Successful growth investing hinges on identifying companies that have underappreciated competitive advantages that will pave the way for explosive sales and earnings growth over the long term. This typically involves embracing greater degrees of risk and uncertainty, but high-growth businesses that are able to adapt to and shape market conditions have the potential to be life-changing investments.

Finding these opportunities is no easy task, so we asked a panel of three top Motley Fool investors to profile some of the most promising growth stocks on the market today. Read on to see why they think Antero Resources (NYSE:AR), Align Technology (NASDAQ:ALGN), and Tencent Holdings (OTC:TCEHY) have what it takes to deliver huge returns for investors.

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A high-octane stock for a dirt-cheap price

Matt DiLallo (Antero Resources): Natural gas driller Antero Resources is one of the fastest growing producers in the country. In fact, its growth rate is on pace to accelerate from 18% last year to 20% annually over the next three. However, it's not just increasing output blindly since that growth will generate jaw-dropping free cash flow in the coming years. If current oil and gas prices hold, the company could produce at least $1.6 billion in excess cash over the next five years -- and even more if they keep recovering.

That said, despite the efforts to convert its top-tier shale gas position into a cash-flow machine, shares of Antero trade at a discount to rival energy companies when they should fetch a premium valuation. Because of that, Antero is exploring its options, which could include using its growing stream of free cash flow to buy back its relatively cheap stock. If the driller goes that route, it could ignite shares much like it has for peers that started repurchasing their stock over the past year. That's because it's on pace to generate enough excess cash over the next few years to buy back nearly 30% of its outstanding shares at the current price.

The looming catalyst of a potential needle-moving buyback makes Antero a great growth stock to consider buying this month. Add to that its top-tier production growth rate, and Antero could fuel market-mashing returns for investors in the coming years.

A stock that will make you smile 

Keith Speights (Align Technology): Here's a trivia question for you: What was the top-performing stock in the entire S&P 500 last year? It wasn't a biotech or a chipmaker, although some came close. Instead, the best S&P 500 stock of 2017 was Align Technology, which gained over 130% and, at one point, was up over 170% year to date.

Align is the kind of stock that will make investors smile. It also makes its customers smile -- literally. Align Technology's primary product is the Invisalign clear aligner. Invisalign is used to correct misalignment of teeth normally addressed by wire-and-metal braces. But because the aligners are clear, they're practically invisible to others. 

As you might imagine, many dental patients prefer wearing Invisalign clear aligners instead of metal braces with wires. As a result, Align Technology's revenue has soared in recent years. The company reported all-time high revenue in the first quarter of 2017. And in the second quarter. And the third quarter. And the fourth. 

But can this great growth stock keep the momentum going? I think so. Despite the tremendous success for Invisalign, Align still only has around 10% of the addressable market in orthodontic cases. Even better, the company is working hard to expand that market by developing new aligners that can treat more severe malocclusion cases. In addition, international markets represent a solid growth opportunity for Align. 

A Chinese multimedia giant

Keith Noonan (Tencent Holdings): If you're looking for stocks that have huge growth potential, the Chinese tech sector makes for a great starting point. The technology industry is a driving factor in making the Middle Kingdom one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and long-term trends toward an expanding middle class and increasing internet engagement point to huge opportunities for companies leading the country's tech boom. Even among that cohort, Tencent Holdings looks to be a standout investment opportunity.

The company's video-game business is booming, with sales up 48% year over year in the September-ended quarter and a long runway for growth still ahead. Hit titles including League of Legends and Honor of Kings are racking up hundreds of millions of monthly active users and demonstrating longevity that's the envy of most industry competitors. Tencent's leading position in video games positions it to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of ongoing industry growth, and its combination of gaming and social businesses make it one of the early power players in the esports space.

The company's WeChat app is China's most popular messaging service and has nearly a billion monthly active users worldwide. The app already has great synergy with the company's gaming business, and it also gives Tencent major competitive advantages in high-growth markets like ride sharing, e-commerce, online-payment. The tech giant's combination of influential social media assets, a thriving video-game business, and emerging growth opportunities in categories like cloud services and payment processing put it at the intersection of growth catalysts that are poised to create long-term sales and earnings momentum. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.