Here's our weekly look at the fortunes of some of the game's brightest young stars who are 24 and under.
You could make a case for any of the three dynamic rookies who are propelling Toronto -- Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nylander -- to be on this list every week. But as the Maple Leafs wait to see how long the injury Marner sustained earlier this week will keep him out of the lineup, let's give a nod to the 20-year-old winger. The eighth-overall pick in 2014 has five goals and seven points in his past seven games for a team that continues to flirt with what would be just its second playoff appearance since the 2004-05 lockout. Nylander's name keeps popping up in potential trade rumors, but it's hard to imagine the Leafs are seriously considering moving the talented forward.
Buffalo is gamely trying to at least stay on the edge of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference -- and after Thursday's win over Colorado, it is just three points back of the second wild-card spot. It's no surprise that Eichel, the second-overall pick in 2015, is having a say in the Sabres' late-season reversal of fortune. The talented 20-year-old has displayed his playmaking abilities in recent days, collecting nine assists and a goal over his past eight games. All but three points have come at even strength.
One reason to believe this might finally be the season the Capitals break through and make a serious Stanley Cup run is their impressive depth, especially up front. Connolly, 24, wasn't given a qualifying offer by the Boston Bruins after last season and signed a one-year deal with the Caps instead. He has in recent weeks established himself as a key part of the team's revamped and reinvigorated third line. Playing mostly with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky, Connolly has collected eight points in his past six games -- and the sixth-overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 seems to have finally found an NHL home.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault probably isn't getting the love he deserves for Jack Adams Award consideration, but his deft handling of a very young, highly skilled offensive group has been impressive. He has gotten maximum production out of guys such as J.T. Miller while helping the 23-year-old grow into a 200-foot player. Buchnevich, 21, isn't quite there yet, and this week Vigneault made the 75th-overall pick in 2013 a healthy scratch for the red-hot Rangers. It's all part of the process for Buchnevich, who still figures to be an important part of New York's offense come playoff time -- even though he has one assist in his past 10 games.
The Flyers continue to go sideways at a critical juncture, having won just once in their past six starts -- and the lack of offense might end up being what keeps them out of the playoffs when all is said and done. There's a lot of blame to go around, but it's certainly been a struggle for the 24-year-old Couturier, the eighth-overall pick in 2011 and a member of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. He has just one goal and three assists in his past 14 games.
It's been a difficult season for Lazar, the 17th-overall pick in 2013. Although the Senators have far exceeded expectations under coach Guy Boucher and have positioned themselves well for what would be an surprise postseason berth, the former Canadian junior star and World Junior Championship gold-medal winner has struggled to get in -- and stay in -- the Senators' lineup. Lazar, who just turned 22, has appeared in just 30 games this season and has yet to score a goal. Now his name has started popping up in trade rumors in advance of the March 1 deadline.
Young guns showdown
Saturday, Feb. 18, at Minnesota
This terrific Central Division matchup features the Western Conference's top team, the Wild, and a Predators squad that's seeking to retain its grip on a wild-card spot in the conference. Granlund, 24, has been a revelation for Minnesota this season, having moved from center to the wing. The ninth-overall pick in 2010 has points in 15 of his past 18 games (including a franchise-best 12-game points streak) and leads the Wild with 51 points. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Arvidsson has helped jump-start the Preds' offense in recent days, with points in eight of his past 12 games -- including six goals in his past six games. Saturday will mark Nashville's first game after its bye week.