Forsberg, Schmaltz lead under-24 rankings

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Here’s our weekly look at the fortunes of some of the game’s brightest young stars.

Hot

Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators

How hot is the 22-year-old Forsberg? Let’s start with scorching and go from there. The streaky winger has 10 goals and three assists in his past six games. Forsberg’s torrid pace leading into the trade deadline time reminds me of one of Nashville GM David Poile’s shrewdest moves. He acquired Forsberg, the 11th pick overall in 2012, from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat at the 2013 trade deadline. The Preds have — thanks in large part to Forsberg, who has been playing mostly with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — created a nice cushion for themselves. Nashville now sits third in the Central Division in spite of a last-second loss on Thursday to Montreal in P.K. Subban‘s long-awaited return to the Bell Center.

Nick Schmaltz, C, Chicago Blackhawks

The 21-year-old former University of North Dakota standout suddenly finds himself in a prime time role for the red-hot Blackhawks with regular center Artem Anisimov out of action. Schmaltz is centering defending league MVP Patrick Kane and defending rookie of the year Artemi Panarin. While filling in for Anisimov in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Schmaltz — the 20th overall pick in the 2014 draft — picked up two assists as Kane registered a hat trick. Schmaltz is one of a handful of youngsters who will have to continue to produce and mature if the Blackhawks are going to enjoy a long playoff run this spring.

Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings

If the Kings are going to make a push to dislodge St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference (they actually own a playoff berth thanks to a shootout win over Toronto Thursday but St. Louis has two games in hand) they’re going to need their offense to wake up. Maybe newly acquired Jarome Iginla helps. But you certainly can’t blame 24-year-old Tanner Pearson who, along with center Jeff Carter, is pretty much the only guys who scores for the Kings these days. A restricted free agent at the end of the season Pearson has seven goals and 14 points in his last 10 games for the offensively-starved Kings.

Not

Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues

The Blues shipped defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals before the trade deadline. So St. Louis will be reshuffling the deck — in terms of ice time and responsibilities — as it tries to hang onto the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. There’s no question that Parayko, 23, is seen as one of the heirs apparent to Shattenkirk’s top role on the back end for the Blues, not just this season but moving forward. Some of that role will be in helping to fill the offensive void created by Shattenkirk’s departure. Parayko has just one assist in eight games for St. Louis, which woke up on Friday outside the playoff bubble.

Zach Hyman, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have had to make do without talented rookie Mitch Marner for several games while he was out with an upper-body injury and will be making room for newly acquired veteran centers Brian Boyle and Eric Fehr. But if Toronto is to stay in the hunt for what would be its second playoff appearance since the 2004-05 lockout, it’s going to be the kids who get the Leafs there. Hyman, 24, has played some with Auston Matthews and William Nylander in recent days as head coach Mike Babcock tries to keep the Leafs generating enough offense to stay competitive. It hasn’t all worked out, as Hyman has collected just one assist in his last 12 games.

Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames

The Flames are, well, on fire right now, pushing their way into the discussion for second and third place in the Pacific Division. But Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, continues to face a steep learning curve. The 20-year-old recently underwent a root canal (ouch) and has just one goal (and one point) in his past 11 games. It will be interesting to see how — or when — the newly acquired Curtis Lazar, also a center, is eased into the Calgary lineup. But it would behoove Bennett to find a way to contribute on the score sheet down the stretch.

Young guns showdown

Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens versus Brady Skjei, D, New York Rangers

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

The Canadiens are back on a roll after beefing up at the trade deadline, but they didn’t get the point-producer that many believed was important for long-term playoff success. That means even more pressure on Galchenyuk, 23, who is on a four-game point streak (three goals, two assists) for Montreal, which leads the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, the Rangers — who could end up as the Habs’ first-round playoff opponent — made one addition at the deadline, bringing in defenseman Brendan Smith from the Detroit Red Wings. The evolution of Skjei, 22, who has three points in his past four games and 31 points overall, has helped the Rangers absorb the loss of Keith Yandle last offseason and still remain very much in the mix as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference



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