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21-and-under NHLers

Drew Doughty was picked by the Kings second overall in the 2008 draft and won a gold medal with Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Drew Doughty was picked by the Kings second overall in the 2008 draft and won a gold medal with Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

A few weeks back, we took a look at some of the relative greybeards plying their trade on NHL ice pads. Today we’re going to look at some kids who might not even be able to grow beards yet.

There are 53 NHL roster spots occupied by players 21 years old and younger as of March 31. Among those kids there are some big names and big performers. Of those who made this list, none were drafted later than No. 12 overall, three were No. 1s, two were No. 2s, three were No. 3s, there is an eighth pick, an 11th and the aforementioned 12th.

The list is an amalgamation of how we feel players have been performing recently and all season. The final spots were more difficult to whittle down than the rankings themselves. Some players who started the season on fire and have continued to play well, if at a slower pace, still didn’t make the cut, and some players who have been on fire lately also were left off.

But after some inter-office debate, this is what we’ve come up with: THN.com’s Top 10 21-and-under NHLers.

10. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders
The 2009 first overall pick is the third-leading scorer on his team, but the one opponents are most leery of. The 19-year-old got his skates wet this season and will be a force in 2010-11 and for years to come.

9. Peter Mueller, LW, Colorado
There was some concern Mueller, 21, wasn’t going to pan out after a huge drop off the past two seasons following his freshman campaign. But since heading to the Avs from Phoenix, the eighth pick in 2006 has seven goals and 17 points in 12 games.

8. Brandon Sutter, C, Carolina
Sutter, 21, has made huge strides as a sophomore; he’s on pace to score 20 goals and 40 points after just one and six in 50 games last season. He’s been consistent all season and is one of just five regular players with a plus-rating this season for the Canes.

7. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado
The second under-21 Avalanche player (and one of four very good ones on that roster) was the third pick of the draft last season. Duchene, 19, leads all NHL rookies in goals and points, and looks to be following the Steven Stamkos model of NHL maturation.

6. Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo
Myers is leading the Calder Trophy race because he’s been a force at both ends of the ice since Day 1 of the season, rare for a freshman blueliner. Only Duchene has more points among rookies. Myers, 20, has morphed into Buffalo’s best blueliner, leading his team in ice time and scoring with more than twice as many points as the next Sabres D-man.

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5. Jordan Staal, C, Pittsburgh
The star power rises a level beginning with the No. 5 slot, where the 21-year-old Stanley Cup-winning Staal can be found. He’s a shutdown guy with a burgeoning offensive upside and leadership abilities par excellence.

4. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay
Hard to believe a Rocket Richard Trophy candidate sits just fourth on the list, but Stamkos, 20, who was picked first overall in 2008, must become a little more complete before rising here. He’s almost there…maybe next year.

3. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago
A U.S. Olympian and one of the Blackhawks’ rising stars, Kane, 21, leads his team in scoring by a healthy margin and has become one of the game’s most dynamic players.

2. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago
Toews, 21, was named the best forward at the Olympics and is already his NHL team’s captain. A concussion cost him six games in October and November as well as some momentum. But he is Mr. Everything in Chicago – killing penalties, shutting down top opponents, playing the power play and being the team’s best faceoff man by a country mile.
 
1. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles
When players are this good, ranking them really comes down to splitting hairs. And in this case we decided that finding a dominant defenseman like the 20-year-old Canadian Olympian is harder to do than finding a dominant forward. So Doughty gets the nod over Toews…but just barely.

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.

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