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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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Canada’s Core Four are the heartbeat of the new NHL.

With a consensus developed from feedback from more than a dozen NHL front offices, TSN Hockey ranked each team’s top four core players under the age of 24 as of Oct. 1, 2016.

Four Canadian clubs populate the top of the chart, a worthy consolation prize just one season after Canada was shutout of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1970.

Here is the full list, with each team’s players ranked in order of perceived strength:

 

THE CORE FOUR

 

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1. Edmonton Oilers

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Connor McDavid, C 19 Edmonton 35 12 28 40
2. Leon Draisaitl, C/W 21 Edmonton 35 14 17 31
3. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW 18 Edmonton 24 1 7 8
4. Oscar Klefbom, LD  23 Edmonton 35 5 7 12
 

Scoop: No player on the board holds a candle to McDavid, making the Oilers a clear winner. Perhaps Edmonton’s strength is also exhibited in the eligible players who didn’t make the cut: Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

 

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2. Toronto Maple Leafs

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Auston Matthews, C 19 Toronto 32 16 9 25
2. Mitch Marner, RW 19 Toronto 32 8 17 25
3. Morgan Rielly, LD 22 Toronto 32 1 14 15
4. William Nylander, RW 20 Toronto 31 6 15 21
 

Scoop: The Maple Leafs may be the only team on the board with two true ‘Grade A’ prospects in Matthews and Marner, while Rielly is playing himself closer to the conversation of one of the NHL’s true No. 1 blueliners.

 

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3. Winnipeg Jets

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Mark Scheifele, C 23 Winnipeg 33 14 17 31
2. Patrik Laine, RW 18 Winnipeg 36 19 11 30
3. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW 20 Winnipeg 36 9 20 29
4. Jacob Trouba, RD 22 Winnipeg 21 1 5 6
 

Scoop: Scouts were split on whether Winnipeg should be ahead of Toronto, but they are splitting hairs. Scheifele can drive production from the middle as well as anyone on this list short of McDavid. He can also dish the puck to Laine, already one of the NHL’s purest goal scorers.

 

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4. Calgary Flames

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Johnny Gaudreau, LW 23 Calgary 25 7 15 22
2. Sean Monahan, C 22 Calgary 35 10 10 20
3. Matthew Tkachuk, LW 18 Calgary 31 6 12 18
4. Dougie Hamilton, RD 23 Calgary 35 6 12 18
 

Scoop: Gaudreau and Monahan have been two of the most consistent producers across the NHL, combining for 141 points last year - the most of any duo on this board. Sam Bennett, who didn’t make the list, helped provide the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay.

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

 

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Nikita Kucherov, RW 23 Tampa Bay 28 13 17 30
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G 22 Tampa Bay 15 8-4-1 2.38 .923
3. Jonathan Drouin, LW 21 Tampa Bay 26 10 10 20
4. Brayden Point, C 20 Tampa Bay 34 3 11 14
 

Scoop: Kucherov has picked up the slack in Steven Stamkos’ absences, providing clutch goals for Tampa Bay. The Lightning are one of five teams with a goaltender talented enough to make the list; Vasilevskiy is strong enough to make trading established No. 1 Ben Bishop for expansion considerations feel like a fait accompli.

 

6. Florida Panthers

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Aleksander Barkov, C 21 Florida 34 9 17 26
2. Aaron Ekblad, RD 20 Florida 34 7 3 10
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW 23 Florida - - - -
4. Vincent Trocheck, C/RW 23 Florida 34 8 8 16
 

Scoop: The magic of Jaromir Jagr is rubbing off on Barkov and Huberdeau, who posted identical 59-point seasons last year.

 

7. Columbus Blue Jackets

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Zach Werenski, LD 19 Columbus 31 6 15 21
2. Seth Jones, RD 22 Columbus 25 5 8 13
3. Alexander Wennberg, C 22 Columbus 31 6 22 28
4. Brandon Saad, LW 23 Columbus 31 12 15 27
 

Scoop: Werenski, 19, is tracking toward a Calder Trophy finalist in a year teeming with talented rookies, while first-rounder Wennberg has also enjoyed his coming-out party.

 

8. Buffalo Sabres

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Jack Eichel, C 19 Buffalo 11 5 3 8
2. Rasmus Ristolainen, RD 21 Buffalo 32 3 20 23
3. Alex Nylander, RW 18 Rochester (AHL) 29 5 12 17
4. Sam Reinhart, RW 21 Buffalo 32 7 11 18
 

Scoop: Eichel, 20, picked up right where he left off after missing the first 22 games of the season. He is on pace to finish with 60 points, with more help on the way next year from Nylander.

 

9. Anaheim Ducks

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Rickard Rakell, C 23 Anaheim 24 14 7 21
2. Hampus Lindholm, LD 22 Anaheim 22 1 3 4
3. Jacob Larsson, LD 19 Frolunda (SWE) 13 0 3 3
4. John Gibson, G 23 Anaheim 25 11-9-5 2.62 .907
 

Scoop: Add Larsson, 19, to the Ducks’ stacked list of young blueliners that includes Cam Fowler (too old for this exercise), Lindholm, Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour.

 

10. Philadelphia Flyers

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Ivan Provorov, LD 19 Philadelphia 36 3 12 15
2. Travis Konecny, RW 19 Philadelphia 36 4 12 16
3. Shayne Gostisbehere, LD 23 Philadelphia 34 4 12 16
4. Sean Couturier, C 22 Philadelphia 20 5 3 8
 

Scoop: Provorov, 19, has emerged as Philadelphia’s No. 1 defenceman already, logging north of 22 minutes a night during their recent 10-game winning streak.

 

11. New York Rangers

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Mika Zibanejad, C 23 NY Rangers 19 5 10 15
2. Jimmy Vesey, LW 23 NY Rangers 34 10 7 17
3. J.T. Miller, LW 23 NY Rangers 35 9 13 22
4. Brady Skjei, LD 22 NY Rangers 35 1 14 15
 

Scoop: Three players on this list (Zibanejad, Vesey, Skjei) weren’t full-timers on New York’s roster last year. GM Jeff Gorton has quickly restocked a cupboard that was low on young talent.

 

12. Carolina Hurricanes

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Victor Rask, C 23 Carolina 32 10 16 26
2. Sebastian Aho, C/LW 19 Carolina 32 6 11 17
3. Tuevo Teravainen, C/LW 22 Carolina 32 8 7 15
4. Noah Hanifin, LD 19 Carolina 32 2 9 11
 

Scoop: Rask, 23, is one of the young centres in the league who doesn’t get nearly enough attention. He’s taking a big step forward this year with 18 of his 25 points in 31 games coming at even strength.

 

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13. Montreal Canadiens 

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Alex Galchenyuk, C 22 Montreal 25 9 14 23
2. Mikhail Sergachev, LD 18 Windsor (OHL) 18 2 13 15
3. Nathan Beaulieu, LD 23 Montreal 27 1 7 8
4. Artturi Lehkonen, LW 21 Montreal 24 7 2 9
 

Scoop: The Canadiens are banking Sergachev can make as much of an impact on their next year as a 19-year-old as Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov have this season in Columbus and Philadelphia.

 

14. Boston Bruins

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. David Pastrnak, RW 20 Boston 35 19 7 26
2. Brandon Carlo, RD 20 Boston 35 2 6 8
3. Danton Heinen, C 21 Providence (AHL) 17 7 8 15
4. Charlie McAvoy, RD 18 Boston U (NCAA) 17 2 11 13
 

Scoop: Pastrnak, 20, is tied with Laine for second in the NHL in goals with 19, despite playing in eight fewer games. And without much fanfare, Carlo — also 20 — has jumped right in from the WHL to rip off 22 minutes a night.

 

15. Arizona Coyotes

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Max Domi, LW 21 Arizona 26 5 11 16
2. Dylan Strome, C 19 Erie (OHL) 7 5 11 16
3. Christian Dvorak, C 20 Arizona 29 3 8 11
4. Jakob Chychrun, LD 18 Arizona 26 1 5 6
 

Scoop: The Coyotes don’t have nearly enough on-ice support to help Domi, 21, and rookies Dvorak and Chychrun through NHL growing pains, making it wise to send Strome back to the OHL.

 

16. Pittsburgh Penguins

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Matt Murray, G 22 Pittsburgh 18 13-3-1 2.14 .928
2. Olli Maatta, LD 22 Pittsburgh 34 0 2 2
3. Jake Guentzel, LW 21 W-B/Scranton (AHL) 22 12 14 26
4. Daniel Sprong, RW 19 Charlottetown (QMJHL)        
 

Scoop: A stellar 22-year-old Stanley Cup-winning backstop is quite the prize. But the two players at the bottom of Pittsburgh’s depth chart are far from sure bets.

 

17. Colorado Avalanche

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Nathan MacKinnon, C 21 Colorado 32 8 13 21
2. Tyson Jost, C 18 North Dakota (NCAA) 17 7 11 18
3. Mikko Rantanen, RW 20 Colorado 27 4 10 14
4. Nikita Zadorov, LD 21 Colorado 31 0 5 5
 

Scoop: The Avs’ young core with MacKinnon is under fire of late, but reinforcements could be soon on the way, with North Dakota’s Jost looking like one of the best prospects outside the NHL right now.

 

18. Minnesota Wild

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Joel Eriksson Ek, C 19 Farjestads (SWE) 8 2 1 3
2. Jonas Brodin, RD 23 Minnesota 32 3 10 13
3. Matt Dumba, RD 22 Minnesota 32 3 10 13
4. Kirill Kaprizov, LW 19 Ufa (KHL) 37 15 15 30
 

Scoop: Brodin and Dumba are already big pieces for the Wild. Eriksson-Ek could step right into the lineup next season in an equally impactful role up front.

 

19. St. Louis Blues

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Robby Fabbri, C/LW 20 St. Louis 34 8 12 20
2. Colton Parayko, RD 23 St. Louis 35 0 15 15
3. Ivan Barbashev, C 20 Chicago (AHL) 30 10 12 22
4. Tage Thompson, C/LW 18 Connecticut (NCAA) 18 12 8 20
 

Scoop: Fabbri, who turns 21 next month, is trending toward a 35 per cent uptick from last year’s 37 points he posted as a rookie. That will make outgoing coach Ken Hitchcock happy.

 

20. Nashville Predators

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Filip Forsberg, LW 22 Nashville 33 5 14 19
2. Juuse Saros, G 21 Nashville 5 2-2-1 1.39 .950
3. Viktor Arvidsson, RW 23 Nashville 33 9 14 23
4. Dante Fabbro, RD 18 Boston U (NCAA) 15 3 3 6
 

Scoop: The case could be made that Arvidsson, 23, has been the Preds’ best player this season. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with Ryan Johansen, who aged out of this experiment.

 

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21. Vancouver Canucks

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Bo Horvat, C 21 Vancouver 34 10 11 21
2. Olli Juolevi, LD 18 London (OHL) 26 6 15 21
3. Ben Hutton, LD 23 Vancouver 34 4 4 8
4. Brock Boeser, RW 19 North Dakota (NCAA) 13 7 9 16
 

Scoop: So much of the Canucks’ future plans are riding on the development of Juolevi, picked fifth overall last June, as they try and rebuild from the backend. He was first defenceman taken by Vancouver in the first round since 2005.

 

22. Detroit Red Wings

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Dylan Larkin, C/LW 20 Detroit 33 10 2 12
2. Andreas Athanasiou, C 22 Detroit 19 5 1 6
3. Anthony Mantha, RW 22 Detroit 18 5 5 10
4. Dennis Cholowski, LD 18 St. Cloud State (NCAA) 16 1 8 9
 

Scoop: Larkin can score. Athanasiou can fly. Mantha is trying to put it all together. The Red Wings’ core is not devoid of talent, but lacks consistency and depth.

 

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23. Ottawa Senators

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Thomas Chabot, LD 19 Saint John (QMJHL) 14 5 15 20
2. Cody Ceci, RD 22 Ottawa 34 0 2 2
3. Logan Brown, C 18 Windsor (OHL) 15 8 13 21
4. Colin White, C 19 Boston College (NCAA) 18 10 7 17
 

Scoop: Three of Ottawa’s core four players aren’t on the NHL roster, which bodes well for a Sens team already nipping and clawing at a playoff spot. Chabot will get all the minutes he can handle in a top-pairing role for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.

 

24. Washington Capitals

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Andre Burakovsky, RW 21 Washington 28 3 9 12
2. Ilya Samsonov, G 19 Magnitogorsk (KHL) 19 12-1-3 2.06 .936
3. Jakub Vrana, RW 20 Washington 10 1 2 3
4. Tom Wilson, RW 22 Washington 31 2 0 2
 

Scoop: Burakovsky, 21, has taken a step back this season, sitting as a healthy scratch for Barry Trotz while his production numbers have sagged. 

 

25. New York Islanders

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Ryan Strome, C 23 NY Islanders 29 4 4 8
2. Mathew Barzal, C 19 Seattle (WHL) 13 2 17 19
3. Anthony Beauvillier, C/LW 19 NY Islanders 23 3 5 8
4. Kiefer Bellows, LW 18 Boston U (NCAA) 15 4 2 6
 

Scoop: Two seasons ago, Strome was a 50-point player as a 21-year-old. This year, he has been a healthy scratch under Jack Capuano, fitting the Islanders’ overall one-step-forward, two-steps-back theme.

 

26. San Jose Sharks

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Timo Meier, RW 19 San Jose 3 1 0 1
2. Tomas Hertl, C/LW 22 San Jose 17 4 5 9
3. Maxim Letunov, C 20 Connecticut (NCAA)        
4. Kevin Labanc, RW 20 San Jose 20 4 2 6
 

Scoop: Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, scored in his NHL debut in Montreal at the Bell Centre, the kind indelible experience that also leaves a mark on team brass and fans.

 

27. New Jersey Devils

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Damon Severson, RD 22 New Jersey 33 3 15 18
2. Pavel Zacha, C 19 New Jersey 28 2 5 7
3. John Quenneville, C 20 Albany (AHL) 26 8 15 23
4. Michael McLeod, C 18 Mississauga (OHL) 26 6 22 28
 

Scoop: The Devils bet last summer that Severson, 22, could help pick up the slack for Adam Larsson’s departure. Looks like a good bet now, with Severson already closing in on a new career-high in points (22) through just one-third of the season.

 

28. Chicago Blackhawks

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Nick Schmaltz, C 20 Chicago 26 1 3 4
2. Ryan Hartman, RW 22 Chicago 30 6 6 12
3. Gustav Forsling, LD 20 Chicago 29 1 3 4
4. Alex DeBrincat, RW 18 Erie (OHL) 28 30 30 60
 

Scoop: DeBrincat somehow didn’t show Team USA enough to crack their World Junior roster, perpetuating the anti-CHL narrative since he has a staggering 30 goals in 28 games for the OHL’s Erie Otters this season.

 

29. Dallas Stars

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Esa Lindell, LD 22 Dallas 25 2 3 5
2. Julius Honka, RD 20 Dallas 8 0 3 3
3. Devin Shore, C 22 Dallas 34 5 8 13
4. Radek Faksa, C 22 Dallas 34 4 8 12
 

Scoop: The Stars’ two Finnish defencemen, Lindell and Honka, have a lot of work to do before they can be considered as two true potential difference makers on the backend.

 

THE FINAL FOUR

30. Los Angeles Kings

 
Player Age 2016-17 GP G A PTS
1. Adrian Kempe, LW 20 Ontario (AHL) 23 5 4 9
2. Kale Clague, RD 18 Brandon (WHL) 23 4 15 19
3. Erik Cernak, RD 19 Eric (OHL) 20 0 6 6
4. Jacob Moverare, LD 18 Mississauga (OHL) 28 1 14 15
 

Scoop: The Kings are the only team devoid of a true core player currently at the NHL level - no player on their roster meets the age criteria of this exercise. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, though, as the Kings’ average first pick position has been 40th overall since 2011 because they’ve traded picks to gun for a third Stanley Cup.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli