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THN.com Blog: Hockey's next generation full of championship potential

Jonathan Toews has a Stanley Cup ring, while Mike Richards fell two wins short. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jonathan Toews has a Stanley Cup ring, while Mike Richards fell two wins short. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the basement of the Duchene house in Southern Ontario's cottage country, Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene has a section of the floor dedicated to his workout equipment. On the wall, in full view of the Calder Trophy nominee as he lifts weights, is a photo of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews hoisting the Stanley Cup.

The picture was printed out by Duchene the night of Chicago's victory. It replaced a similar photo from the year prior, featuring Sidney Crosby and hockey's greatest prize. This, to me, is impressive. Duchene is still a teenager; he has just one NHL season under his belt. Yet his hunger for the Cup is already ravenous. He doesn't just dream of the Cup, he taunts himself with it. I can't help but think what that sort of determination will mean over a longer span of time.

Duchene is just one of a number of players who will dominate the game going forward. Steven Stamkos has shown his potential, as has Drew Doughty. Even more remarkably, many of the game's best young players have already won the Stanley Cup. Crosby, Toews, Patrick Kane, Ryan Getzlaf, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Eric Staal have both rings and a lot of hockey ahead of them.

Add showstopper Alex Ovechkin and his partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom to the list and it's fair to say the NHL is in good hands for the next decade or two.

But we can't all be champions and in thinking of the young bucks making noise early, I also have to list off the great players entering the latter years of their careers who still haven't tasted NHL glory. I know this is not a new phenomenon – Marcel Dionne never won a Cup, nor did Gilbert Perreault or Borje Salming – but let's think about some stark present realities.

Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, for example, have played a lot of hockey in their careers to date and Calgary doesn't look like a contender now or in the near future. Both came close when the Flames fell to the Lightning in 2004, but that's horseshoe and hand grenade territory. And whither the core of the San Jose Sharks? Some critics contend you can't win a Cup with Joe Thornton, while Dany Heatley couldn't seal the deal when his Ottawa Senators were trounced by Anaheim in 2007. Neither player is particularly old, but only a Steve Yzerman-esque turnaround to two-way play would improve their already sublime skill sets – and it's not like San Jose can improve anymore in the regular season.

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True, any of these players could jump ship to another franchise and strike gold, but in the meantime there are no assurances of a Cup if present rosters hold. One intriguing veteran who still needs to kiss Lord Stanley is Ryan Smyth. 'Captain Canada' now finds himself surrounded by the young and hungry in Los Angeles, where Doughty, captain Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar are just a few building blocks already comprising a steady foundation.

Even though the Kings fell to Vancouver in the first round last season, a deep run seems more likely this season, especially with hot-shot goalie prospect Jonathan Bernier ready to spell Jonathan Quick in net.

It would be great to see Smyth hoist the Cup and maybe he'd even get it second – after captain Brown, who will be all of 26 in the spring of 2011.

VIDEO: One-on-one with Colorado Avalanche sophomore Matt Duchene

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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