Every NHL season sees at least one promising young player blossom into a full-fledged star.
Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho and Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson are two recent examples, quickly evolving into the top stars on their respective clubs. Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov could soon join their ranks.
Several factors will determine their development. Some have already shown potential while playing big-game minutes. Others will be expected to move up and take over bigger roles.
Here's a look at seven young players who are poised to become NHL stars in 2020-21.
Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season proved to be significant in the short but promising NHL career of Anthony Cirelli.
The center finished fourth among the voters for the Frank J. Selke Trophy that honors the NHL's top defensive forward. He picked up 13 first-place votes, two more than St. Louis Blues center (and 2019 Selke winner) Ryan O'Reilly, who finished third.
That was quite a leap forward for the 23-year-old during his second full campaign. He saw more playing time last season in all situations for the Lightning. That was also reflected in his offensive production, going from a respectable 39 points in 82 games as a rookie in 2018-19 to 44 points in 68 games last season.
Cirelli tied with Brayden Point for the Lightning lead in plus/minus with plus-28. He also led all their forwards in short-handed ice time (2:49) per game last season and was fourth among Bolts skaters in overtime ice time per game (1:11). That reflects the confidence head coach Jon Cooper has in his abilities during crucial situations.
Cirelli was a key component in the Lightning's march to the 2020 Stanley Cup. He will continue to improve and should remain a legitimate Selke Trophy candidate for the foreseeable future.
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
The first overall pick in the 2018 draft, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was projected to become a star. Entering his third NHL season, the 20-year-old may be ready to assume that mantle.
With 44 points in 82 games in 2018-19, Dahlin became a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy given to the top rookie. He struggled early last season to adjust under new coach Ralph Krueger, and he also missed eight games to a concussion last fall and two with an upper-body injury in February. Nevertheless, Dahlin netted 40 points in 59 games to finish fourth among Sabres scorers.
The 6'3", 193-pound Swede remains a highly skilled all-around defenseman. With an added measure of maturity and two years of NHL action under his belt, he should be even better in 2020-21. He'll also benefit offensively from the club's offseason additions of forwards Taylor Hall and Eric Staal.