It’s been a changing of the guard across the NHL this year, so to speak.
To begin this season, three NHL teams named players under 25 years of age as their new team captains for the 2008-09 season. Another is serving as a member of a “rotating captaincy”, though he has worn the “C” for all but one month thus far.
Add this to a number of other very young captains, along with others filling the role of assistant captain while waiting for their turn to wear the “C," and you have a new look in the leadership of the NHL.
The aforementioned new captains—Dustin Brown (24) of the Kings, Mike Richards (23) of the Flyers, and Jonathan Toews (20) of the Blackhawks—are sure to lead their teams for another 10 years. Rick Nash (24) of the Blue Jackets and Sidney Crosby (21) of the Penguins have both been wearing the “C” for multiple seasons now.
Mikko Koivu (25) of the Wild, is rotating as team captain, and the Canucks named Roberto Luongo (29) as their captain—the first goalie to be a team captain in 61 years.
Then there are the assistant captains who are already the faces of their franchises, but are awaiting the captaincy to become available. These include Ryan Getzlaf (23) of the Ducks, Eric Staal (24) of the Hurricanes, and Alexander Ovechkin (24) of the Capitals.
Anze Kopitar of the Kings is an assistant at just 21-years-old, though with Brown firmly entrenched as captain, Kopitar will quietly lead by example. Dion Phaneuf (23) is in a similar situation in Calgary. In Vancouver, Ryan Kesler (24) also wears the “A,” though takes more of an active leadership role, as NHL rules prohibit Luongo from serving as the official captain during games.
So why the sudden infusion of fresh blood into the leadership ranks?
Some may point to the “new” NHL, which has clearly changed since the lockout. Others may point to the NHL’s push to market its young stars like Crosby and Ovechkin.
In reality, most of these players have been bestowed the highest of honors because they embody what their teams are all about.
Some—like Crosby—are captains merely because of their talent.
But others are simply just captains at heart.
Take a look at Brown. When he steps over the boards, everyone takes notice. He’s got tons of energy and will hit anything that isn’t wearing a Kings jersey. It only takes a few minutes of watching Los Angeles play to realize who undoubtedly leads that team.
The same goes for Richards in Philadelphia. Ask anyone who knows a thing or two about the Flyers, and they’ll tell you “Cappy” bleeds orange-and-black. For a 23-year-old to draw comparisons to Bobby Clarke—Mr. Flyer himself—tells you just how perfectly he fits for that team.
And don’t get me started on Ovechkin. Not only do you know immediately when he’s on the ice, but he’s the truest of superstars. Not only is he arguably the best pure scorer ever to play the game (at the age of 24, no less), but he’s not afraid to throw his weight around either, leading the Capitals in hits.
So while the NHL will always have nothing but reverence for the Joe Sakic’s and Rod Brind’Amour’s of the game, the next wave of elite leaders have taken the NHL by storm, and they’re not afraid to make it known.