be the face of the NHL by 2020. Book it.

Follow me on twitter! @AlexHoegler

 

 

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NHL 2020: Predicting The Top 15 Stars Four Years From Now