When it comes to the age of NHL players, the league actually goes to extremes since there are those as young as 18 and as old as 44. In fact, Czech winger Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers is believed to be the oldest athlete in any of the world’s major professional sports leagues at the moment. Jagr is perhaps just a freak of nature though and he’s definitely not the norm in the NHL these days. The league is witnessing a youth movement at the moment with many of its top stars and prospects still even a year or two away from drinking age, at least in the U.S.
The NHL has always been home to a handful of excellent young players each season, but the league faced off for the 2016/17 campaign with over five dozen rookies in the clubs’ lineups. While Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, John Gibson, Shayne Gostisbehere, Artemi Panarin, and Colton Parayko led the way last year and were named to the All-Rookie Team, there are newcomers who may overshadow them this season. These include Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers, Patrik Laine of Winnipeg, Zach Werenski of Columbus, Travis Konecny of Philadelphia and Matthew Tkachuk of Calgary.
As of November 5th, Nylander, Matthews, Laine and Werenski all had at least 10 points to their name from anywhere between nine and 12 games played and a dozen of the league’s rookies were scoring at over a 40-point per season pace. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of fine veteran players left in the league, but just three of the top-20 scorers were over the age of 30. These were Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, Joe Pavelski of San Jose and Montreal’s Shea Weber. Many of the other top players are still under the age of 24, including Mc David, Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado, Jonathan Drouin of Florida, Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary, Seth Jones of Columbus and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad.
It appears that many young players are simply better prepared for the rigors of NHL hockey these days and are more physically developed and mature when they reach the league. This means some of them are ready to help out their teams immediately and have a positive impact on the sport. They’re proving that men as young as 18 and 19 are already good enough to compete with seasoned veterans and established world stars. It should also be noted that most of the league’s youngest players are generally playing for weaker teams since they were taken with the highest draft picks from rebuilding clubs.
This is why Edmonton has been able to stock the cupboards with so many excellent young prospects over the years and Toronto has several in their lineup this season. There’s a lot of pressure on these youngsters to produce and help their team out immediately and most of them are passing the test with flying colours. There’s no doubt the NHL has been is getting younger and younger over the past decade with 25-year-old Matt Duchene of Colorado already skating in his eight season as a prime example.
Some veteran players are finding it harder to stick with their teams these days and older free agents often have a difficult time finding bidders. We are seeing more and more veterans attending training camps on professional tryout contracts while others such as Brooks Laich, PA Parenteau, Ondrej Pavelec, Milan Michalek, Rob Scuderi and Mason Raymond being sent to the minors, placed on waivers or simply released by their respective clubs. This year’s crop of youngsters are bringing some much-needed excitement and scoring into the game and the race for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year should be one of the best in years. We might even see some of them challenge for the league scoring title.