Ranking the 20 Best NHL Players Age 23 or Younger
The Edmonton Oilers’ recent firing of general manager Steve Tambellini does not mean they are set back for another handful of years. Just remember that Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, who took office in May 2006, did not draft Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang or Evgeni Malkin.
In the short 2012-13 NHL season, Edmonton has flexed plenty of encouraging young talent, even if some have not been the most consistent performers. That franchise is the front-runner, at least from a quantitative standpoint, in the way of full-blooded “90's kids” making their imprint on the league.
Other teams, such as Toronto and the New York Islanders, are all but bound to end their own protracted playoff droughts without further delay. In both cases, there is a prolific scorer born in the autumn of 1990 making a can’t-miss impact on that renaissance run.
Based strictly on their performances in 2013, and especially in the homestretch of the regular season, here are the NHL’s top 20 players born in the 1990s or the latter half of 1989. In essence, anybody who would have been young enough to play for a 14-and-under or 16-and-under championship when Crosby was a rookie.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics and player information for this report were found via nhl.com and are through games of Wednesday, April 17.
Honorable Mention: Justin Schultz
The only Edmonton Oilers defenseman weighing in at fewer than 200 pounds (185 to be precise), Justin Schultz is trying to translate his prolific offensive output from lower levels to The Show.
All things considered, 21 points in 42 games is all right for this player on this team. At the same time, Schultz has more work to do with his all-around game, especially in light of multiple prolonged production droughts in the homestretch.
Honorable Mention: Vladimir Tarasenko
St. Louis Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko has battled through inconsistency and an injured-reserve stint with a concussion. But it is hard to outright dismiss the 4-4-8, point-per-game start to his rookie campaign and overall scoring log of 8-9-17 through 32 NHL appearances.
Honorable Mention: Erik Karlsson
Had he been healthy for the duration or majority of this season, the 22-year-old Erik Karlsson would most likely have a top-10 position on this list. With that said, despite having his season abruptly ended on Feb. 13, he deserves at least an honorable mention under extenuating circumstances.
20. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
“Second-year slide” may be a bit of a strong turn of phrase, but not by much.
After leaving his rookie season with an 18-34-52 transcript in 62 games, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on a 79-game pace for a 6-40-46 line in 2013.
His several spurts of productive playmaking have him on this list. But he could be higher with better firsthand output and if he had averted various cold spells of three, five and seven games.
19. Adam Henrique
It is hard to lay too much blame on a single player when a team has failed to cultivate a win in any of its last 10 games. That is especially the case when that player is not far removed from an injury like Adam Henrique is.
Still, beginning with their most recent win, the Devils have scored 18 goals in their last 11 outings and Henrique has had a hand in only one of those. In his last 15 games, he has contributed to only two out of 26 New Jersey goals.
All of that is enough to dock Henrique’s position on this list of young stars. But his overall collection of 10 goals and 15 points, especially after his injuries, is enough to at least position him somewhere on this list.
18. Jonathan Huberdeau
A lack of seasoning and a lack of an adequate supporting cast are finally catching up to Florida Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. He entered Thursday night’s action nursing a three-game pointless skid, seven-game goal drought and only one firsthand strike in his last 17 ventures.
On the other hand, he has nine assists in his last 14 games and previously charged up 12 goals in 25 games to start his NHL career. The fact that Huberdeau has picked up on playmaking since his acetylene stick went cold is certainly encouraging, a sign that his confidence won't wilt altogether when things go wrong in one area.
17. Gabriel Landeskog
While the sophomore Gabriel Landeskog may not be having the most desirable follow-up on his Calder Trophy campaign, he has bounced back reasonably well from a concussion. That, along with his 9-6-15 output in 31 games, gives him a 2013 season parallel with Tarasenko.
The key difference is that he has done this while playing on the first team to be zapped out of postseason contention.
16. Cory Conacher
Before his transfer this season, Cory Conacher had a hand in 24 out of the potent Tampa Bay Lightning’s 112 goals, an average a little better than one out of every five. With Ottawa, he has played six games and contributed to two out of 14 scoring plays, an average of exactly one out of every seven.
Time will tell as to how similar or different Conacher is among the Senators compared to his stint with the Bolts. The former has not given much to gauge yet, but it is hard to take anything away from him for promptly fitting in with Tampa.
15. Nail Yakupov
With the Oilers on the verge of elimination from playoff contention, April of 2013 might as well be taken as the last call for Nail Yakupov to finalize his first impression in the NHL.
Encouragingly enough, the reigning No. 1 overall draft pick has stepped up lately even while his team has receded. After posting two points in each half of a home-and-home series with Calgary, he has sprinkled a 2-3-5 scoring log to cast one bright spot on Edmonton’s six-game losing streak.
His most recent multi-point effort was the Oilers’ most recent outing, when he had a hand in two of three goals in a 5-3 loss to the desperate Minnesota Wild.
14. John Carlson
Since a cold January, the month he turned 23, John Carlson has elevated his game-to-game consistency to a level better than at any point in his previous two-plus NHL seasons. In doing so, the two-way defenseman has become one of the personifications of the Washington Capitals’ timely, post-Vernal Equinox turnaround.
Prior to March 21, the team was 12-16-1 and Carlson had 12 points and a plus-two rating through those first 29 contests. Since then, the Capitals have gone on a 12-1-1 thrill ride with Carlson charging up a 2-8-10 scoring log and plus-seven rating.
13. Tyler Seguin
He has had a couple of cold spells in both the goal and point department. His only strike in the first eight games of the season being an empty-netter in Carolina on Jan. 28, and he later went on a four-game production drought spanning March 19-25.
But 2013 has balanced out favorably enough for Tyler Seguin with a 15-14-29 scoring log through 42 contests. His most notable positive performances have included a goal in each of his Bruins’ first two meetings with the Penguins and three multipoint efforts out of four bouts with the Montreal Canadiens.
12. Brandon Saad
After a slow start with zero points in his first eight games, Brandon Saad took little time fitting in with the balanced Blackhawks. Since then, the 20-year-old rookie has turned in a 9-15-24 scoring log in 33 contests, good for fourth on the Chicago scoring chart.
Besides that, he has been assimilated into every situation, being one of eight Hawks forwards to see substantial shorthanded ice time. Granted, it is a relatively minimal nightly average of 49 seconds, but that is still at least one full penalty-killing shift per game for most individuals.
11. Jordan Eberle
Neither Jordan Eberle nor the Oilers have added a single point to their transcript in the last six games. Eberle’s plus/minus has exponentially lessened with each of those past six contests, bleeding out eight points in that span.
Entering that team-wide lull, however, the third-year NHLer had sculpted a 12-16-28 scoring log and retained an even rating through 36 games.
10. Brendan Gallagher
Despite missing four games, Montreal Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher is tied with Tomas Plekanec for second on the team with 13 goals on the year.
Apart from a pair of goal droughts lasting four and five games apiece, he has not shown many signs of freshman frostbite. That is amplified by the fact that a four-game stretch without any points enveloping his five-game goal-less skid was one of only two droughts in that column lasting longer than two consecutive outings.
Out of his total output of 13-11-24 in 39 games, four goals and four assists have come in 13 encounters with teams currently in the top half of the NHL’s team defense leaderboard. Translation: Gallagher has played one-third of his games against the stingier defensive teams of the Eastern Conference and tallied one-third of his 24 points in those games.
9. Luke Schenn
Along with Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn has been a refreshing specimen of stability on an otherwise shriveled Philadelphia Flyers blue-line brigade.
Those two are the team’s only defensemen to have dressed for more than 30 games so far. And Schenn, who has missed only one of the first 43 contests, has expectedly been the go-to hitter and shot-blocker.
8. Drew Doughty
Do the Los Angeles Kings go the way of Drew Doughty or vice versa?
Frankly, it is a combination of both, and the individual and the team have regained their ideal form in a timely fashion.
Consider the way the Kings started their championship defense with a 5-6-2 record, in which time Doughty brooked a minus-11 rating. By the 26-game mark, he had 10 points, all of them assists, and a minus-four rating while the team was 14-10-2.
In the 17 games since March 16, L.A. has gone on a 10-4-3 tear while Doughty has doubled his point output to 20, including five goals.
7. Derek Stepan
Derek Stepan is not as dazzling on offense as Rick Nash or as high on the hit count as Ryan Callahan. Nevertheless, he has emerged as an indispensable, multifaceted cog for the New York Rangers.
Case in point, he leads the team with 20 assists, a plus-17 rating, a 16 percent shooting accuracy rate, four game-winning goals and 27 takeaways (tied with Brad Richards in the last column).
Had this been a full-length, 82-game season, Stepan would be practically breezing to career highs across the sheet. Everything from 29 goals to 52 takeaways.
6. Evander Kane
The Winnipeg Jets’ leader in cumulative ice time at 883:56, Evander Kane has been more efficient on defense than even captain Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little or Blake Wheeler.
Plugging in the 36 opposing goals that have been scored on Kane’s watch and applying the same formula for a goalie, his goals-against average is 2.44, noticeably lower than the team’s collective 2.88 GAA.
One of the natural reasons for that is Kane’s physicality, with an easy team-high 130 hits.
Oh yeah, and he’s tied for second on the Jets with 16 goals and third with 31 points. That, too, will have the 21-year-old continue to earn big minutes.
5. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The Phoenix Coyotes have allowed a nightly average of 2.62 goals through their first 42 games. Their overall ice-time leader, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, is boasting an individual GAA of 2.45 and is tied with Rob Klinkhammer for a team-best plus-six rating.
At even strength, only Keith Yandle has seen more minutes of action, but nobody on the Coyotes surpasses Ekman-Larsson’s ice time on either side of the special teams’ spectrum. The third-year pro has six power-play assists and has contributed substantially to a penalty-killing brigade with 82.4 percent efficiency.
4. Nazem Kadri
Only an acrid start to April is keeping Nazem Kadri from going any higher on this leaderboard.
For the first two-and-a-half months of his first full NHL season, Kadri has made an unmistakable difference in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ turnaround. The first seven games of this calendar month have been a shell of everything previous given that he has mustered only two assists and a minus-four rating.
But in the big picture, he preceded that with a 17-22-39 scoring log and plus-20 rating in 36 contests, an unrivaled run among his fellow Leafs in terms of two-way success.
3. John Tavares
At least two teams will have to pole-vault the Islanders within the next 10 days in order to deny them a playoff passport. One of the other Isles will need to amass at least 10 goals to surpass John Tavares for the team lead in that department, and only Matt Moulson has a realistic chance of beating him in the team point-getting race.
Tavares did have a bit of a slow start to 2013, that being four straight games without a goal out of the gate. But since then, his biggest lulls have been a pair of three-game goal and point droughts.
Between March 24 and April 9, the Islanders went on a 7-0-2 unbeaten streak to officially assert themselves as playoff contenders. In that nine-game span, Tavares smoothly sprinkled out six goals and nine points and even though he has been pointless in the three contests since, his team continues to win.
2. Taylor Hall
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal recently wrote “Edmonton Oilers winger Taylor Hall is hard-wired for playing every shift like it’s his last” to lead off a column laden with Hall’s and head coach Ralph Krueger’s frustrated input.
That fire has stood out on the stat sheet in that Hall is the youngest player in the league to have reached 30 assists and the 40-point plateau. He also entered Thursday night's action with the most takeaways (28) among all players eligible for this list.
Recently, he endured a five-game pointless skid that coincided with five straight regulation losses for Edmonton, which was outscored 15-4 in that span.
That’s how dependent the Oilers have become on Hall’s output, despite all of the other talent he has on his side.
1. Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos continues to defy the hard times of the Tampa Bay Lightning and stand out at or near the top of the NHL scoring charts. He trails only Alex Ovechkin among league goal-getters with 27 and is tied with teammate Martin St. Louis for second with 53 points.
Approaching the five-year anniversary of his No. 1 overall selection and 10 weeks removed from his 23rd birthday, he's tallied a point in 32 out of 43 games this season. He has yet to be held scoreless for more than two consecutive contests.
Rarely is a player who misses out on the postseason placed on one of the NHL’s two All-Star teams. Stamkos was an exception to that norm in 2011-12 and will likely pull off the only thing more unthinkable by repeating that feat in 2012-13.