-- Here's our weekly look at the fortunes of some of the game's brightest young stars ages 24 and under.
The hard-working Miller, who had fallen out of favor with head coach Alain Vigneault, has had an interesting in-season renaissance. The 23-year-old found himself sliding down the depth chart to the fourth line, limiting his production in recent weeks as Vigneault demanded a more consistent overall game. But Miller is back to early season form, with three goals and five assists in his last five games as the Rangers continue to battle the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals at the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. With injuries somewhat limiting Vigneault's options regarding forward combinations, Miller, the 15th-overall pick in 2011, has picked up power-play time and has chipped in a pair of power-play assists over this recent five-game stretch. The Rangers are getting healthier, so it will be interesting to see if Miller's contributions continue to trend upward.
Slowly but surely, Tkachuk has seen his game and his point totals grow during his rookie season. The 19-year-old son of longtime power forward Keith Tkachuk has been an integral part of one of the NHL's hottest forward trios in recent weeks, playing alongside Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Tkachuk, the sixth-overall pick in June, has 12 points in his last 11 games and has collected at least a point in 10 games for the Flames, who own the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference and are challenging to move up in the Pacific Division standings.
I highlighted Beaulieu's potential with the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens earlier this season and he's back again as we pass the midway point of the season. The 24-year-old, selected 17th overall in 2011, began the season playing some with Shea Weber and has moved up and down the lineup, pending injuries and his own level of play. But with Andrei Markov out of action, Beaulieu has responded to increased ice time and increased responsibility, collecting a goal and seven assists in his last eight games as the Habs continue to pad their division lead (all in spite of a disastrous 7-1 loss against Minnesota Thursday in which Beaulieu was minus-3).
It's been pretty much all roses and cotton candy for the Blue Jackets in recent weeks. And the hard-bitten franchise has been full value for all of the accolades that accompanied its 16-game win streak. But the road this season is only half-traveled, so it's worth pointing out slippage by key players of late, like Jenner, the hard-nosed 23-year-old who has quickly become an important part of the team's leadership group. The 37th pick in the 2011 draft scored 30 goals last season, but has just six goals this season and is in a stretch where he has just one assist in nine games.
There's no doubt the Blues are going to command respect in the postseason. But that's assuming they don't meander their way right out of the playoff picture altogether. The Blues are just 5-11-1 away from home after a 5-1 thrashing in Los Angeles Thursday and are struggling to maintain any kind of consistent level of play. Among the young players who need to make their presence known more regularly is Schwartz, 24, who was taken 14th overall in 2010 and who had a breakout year two seasons ago, with 28 goals. But the skilled winger has just one goal in his last 14 games and will need to be better if the Blues are going to fulfill their significant preseason promise -- or even just hang on to a playoff spot.
It's been a slow descent for the Red Wings this season as they try to keep their prodigious playoff streak intact (they last missed in 1990). There have been issues throughout the lineup, although the offense has never really taken off and is currently 25th in goals per game and the power play is dead last. Talented sophomore Larkin, 20, the 15th-overall pick in 2014, is among those struggling to find the back of the net, with just two goals in his last 14 games for a team that is 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference after being thrashed 5-2 by the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
Young guns showdown
Saturday, Jan. 14, in Edmonton
These two young stars were Team North America teammates at the World Cup of Hockey and they'll be teammates in two weeks for Team Pacific Division at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. But Saturday they'll be going toe-to-toe for two important points as the Flames have clawed their way back into the mix, not just for a wild-card spot but for one of the top three playoff spots in the division. Gaudreau, 23, has scored in just two of his last 15 games while McDavid, who turned 20 this week, continues to lead all NHLers in points in just his second season.