Penguins' Conor Sheary, Bruins' David Pastrnak lead under-24 ranks; Auston Matthews slumps

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


Conor Sheary, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

Good on the undrafted 24-year-old, who missed all of February to injury but has returned and picked up right where he left off. Sheary, who usually plays on the wing with captain Sidney Crosby, has eight points in his past six games and has recorded four two-point efforts since coming back. He's fifth on the Penguins with 43 points in just 49 games and hit the 20-goal plateau in what is just his first full NHL season. Sheary was called up midway through last season -- just in time to join the Penguins for their run to a Stanley Cup.

David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

There's a good reason people are starting to consider the Bruins a playoff dark horse, as they have played exceptionally well under new head coach Bruce Cassidy. Pastrnak's production certainly hasn't slowed since the coaching change. The 20-year-old picked up a goal in a losing effort on Thursday to extend his point streak to 11 games, during which he's scored six times and added nine assists. The Bruins have an outside chance at securing the second playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. While much of the attention lately has gone to Brad Marchand, who is tied for the league lead in points with Connor McDavid, Pastrnak's 31 goals rank him sixth in the league.

Rickard Rakell, C, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell struggled last month, at one point collecting just one goal in nine games. But since Feb. 22, the 23-year-old scoring sensation has collected eight goals in nine games -- and the Ducks have taken off. Anaheim is battling the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers for second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Rakell, who has played both center and on the wing in a top-six role all season, has totaled 59 goals in 224 career games. Thirty of those goals have come in his 59 games this season.


Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

As the debate rages over who will or should win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year -- Matthews or Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets -- Matthews, the No. 1 pick in last June's draft, has hit a dry spell just as the Maple Leafs are fighting to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Matthews has gone without a goal or a point in seven consecutive games. The good news for the 19-year-old is that the Leafs woke up on Friday in the second wild-card spot. And, hey, if it were easy to score 30-plus in your rookie season, everybody would do it.

Jimmy Vesey, LW, New York Rangers

As the Rangers ride out a late-season injury to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, it's fair to wonder from whence the offense is going to come during the playoffs. And given that it's college free-agent season, it's worth checking in on last year's big collegiate acquisition, Vesey, who has seen lots of ups and downs in his first NHL season. The 23-year-old former Harvard standout is without a goal in 13 consecutive games and has no points in his past eight. In a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning this week, his ice time fell below 10 minutes for the first time in two months.

Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

Whatever changes take place in Denver during the offseason -- and there will be or should be plenty, given the embarrassment in Colorado -- the 20-year-old Rantanen no doubt will figure very prominently in the future for the woeful Avs. Still, the 10th overall pick in 2015 has struggled to adapt to the NHL game in spite of his prodigious size (he's 6-foot-4) and skill. Rantanen is without a goal in 11 games and has just one assist over that time.

Young guns showdown

Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals, versus Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

Saturday, March 18, in Tampa

Kuznetsov, the wildly talented 24-year-old pivot, has -- like many of his colleagues -- been in a bit of an offensive funk of late, with two points (one goal, one assist) in his past seven games. But he's third on the team in points and is crucial to the Capitals' long-term playoff success. The Bolts, meanwhile, are desperate for points as they try to keep pace in the fight for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They've been wracked by injury and saw key personnel traded at the deadline, but Point has been a pleasant surprise. The 21-year-old basically stepped in and became Tampa Bay's most effective center. He'll need to keep that up if the Bolts are to keep their playoff hopes alive against a very good Caps team looking to regain its mojo.