Every NHL season sees at least one promising young player blossom into a full-fledged star.

Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho and Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson are two recent examples, quickly evolving into the top stars on their respective clubs. Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov could soon join their ranks.

Several factors will determine their development. Some have already shown potential while playing big-game minutes. Others will be expected to move up and take over bigger roles.

Here's a look at seven young players who are poised to become NHL stars in 2020-21.

Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season proved to be significant in the short but promising NHL career of Anthony Cirelli.

The center finished fourth among the voters for the Frank J. Selke Trophy that honors the NHL's top defensive forward. He picked up 13 first-place votes, two more than St. Louis Blues center (and 2019 Selke winner) Ryan O'Reilly, who finished third.

That was quite a leap forward for the 23-year-old during his second full campaign. He saw more playing time last season in all situations for the Lightning. That was also reflected in his offensive production, going from a respectable 39 points in 82 games as a rookie in 2018-19 to 44 points in 68 games last season.

Cirelli tied with Brayden Point for the Lightning lead in plus/minus with plus-28. He also led all their forwards in short-handed ice time (2:49) per game last season and was fourth among Bolts skaters in overtime ice time per game (1:11). That reflects the confidence head coach Jon Cooper has in his abilities during crucial situations.

Cirelli was a key component in the Lightning's march to the 2020 Stanley Cup. He will continue to improve and should remain a legitimate Selke Trophy candidate for the foreseeable future.

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

The first overall pick in the 2018 draft, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was projected to become a star. Entering his third NHL season, the 20-year-old may be ready to assume that mantle.

With 44 points in 82 games in 2018-19, Dahlin became a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy given to the top rookie. He struggled early last season to adjust under new coach Ralph Krueger, and he also missed eight games to a concussion last fall and two with an upper-body injury in February. Nevertheless, Dahlin netted 40 points in 59 games to finish fourth among Sabres scorers.

The 6'3", 193-pound Swede remains a highly skilled all-around defenseman. With an added measure of maturity and two years of NHL action under his belt, he should be even better in 2020-21. He'll also benefit offensively from the club's offseason additions of forwards Taylor Hall and Eric Staal.

Say goodbye to the Bobby Ryan puppy signs, and hello to ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’

Evgenii ‘Daddy’ Dadonov spoke to reporters via Zoom on Monday about his enthusiasm for joining the Ottawa Senators as a free agent signing, and he took a moment to credit former Florida Panthers coach Bob Boughner for giving him the “daddy” handle.”

Boughner, weighing a three-syllable Russian surname and a three-syllable Russian first name, told Dadonov: “I’m going to call you Daddy.”

To the relief of his teammates, the name stuck.

Fittingly, the player known as Daddy will have a role as a veteran and mentor for a young Senators roster. In conversations with general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith, Dadonov was presented with a host of opportunities in Ottawa, including the chance of playing plenty of minutes.

“They told me I would have a good role on the team because there’s not a lot of veterans on the team,” Dadonov said. “It’s time for me to step up, as one of the most experienced guys on the team. I’m ready for that.”

Dadonov, 31, is coming off three consecutive seasons of 25-plus goals with the Panthers. He says he spoke with six or seven NHL teams during the free agency period that began Oct. 9 and settled on Ottawa because he saw a chance to be a big part of something special with a team on the rise. His three-year contract has an average annual value of $5 million

The San Jose Sharks are preparing for a future without Joe Thornton, who played the past 15 seasons with them before he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

"We have to re-establish our game," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said Sunday. "Joe, at 41, he's looking at the runway left and opportunity [to win the Stanley Cup]. I fully understand that. But we as an organization have gone through this before in the past and we've bounced back quickly. It's up to us to go to work, get back at it and learn from what happened last year."

The Sharks (29-36-5, .450 points percentage) finished last in the Western Conference last season. They advanced to the 2019 Western Conference Final, losing the best-of-7 series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in six games.

Wilson said one big positive entering this season is defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl are healthy. Karlsson missed the final 13 games last season after breaking his thumb Feb. 14. He scored 40 points (six goals, 34 assists) in 56 games. Couture (39 points; 16 goals, 23 assists in 52 games) was injured when a puck hit him in the face against the Colorado Avalanche on March 8 and missed 17 games (Jan. 9-Feb. 23) with a fractured ankle. Hertl (36 points; 16 goals, 20 assists in 48 games) had surgery on a torn ACL sustained against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29.

Goalie Devan Dubnyk was acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 5, and forward Patrick Marleau signed a one-year contract Oct. 13. The 41-year-old is first in Sharks history in games (1,551), goals, (518) and points (1,102), and second in assists (584) behind Thornton (804).

Winter is coming. More specifically, with no meaningful revenue incoming since mid-March and none on the immediate horizon, hockey’s long winter is approaching amid the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 NHL season.

Meetings to slash expenditures, reduce payroll and set internal hockey operations budgets below the salary cap limit have been ongoing for most of the 27 teams in off-season mode.

Six of the seven Canadian clubs have reduced the pay of staff members, including team presidents, general managers and coaches, team and league sources have told TSN. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the lone Canadian club to not reduce pay for staff to date. In all, at least 17 NHL clubs have reduced pay to hockey operations department staff members.

After seeing their pay reduced by 50 per cent – nearly twice more than the next-highest reduction in the league – the Ottawa Senators’ coaching staff appealed to the NHL for relief. With the NHL’s involvement, Senators’ coaches were recently reinstated to full pay retroactive to July 13, the opening date of training camp before the league returned to play in Edmonton and Toronto.

The NHL’s small-market teams are not alone in feeling the pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees from the league’s head office have been working in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles at a 25 per cent reduction since April.

Even big-market clubs, Original Six teams like Boston and Chicago, have taken measures to reduce expenses.

The Bruins requested their Jack Adams Award-winning coaching staff forego playoff bonuses to avoid hockey operations salary cuts. In June, the Blackhawks instituted a tiered staff reduction starting at 20 per cent for employees earning more than $200,000, while also eliminating bonuses.

The Buffalo Sabres are the only coaching staff to reject a request for a voluntary pay reduction. Sources indicated that the Sabres staff had pay reduced by 20 per cent from April 1 until July 13, at which point they turned down a subsequent request for a 25 per cent reduction.

Almost universally, NHL coaches – high up on the front office food chain – accepted the reductions without complaint because doing so meant that layoffs would not be necessary for other hockey operations positions, including scouts and analysts.

The NHL rumor mill is the easy part. Trade this for that. The trades make sense on video game consoles and message boards, but the ease with which fans and media make trades belies the grinding negotiations between NHL GMs, which sometimes takes months. The Pittsburgh Penguins trade talks begin with dealing a goalie but will also need to shed salary and freshen a lineup, which has stumbled.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford will likely make additional moves. And in those further moves lies the Penguins’ ability to revamp for next season. However, the Penguins trade return on Murray could become the fulcrum of the offseason.

Our existing analysis of the trade market used recent historical data with a bit of player analysis compared to the market to determine Murray’s baseline value was a second-round pick and second-tier prospect. Even if another team offered an NHL player, the Penguins salary cap situation is so tight, the Penguins may not be able to accept anything but a third-pair, right side defenseman who makes well less than market value.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, of the 57 goalies who played at least 20 games this season, Murray ranked 50th with an .899 save percentage. Such stats have not escaped the buyers on the increasingly-flooded market.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is in win-now mode. Subsequent moves will best reflect the Penguins’ needs to shed salary now and add talent. Under better circumstances, a Penguins trade could bring one of those pieces.

While 16 teams remain in the running for the Stanley Cup, those eliminated in the best-of-five qualifiers are now considering changes and so we can start talking about what comes next for each of them.

Whether it’s a team that would have been on the outside of the playoffs anyway in March (see the New York Rangers, who now have the first-overall pick) or a Cup hopeful experiencing crushing disappointment (ahem, Toronto Maple Leafs), each of them has at least one big question to face in the off-season.

From our most recent NHL newsletter, here is the big question facing each team eliminated in qualifying.

Pittsburgh Penguins: What, exactly, needs to change? In his season-ending press conference, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford reaffirmed a commitment to the current core, meaning the yearly tradition of Evgeni Malkin trade rumours should end there. But Rutherford also mentioned that the way the Penguins went out, with just one win against Montreal and zero pushback in the deciding game, was “very disappointing and changes need to be made.” Sidney Crosby is 33 now and Malkin 34: How much longer will the window stay open?

Toronto Maple Leafs: What kind of defenceman will they add? Like Rutherford, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas also noted plans to move ahead without altering his four star forwards, despite struggling to score against Columbus and with a clear need for improved defensive play. In an off-season where the cap stays flat and free agency will be difficult to wade into, it would seem trade is the only way for Toronto to really get what it needs, short of banking on Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren taking a big step up. So does that mean Kasperi Kapanen or Alexander Kerfoot could be available? What sort of player would either return?

A-lex-ee La-fren-yer.

Learn how to say it, Maple Leafs fans, because having a 12.5% chance at drafting Alexis Lafreniere, the top prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft, is the only lasting positive development from this past week.

The Leafs were bounced Sunday from the NHL's 24-team playoff tournament following a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena. Columbus won the tight, roller coaster best-of-five qualifying-round series in five games, outscoring Toronto 12-10 in the process. The Leafs have now dropped all four of their postseason series since Auston Matthews entered the league in 2016-17.

Let's break down what went wrong for Toronto, and who's ostensibly on the hot seat heading into the offseason:

You can blame the absences of Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie. You can blame the tremendous performance of Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who casually turned aside all 33 shots he faced Sunday. You can blame John Tavares somehow hitting the post when given an open net in the first period. You can even blame the emotional and physical letdown following an exhilarating Game 4.

But, truthfully, the Leafs flat-out didn't execute in Game 5.

They allowed the Blue Jackets to score the opening goal in a do-or-die game, which is a cardinal sin. Despite the madness that unfolded in Game 4, Columbus protects leads arguably better than any other NHL team. John Tortorella's squad specializes in clogging the neutral zone and the front of its own net. And after Friday's embarrassment, there was no chance the blue-collar, disciplined Blue Jackets were letting another lead slip away.

The result: A team with Matthews, Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly that was shut out just once in 70 regular-season games was blanked Sunday for the second time in five play-in contests. Columbus figured the Leafs out, limiting Toronto to three five-on-five goals all series.

44. Asked point blank if he thought Matthew Tkachuk was a dirty player, the pause from Paul Maurice was palpable.

“I don’t know, if you sin once are you a sinner?” said the Winnipeg Jets coach, one day after calling Tkachuk’s hit on Mark Scheifele dirty, filthy and disgusting.

“You know, sin 10 times? I don’t think he came off the bench and said, ‘Hey I’m going to see if I can go stab the back of Mark Scheifele’s leg with my skate.’ I think he got to that point and I think that’s exactly what he did. But I don’t think he’s skating across the ice thinking that’s what I’m going to do. I think he plays at a level he’s on the edge, he crosses it sometimes. He crossed it in my mind clearly. That’s exactly how I feel.”

Jets winger Adam Lowry was only slightly more diplomatic.

“I don’t know if I would say dirty – I would say reckless,” said the Jets’ bruising third liner.

“We all play hard. I don’t have the cleanest track record either. I know when you’re playing a physical brand of hockey, sometimes you step over the line.”

Well, that didn’t take long.

One game into the most intriguing matchup of the qualification round and everyone is already talking about Matthew Tkachuk.

Just how he likes it.

Distracting the opposition with far more than just his mouthguard, Tkachuk has once again become the focal point of a juicy all-Canadian battle.

Distracting the opposition with far more than just his mouthguard, Tkachuk has once again become the focal point of a juicy all-Canadian battle.

Welcome back to the playoffs, everyone, where nothing is black and white – it’s all shades of grey and whatever colour bruising is.

Not surprisingly, Maurice doubled down on his over-the-top accusation Sunday morning, prompting Lowry to join the Jets’ message.

The National Hockey League says 11 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan began on June 8.

In a statement released Friday, the NHL says more than 200 players have been tested since it began allowing clubs to open facilities for small group skates earlier this month.

“Since NHL clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19,” the statement reads. “Through (Friday), in excess of 200 players have undergone multiple testing. A total of 11 of these players have tested positive.