The NHL has made a cultural shift since the lockout. In a game that was once dominated by players in their early to mid thirties, a youth movement has taken place. Now we have players like Crosby, Ovechkin and Phaneuf among many others who are dominating the game while in their early twenties. It is players like these that every team covets, and if you ask any GM in the NHL they would be happy to have any one of these players on their team. Below is my list of the top 15 players under 25 and a comparison to a player of old.
15. Milan Lucic (19): Many people might think I am crazy for having him in the top 15 young guns, but you cannot overlook a "bull in a china shop". Lucic at 19, has the size and skill to be a gritty second line forward in this league. He has played in 69 games and has 22 points and 83 PIM thus far. My favourite stat is 13 fighting majors this year, with 83 PIM means that only 18 of his PIM are minor penalties. This shows that although he is willing to mix it up with anyone he plays discipline and will most likely not take a stupid penalty to hurt his team. COMPARISON: Gary Roberts
14. Cory Perry (22): With the great combination of speed, size and skill Perry will be a dominant force. At 6'3 /197 he will grow into his frame allowing him to be even more physical while cycling in the corners. He possesses a deadly and accurate shot which will allow him to surpass the 40 goal mark on a regular basis. COMPARISON: Steve Thomas
13. Jeff Carter (23): A blue collar center who is responsible at both ends of the ice. Jeff will be a captain in the NHL in the near future. He thrives on pressure, and is not afraid to have the puck on his stick when the game is on the line.COMPARISON: Brent Sutter
12. Patrick Kane (19): A magician with the puck, Kane has vision that few other players have. The new NHL is suited for his game at 5'9 /160 he uses his low
center of gravity to sift through opponents with ease. He still needs to work on
his defensive game to become a more complete player.
COMPARISON: Denis Savard
11. Carey Price (20): Montreal has a penchant for running with young goaltenders. Price has shown already this season that he is as cool as they come. The playoffs will provide the next test for this up and comer. No matter how he fares in the second season, what he has done thus far is no fluke. Look for Price to take it up a notch next season. COMPARISON: Mike Richter
10. Shea Weber (22): Shea is not only a nasty piece of work who clears the front of the net with authority, he has a blast from the point as well. Opposing players are well aware of when Weber is on the ice. His draw back is his skating.
COMPARISON: Al Iafrate
9. Mike Richards (23): A natural leader, who can bury the puck just as well as he can dish it. Richards has an explosive first step which helps on the penalty kill. When he gets the puck by some one, not many can catch him shown by his 5 short handed goals in 65 games played this year. A player who can be so successful offensively and cares about his own end is a rare find. COMPARISON: Joe Nieuwendyk
8. Jonathan Toews (19): A natural goal scorer, Toews has creativity that is
unparalleled in the game. He has scored many highlight goals already in his
young career rushing from end to end. Still a highlight to date is his 3 shoot out goals in the World Junior Hockey Championship to defeat the USA. Although an
untimely injury will cost him the Calder Trophy, he is picking up right where he
left off. COMPARISON: Guy Lafleur
7. Ilya Kovalchuk (24): Kovalchuk is the most feared player on a breakaway
since Pavel Bure. He possesses a wicked shot that he will utilize from any spot
on the ice. With lightning fast skating and a mean streak to boot he is a force on
any given night. Defensive liabilities are somewhat overlooked for a 50 goal
scorer. COMPARISON: Pavel Bure
6. Eric Staal (23): A big strong centre is at the top of any GM’s wish list and Staal fits that bill. He is a sure bet to be a 40 plus goal guy as well as a physical presence. Staal is also a very durable player only missing 1 game in the last 3 years, and considering his style of play it is a remarkable feat. Staal is also very strong on the puck, with a couple of more pounds on his 6’4 frame he will be
almost unstoppable. COMPARISON: Phil Esposito
5. Evgeni Malkin (21): Malkin will never hit full stride while playing behind
Crosby. He is a quite superstar who goes about his business game in and game
out. He has more of a blue collar approach to the game than that of his Russian
counterparts. While the game still needs some of the flash and dash, it is good to
see a good “throwback” player coming in to the light.
COMPARISON: Joe Sakic
4. Ryan Getzlaf (22): A rugged centre who is responsible at both ends of the ice. He is already a Stanley Cup champion and was one of the leaders at age 21 on a Ducks team that featured older superstar veterans like Pronger, Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. He is well on his way to be a player that could amassing
more than 1000 points and 1000 PIM. COMPARISON: Bernie Nicholls
3. Dion Phaneuf (22): Dion is that hardest hitting d-man in the NHL since Scott Stevens and will gladly back up any of his hits. He has a rocket from the blue line and will be a solid point producer for years. With a firm grasp of the “team” concept, Dion will no doubt captain a team in the future. Many people would take him just as high as Crosby or Ovechkin. Dion will become the most feared defender in the league. COMPARISON: Chris Pronger
2. Sidney Crosby (20): A true gem, a player with all the tools to dominate the league. Crosby will draw comparisons to all of the greats who have played.
Crosby like Gretzky made the players around him better. A leader on and off the
ice, Crosby is the poster child for the NHL. At only 20 years of age Crosby will
still mature and grow into his talent. His game is only going to get better, that is a
scary thought. Look out record books! A player that could be the richest in the
history of the NHL showed leadership beyond his years by signing a lesser value
contract to ensure a good supporting cast. COMPARISON: Wayne Gretzky
1. Alex Ovechkin (22): Alex will be somewhat over shadowed by his counterpart Sidney Crosby. A.O as he is known would be my first choice to start a franchise; he is the ultimate team guy. He is the most talented player in the league today, and the purest goal scoring winger the NHL has seen in more than a decade. A.O gets it. He is approachable and just wants to play a game he loves. He did the unthinkable and negotiated a monster deal to stay in Washington by himself. No agent, no maximum dollar deal. Every time he touches the puck we sit at the edge of our seats waiting to see what he will do, and no other players have the fans attention like that. COMPARISON: Mario Lemieux
For these players to be so dominating so early into their careers it is safe to assume that we will have a lot of exciting hockey to look forward to. It was very hard to come up with only fifteen players with this great upside, so notable mention to Sam Gagner, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jordan Staal, and Nathan Horton. Every person and ever scout has their own opinions, this is mine. What is yours?