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Ranking the Best NHL Players Under 25 Years Old

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2017

Ranking the Best NHL Players Under 25 Years Old

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    A number of NHL players under the age of 25 have risen to prominence with their respective teams in recent years. Such names include Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg

    Players such as McDavid and Forsberg have established themselves as superstars in a short period of time, while several rookiessuch as Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laineare quickly becoming stars in their own right.

    Here's a look at this season's best under-25 NHL players. Performance, skills and roster role have been factored into this compilation.

Honorable Mentions

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers

    Injuries have hampered Barkov and Ekblad has struggled this season. Still, the 21-year-olds remain key players for the Panthers.

    Barkov is second in points (43) to the 23-year-old Trocheck (47), who's emerging as a reliable scorer. 

     

    Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

    Draisaitl, 21, is second among Oilers' scorers (56 points) and could reach 70 points by the season's end. He and linemate Connor McDavid are a lethal offensive combination. 

     

    Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

    The 21-year-old Ehlers is enjoying a strong sophomore season. With 54 points, he sits fourth among Jets' scorers.

     

    Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes

    Faulk, 24, and the 22-year-old Slavin anchor the Hurricanes' young blue line.

    Faulk leads their defensemen in points (28), and Slavin is their time on ice per game leader (23 minutes and 26 seconds). 

     

    Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens

    Galchenyuk's strong start to this season was derailed by a knee injury and then inconsistency following his return. Still, the 23-year-old's 39 points place him third among the Canadiens' leading scorers.

     

    Dougie Hamilton, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

    Hamilton (44 points) and Monahan (46) overcame slow starts to rank among the Flames' top scorers. Joining them is 19-year-old winger Tkachuk (44 points), who's among this season's rookie scoring leaders

     

    Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators

    In his first full season with the Predators, 24-year-old Johansen has become their top-line center and playmaker. With 52 points, he's jockeying for the team scoring lead with linemate Filip Forsberg. 

     

    Seth Jones, Alexander Wennberg and Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

    Jones, 22, and 19-year-old Werenski lead all Blue Jackets defensemen in points (37 and 41 respectively). Wenneberg leads the Jackets in assists (41) and sits second in points (53).  

     

    John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

    For the third straight season, 24-year-old Klingberg reached the 40-point mark. He's tied for third with Jason Spezza among the Stars' leading scorers

     

    Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

    With 51 points in 67 games, 24-year-old Kuznetsov's production is down compared to last season's career-best 77 points. Despite that drop-off in production, he sits third among the Capitals' top scorers

     

    Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

    Contract negotiations delayed Lindholm's season debut, while Rakell was hampered by an early-season abdominal injury.

    Still, Lindholm is second in time on ice per game (22:10) for the Ducks, while Rakell is their goal-scoring leader with 29 goals.

     

    Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

    Despite a miserable season for the Avalanche, 21-year-old MacKinnon is their leading scorer with 44 points. He's on pace to exceed 50 points for the third time in four years. 

     

    Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Leafs' surprising improvement is due in part to these two rookies. Along with Auston Matthews, 19-year-old Marner and 20-year-old Nylander are among the Leafs' leading scorers and are rapidly becoming invaluable core players. 

     

    J.T. Miller, New York Rangers

    It's been a breakthrough season for Miller, who turned 24 on Tuesday. With 50 points in 69 games, he's the Rangers' leading scorer and should reach 60 points by season's end. 

     

    Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

    After backstopping the Penguins to the 2016 Stanley Cup title, 22-year-old Murray has taken over as their full-time starter this season. He's won 26 of 38 games with a 2.33 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. 

     

    David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

    The 20-year-old Pastrnak has rebounded well from last season's injury-ravaged sophomore campaign. With 28 goals and 58 points, he sits second among the Bruins' leading scorers

10. Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Since making his full-time NHL debut in 2014-15, right wing Mark Stone has proved to be an invaluable player for the Ottawa Senators. The 24-year-old is their best two-way forward and consistently among their top scorers. 

    A Calder Trophy finalist in 2015, Stone tied Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau for the rookie scoring lead with 64 points. He also finished second among Senators' scorers in 2014-15 and 2015-16 (61 points). With 50 points in 63 games, he's second in scoring to Erik Karlsson and on pace for his third 60-plus point season. 

    Stone also plays a solid defensive game. He topped the league in takeaways in the last two seasons and leads with 88 this season. His skills at both ends of the ice are among the reasons the Sens are a playoff contender.

9. Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Since making his NHL debut in 2013-14, Rasmus Ristolainen has steadily grown into a skilled and reliable top-pairing defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres. He's also blossoming into one of the league's top all-around blueliners. 

    With 43 points in 69 games, the 6'4", 207-pound Ristolainen is among the Sabres' leading scorers. He's also one of the league's points leaders for defensemen.

    Strong in his own zone, the 22-year-old leads the Sabres in hits (174), blocked shots (149) and sits second to Jake McCabe in takeaways (23). He's also their leader in time on ice per game, logging 26 minutes.

    The Sabres' defense is the league's worst, giving up 34.1 shots-against per game. That cannot be pinned on Ristolainen. Few teams have a young defenseman as skilled at both ends as this talented Finn, and the Sabres must build up their blue line around him. 

8. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel finished second in rookie scoring (56 points) in 2015-16. He also finished second among Sabres scorers.

    Despite missing the opening 21 games of this season, the 20-year-old is still putting up impressive numbers. 

    With 47 points in 48 games, Eichel is the Sabres' point leader. He's tied for second with Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart in game-winning goals, tied for second in goals (19) with Kyle Okposo, sits third in assists (28) and fourth in power-play points (20). 

    If not for his injury and given his rate of production, Eichel could be on pace for 85 points this season. Still, he could finish the season with 60 points, exceeding last year's rookie total.

    The best is yet to come for this skilled Sabres center. 

7. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Since his full-time NHL rookie season in 2014-15, Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg is among the league's most consistent young scorers. The 22-year-old is on track for his third consecutive 60-plus season. 

    With 27 goals and 51 points in 68 games, Forsberg is jockeying with linemate Ryan Johansen to be the Predators' offensive leader this season.

    A clutch scorer, he leads the Predators with eight game-winning goals and is tied with Viktor Arvidsson for the lead in shorthanded goals (three). Forsberg is also among the league leaders in both categories. 

    Should Forsberg maintain his current pace, he'll finish as the Predators' leading scorer for the third straight year. It's that level of reliable production that makes him one of the league's best under-25 players.

6. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Despite his 5'9", 157-pound frame, Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau consistently proves that he's no lightweight on the scoresheet. Now in his third full NHL season, the 23-year-old is a consistent offensive performer. 

    A Calder Trophy finalist in 2015 for his 64-point rookie campaign, Gaudreau followed up last season with a career-best 30 goals and 78 points. He was the Flames' leading scorer, raising expectations of better things in 2016-17. 

    Gaudreau's production is down this season, in part because of a fractured finger sidelining him for 10 games. However, he's rallied back and is tied with Mikael Backlund for the team scoring lead with 48 points.

    Gaudreau's on pace to finish the season with 60 points, and he's among the reasons why the Flames are in playoff contention. 

5. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Since his full-time NHL debut in 2013-14, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele has steadily improved into a first-line forward. This season, he's among the league's elite forwards and one of the Jets' top stars. 

    Turning 24 on Wednesday, Scheifele has already reached career highs in assists (40) and points (68). With 28 goals, he's only one behind his career best of 29.

    He's the Jets' leading scorer by a wide margin, sitting nine points ahead of linemate Patrik Laine. Scheifele also plays a good defensive game, tied with Dustin Byfuglien for the team lead in takeaways (57).

    Scheifele's offensive numbers rank among the league's top scorers. He's in the top 10 in points and the top 15 in assists. Given his ongoing improvement, the best is still to come for the Jets' first-line center. 

4. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Right wing Nikita Kucherov is among the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Bolts are struggling, the 23-year-old is enjoying his best NHL campaign. 

    Kucherov already had two 65-plus points seasons on his resume entering 2016-17. Despite missing seven games to injuries, he's set career highs in goals (31) and points (67). He's also the Lightning's leader in goals, game-winning goals (five) and points. 

    Thanks to Kucherov's strong improvement this season, he's also among the NHL's top 10 in goals and points. The talented Russian winger has fully blossomed into a reliable scorer and an invaluable core player for the Lightning.

3. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Only 18 years old, Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine is enjoying a memorable NHL debut. He could become the biggest rookie goal-scoring sensation since Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin in 2006. 

    With 32 goals and 59 points in 61 games, Laine leads all league rookies in both categories. He's also the Jets' top goal scorer and their leader in game-winning goals (five). He sits behind only Mark Scheifele for the club's points lead. 

    More impressively, Laine is only two goals behind Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby for the league goal-scoring lead. He could become the first player in NHL history to win both the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's top rookie and the Maurice Richard Trophy as its leading goal scorer. 

2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    As the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews entered this season facing considerable pressure and expectations.

    Fortunately, the 19-year-old rookie is proving to be up to the challenge. His play is among the reasons the rebuilding Leafs are contending for a wild-card berth.

    With 31 goals and 55 points in 67 games, Matthews leads the Leafs in both categories. He's also tied for the team lead with Nazem Kadri in game-winning goals (six). Matthews is challenging Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine for the rookie lead in goals and points. He also sits only three goals behind Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for the league goal-scoring lead

    Matthews' performance and its positive effect upon the Leafs this season could make him the favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year. Like Laine, he also has a shot at winning the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer. 

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    In just his second NHL season, McDavid is establishing himself among the elite stars. The 20-year-old is already challenging Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby as the league's top player and is unquestionably the best under-25 player. 

    A finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the top rookie in 2015-16, McDavid could be in line for bigger silverware this season.

    He's the league leader in assists (52) and points (75). If he can maintain this pace over the remainder of the season, he'll become the first Oiler since Wayne Gretzky in 1987 to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer. 

    McDavid's performance this season is the main reason the Oilers could clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2006. That could also make him the first Oiler since Mark Messier in 1990 to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player. 

         

    All stats (as of March 12, 2017) via NHL.com.

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