Hot or Not: Reinhart, Tkachuk lead U24 rankings; Centennial Classic features Matthews-Larkin showdown

In the final under-24 player rankings of 2016, we offer a glimpse into what some of the NHL's top young players may do in 2017 and beyond. Happy New Year, everyone.


Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have continued to struggle since fellow young gun Jack Eichel returned from injury, despite an impressive effort from Reinhart, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. The young center has been on fire, enjoying a five-game point streak that includes two goals and six points. That's no small feat -- the Sabres rank near the bottom of the NHL in goals per game. Reinhart had been finding chemistry with Ryan O'Reilly, but O'Reilly's recent bout with appendicitis moved Reinhart onto a new top line with Kyle Okposo.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames
The Flames' season turned when Johnny Gaudreau returned to the lineup on Dec. 4 after missing 10 games with a broken finger. That new hope rising in Calgary has been buoyed further by the emergence of Tkachuk, who was the sixth pick in last summer's draft and just turned 19 on Dec. 11. Though one of the league's youngest players, the teenager has shown tremendous grit and determination and has flourished skating alongside veterans Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund. The line has been hot lately, with Tkachuk collecting six points during his five-game point streak.

Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Though rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has received plenty of attention, it's his defensive partner Jones who could be emerging as a leader for the powerhouse Blue Jackets (that's right, the powerhouse Blue Jackets). It's hard to believe that the 6-foot-4 defenseman is still only 22 years old, considering he's in his fourth NHL season. The fourth pick in the 2013 draft has become a pillar of strength since missing time in November with a fractured foot and is turning into the franchise defenseman many envisioned when he starred with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He leads Columbus in minutes per game and was a standout in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 27, with a goal, three blocks, a game-high 24:37 in ice time and a plus-2 rating.


Jesse Puljujarvi, LW, Edmonton Oilers
On an Edmonton roster packed with young talent, the growing pains continue for the fourth pick in last summer's draft. The Oilers were expected to take their time developing the Finnish forward, but Puljujarvi has yet to find his stride in his rookie season. Edmonton no doubt expected more than a single goal from the rookie -- and that score came way back in his first NHL game on Oct. 12.

In Edmonton's 3-1 win on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings, Puljujarvi's 12:57 of ice time didn't seem like much, but it was his highest total in a month. A big part of that is because Oilers coach Todd McLellan repeatedly made Puljujarvi a healthy scratch during December, leading to questions about whether the rookie was being used correctly.

Brandon Carlo, D, Boston Bruins
The 20-year-old defenseman has been a great find for a Boston team scrambling to build a blue line that still relies heavily on captain Zdeno Chara, who turns 40 in March. But Carlo may have hit something of a rookie speed bump during the holidays, posting a negative rating in three of his past four games. As such, Carlo has seen his minutes reduced by coach Claude Julien.

Despite the recent struggles, Carlo is still considered the future of Boston's defensive corps. He continues to skate alongside Chara, giving the 2015 second-round pick the opportunity to learn from one of the game's best.

Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
The emergence of the physical and skilled forward has been a beacon of hope in Vancouver, where the Canucks continue to focus most of their offensive energies on Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, who are 36 and slowly approaching the end of their illustrious NHL careers. And while the Canucks have competed valiantly in December, it's been a frustrating few weeks for the 21-year-old Horvat.

Though he notched a four-game point streak in the middle of the month, Horvat has been a minus player in each of the past three games. Perhaps most distressing, the youngster the Canucks have looked to as a source of secondary scoring has just two goals in December, one of which was an empty-netter. Still, his 10 goals is tied for the team lead, and there's plenty of season left for Horvat to rebound.

Young guns showdown

Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs, versus Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings, Jan. 1, 3 p.m. ET

It should be quite the spectacle on New Year's Day when the Maple Leafs and Red Wings head outside to BMO Field in Toronto for the Centennial Classic. The Original Six matchup will kick off the NHL's centennial celebration and also will feature many of the league's brightest young stars. Naturally, much of the focus will be on Matthews and Larkin.

Larkin was an All-Star last season as a teenager, and Matthews has taken Leafs Nation by storm since being selected first overall in last summer's draft. With 18 goals already, Matthews could join Larkin among the select few who have been All-Stars in their rookie season. Larkin leads Detroit with 10 goals and remains one of the NHL's fastest and most dynamic skaters.

But this outdoor faceoff won't feature just Matthews and Larkin. Other young guns on display include Toronto forwards Mitch Marner and William Nylander, two of the top-scoring rookies in the NHL, and Detroit forward Anthony Mantha, who has 13 points -- including two game-winning goals -- in 21 games since being called up on Nov. 11. Throw in 22-year-old Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly and this game could be a real treat for hockey fans.