Being an NHL captain is unquestionably one of the most prestigious honors in all of sports. It takes a man with a great passion for his team, a strong desire and ability to lead his teammates and an unparalleled dedication to the fans and the game of hockey itself. In many ways, it takes just as many skills off the ice as it does on it.
Many captains have gone on to become legends—names synonymous with the sport of hockey and names commonly known throughout the sporting world. Greats like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Bobby Orr all wore the "C" on their jersey for a large portion of their careers, and now sit in the ranks of the elite in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The past couple of years have seen the beginning of a new era in NHL captains. The past greats are retiring and this is clearing the way for a new group of leaders to step in and fill the shoes of very distinguished roles. These new leaders are young, fresh faces. Many aren't even over the age of 30.
However, in the salary-cap era of the NHL, these young players are being signed to long contracts and turned into the face of the franchise where they practice their trade. This trend continues today as some of the league's current captains are moving very quickly toward retirement (or they're just not cutting it as a leader) and this opens the door for new youthful leaders to emerge.
In this article I give you ten examples of young hotshots who we very likely could be seeing with the captain's "C" on their jersey within the next few years.
Team: San Jose Sharks
Current Captain: Joe Thornton
Ryan Clowe has lived in the shadow of the superstars in San Jose for the entirety of his career. He has grown and matured on a team led by the likes of Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and most recently, Danny Heatley. Clowe has become a very good player in an almost silent fashion.
This past summer, Patrick Marleau was stripped of the Sharks captaincy, which was then given to Joe Thornton. This shakeup has apparently not changed much as the Sharks continue to struggle, currently sitting eighth in the West and a startling fourth in the Pacific with 35 points. Even more startling is that for a large portion of this season, they have been out of the playoff picture after making a run to the Western Conference Final last year, and having a very uneventful summer when it comes to their non-goal-tending personnel.
Needless to say I think this is a case where the current captain just isn't cutting it as a leader, as the Sharks continue to be one of the most enigmatic teams in the West. They have so much potential to explode for point totals that we've come to expect from them, yet they continue to be streaky and horribly inconsistent, blowing away the defending Stanley Cup Champions one night, then getting steamrolled by the Vancouver Canucks the very next game.
If this keeps up, I'd expect some major trades over the summer, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was another shakeup in the leadership roles, and the Sharks opted to go with the up-and-coming Clowe as their new leader. His numbers have been outstanding this year, being tied for the team lead in both assists (20) and points (29), leads in plus-minus (+10). And recently he's shown he's not afraid to drop the gloves and stand up for his teammates.
He's second on the team in penalty minutes (42). His on-ice leadership is unquestionable, and he's already wearing an "A" for them, so hey, he really only has one other place to go.
Team: New York Rangers
Current Captain: Chris Drury
Ryan Callahan's status as one of the elite young players in the NHL was confirmed this past February when he was given the opportunity to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He was an integral part of this team that shocked the world by dominating the tournament on its way to a silver medal.
Back in the NHL, Callahan is proving that this recognition was no fluke. At the age of 25, he wears the "A" for the Rangers and has been a vital substitute leader for captain Chris Drury, who is just recovering from a difficult injury. Callahan's on-ice leadership is clearly visible as he currently sits second on the team in points (23), and is one of only two players in the Blueshirts roster to be in double digits in both the goals and assists columns (10 and 13, respectively).
With the long term injury to Drury (currently age 34), Callahan really made the most of his opportunity to show that he is a franchise player, and a leader on the bench. It really wouldn't surprise me to see the Rangers give him the "C" after Drury moves on. This may not be for a few years, but I definitely don't see Ryan Callahan going anywhere.
Team: St. Louis Blues
Current Captain: Eric Brewer
Erik Johnson is a classic example of a very young leader who could be seeing the captaincy very soon, and by very soon I mean within the next year. The big (6'4" 232 pounds) defenseman was given the honor of representing the United States this past February in Vancouver, and he made a name for himself by being one of the most impressive defensemen on a team, which some thought lacked significant talent in that area.
The Blues are currently captained by Eric Brewer, a 31-year-old defenseman who is one of only three skaters on the St. Louis lineup older than the age of 30 (Andy McDonald and Dave Scatchard being the other two). My logic is this: In my opinion, Brewer is expendable as a player. His age and experience make him a valuable veteran for teams looking to add some skill to their blue line, and the Blues would not be far-fetched to move him to bring in more young talent (a movement that has brought them some success this season). Johnson has doubled Brewer's production in points at this point (10 to five), and his $2.6 million cap hit is far more palatable than Brewer, the most expensive on the St. Louis defense corps at $4.5 million.
These facts might become even more glaring as the season progresses if the Blues are unable to move forward in the standings at all. They currently sit at 12th in the Western Conference with 33 points, however, that is only two points out of a playoff spot. Johnson has taken the NHL by storm as one of the best young defensemen in the league, and like the many of the other players I mention in this article, already wears the "A" in St. Louis. Therefore, I think if the Blues are unable to get into the playoffs this season, St. Louis will part ways with Brewer, an unrestricted free agent, and Johnson will be the new long-term Captain.
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
Current Captain: Shane Doan
Let me say this outright before you chew my head off in the comments section: I firmly believe Shane Doan is in no danger of being traded or let go by the Phoenix organization anytime soon. At the age of 34, I believe Doan has at least three good years left in his legs, but the Phoenix organization emerged last year from a long rebuild and is no question beginning to look for its future leadership. Hence, the 24-year-old Keith Yandle wears an "A" in Phoenix.
The American-born defenseman is rather small for his position (5'11" 195lbs.), but he was at the helm as Phoenix tore apart its critics and the NHL last year, setting franchise records for both wins and points in a season on their way to a fourth place playoff berth. Yandle led Phoenix defensemen last year with a whopping 41 points, including 12 goals, and finished the regular season at an astounding +16 rating while playing all 82 games for Dave Tippett's Coyotes.
This year he's picking up right where he left off, sitting second in the team's scoring standings with 18 points, including five goals. Phoenix's production out of its blue line has been a large part of their success, and with Yandle leading that charge at a very minimal $1.2 million cap hit, it's no wonder the Coyotes have no desire to let him go this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. I fully expect Phoenix to lock him up with a very handsome contract, solidifying him as next in line for the Phoenix Captaincy, and demonstrating his status as one of the elite scoring defensemen in the NHL.
Team: Florida Panthers
Current Captain: Bryan McCabe
To me, it looks like the Florida Panthers have been trying to delay a rebuild for as long as possible by simply filling in the gaps with players who work, but are not necessarily the right guys for the roles. The result is a team that has been one of the bottom feeders in not only the Eastern Conference but the entire NHL for the the last decade. The team hasn't made the playoffs since 2000, and don't look like a serious threat to change that this season. Goaltender Thomas Vokun has not received much support from the somewhat rag-tag group in front of him, particularly an anemic offense that sits 25th in the NHL in goals-per-game.
Bryan McCabe, the grizzled veteran defenseman on the Florida blue line is starting to show some age, and if Florida decides to succumb to a rebuild, it seems only logical that both he and 36-year-old Cory Stillman (and their heavier salaries) would be the first players to go to make way for a youth movement. If that were to be the case, Stephen Weiss has definitely made his case to be the new leader of the franchise.
The 27-year-old forward had a breakout year last season, grabbing the attention of teams around the NHL with a 60-point campaign. This season has been a bit of a different story, scoring only 15 points through his first 27 games, however, Weiss isn't getting too much help. His 15 points are currently second on the team and one behind the team lead shared by David Booth and Michael Frolik. The Florida Panthers also do not have a single player to be in double-digits in goals yet.
Weiss also already wears an "A" in Sunrise, Fla, and looks primed to take over the team's leadership role as soon as Bryan McCabe disappears, which could be very soon if the Panthers cannot turn their season around.
Am I the only one who thinks this guy looks like Butthead from Beavis and Butthead?
Team: Edmonton Oilers
Current Captain: Shawn Horcoff
The first player on my list who is not currently wearing an "A" on his team, Taylor Hall is the most recent young man to be bestowed with the honor of being a first-overall draft selection. After a terrible start to his NHL career, Hall seems to have found his professional game and has started potting goals in the fashion which he did so much for the Windsor Spitfires. He currently leads the youth-heavy Edmonton Oilers with 10 goals, and is the only player in their lineup to this point to even be in double-digits in the goal column. He doesn't have the lead in points however.
Get this: With his 22 assists so far this season, Ryan Whitney is leading the Edmonton Oilers in scoring without having scored a single goal. Yes, you read that right. Seriously.
That being said, Hall is drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, both young hotshots who were given the captaincy of their respective clubs at an age which in my eyes is far too young. However, with the fact that Hall is emerging as a leader by stepping up and showing the potential to be the superstar people thought he would be, and with the Oilers still in major rebuild mode,
I think it could be only a matter of time before the Oil do away with current captain Shawn Horcoff's ridiculously heavy salary: A whopping $5.5 million for a player who to this point sits on injured reserve with only 15 points. This would open the door wide for a new era to begin in the City of Champions, led by a young hotshot from Calgary. It may not be for a few years, but it definitely would not surprise me to see him with an "A" as soon as next year and a "C" within the next three or so.
I'm really not sure what's scarier: a US Marine wanting to kill you with his bare hands or this guy lining you up for a hit.
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Current Captain: Craig Rivet
In my eyes, the most obvious name for this article, Tyler Myers, stomped his name into the minds of NHL pundits with resounding force last season, something not too difficult for the enormous 6'8" 227-pound defenseman. His brilliant heads-up style of play, smart decisions with the puck and bone-crunching physical play propelled him to the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year last season.
The Sabres' early-season struggles so far this year garnered Myers some criticism and claims of a "sophomore slump", but so far he has managed to post a respectable 10 points (5G, 5A) so far this season as the Sabres have tried to turn their season around. They still sit at 28 points, six out of the playoffs in an Eastern Conference in which the playoff teams have pretty much already emerged.
The other big reason I place Myers here is that current Sabres captain, Craig Rivet, is more or less on his way out. At the age of 36, he has managed to notch only one point so far this year in only 14 games played, and has even sat several as a healthy scratch, not something as a team you want your captain doing. Additionally, the trader rumors have been running amok in Buffalo around the status of Rivet, whose $3.5 million salary is something the Sabres are itching to part ways with, something that can be easily accomplished this summer when his contract expires.
For these reasons I expect Myers to be the Captain in Buffalo for years to come. His defensive talent, durability, and status as the elite of the Rookie Class of 2009-2010 make him a franchise player who will likely be in Buffalo for a very long time to come, if not the rest of his career, and hence, between his on-ice leadership and importance to the Buffalo franchise, I expect to see him wearing the "C" in Buffalo within the next few years.
Team: Colorado Avalanche
Current Captain: Adam Foote
There's a definite trend emerging among several of these captain-candidates: Team USA members in Vancouver. Paul Stastny is yet another member of this group. The son of the Slovakian born-great Peter Stastny, Paul Stastny is doing his father proud right now in Denver. He wears the same number his father did for years for the Quebec Nordiques (the franchise that moved to become the Colorado Avalanche), and showing some of that same scoring prowess that made his father so formidable.
Paul Stastny currently leads the Avalanche in Goals (13) and is tied for the lead in points (31) while having played all 30 games in this, just his fourth NHL season. He currently wears the "A" in Denver, and I think that could very be a "C" by the time the next season starts with current captain Adam Foote slowing down significantly, being a far cry from the fearsome defenseman he was in his prime, an unfortunate side effect of the injuries that have plagued him in the past few years of his career.
Between these injuries and the fact that he has notched only three points (all assists) in only 18 games this season, many believe this will be Foote's last year in the NHL, leaving the captaincy in Colorado open. Between Stastny's lineage as the son of a franchise legend, leadership on the ice with his production, and status as a young hotshot with explosive potential, it would not surprise me to see the "C" on Stastny's jersey the moment Foote departs from the Avalanche lineup.
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Current Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom
Let's face it, Nicklas Lidstrom is an ageless wonder. At the age of 40, he's still one of the most respected and revered defensemen and team Captains in the entire NHL, in one of the most revered and hallowed Captaincy positions out there. For crying out loud, the man just scored a hat trick in the Red Wings 5-2 wrecking of St. Louis. Did I mention he's a defenseman?
Detroit has had legendary captains in guys like Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe in addition to Lidstrom, adding to the position's honor. However, with all ageless wonders, they're really just one big injury away from being forced into retirement, and at this point, I think it's safe to say this is a possibility for the only NHL player I've ever seen completely lose his European accent by playing NHL hockey. This begs a very important question: Who will succeed Nicklas Lidstrom as the captain of the Detroit Red Wings?
This is a very difficult question to answer strictly in the terms of a "youngster", because really the Red Wings seem to have very little tolerance for any such thing. The Wings only have 10 players under the age of 30 (a number that's believe it or not higher than it has been in years past), and have a whopping six players over the age of 37, a combination that makes them easily the oldest team in the NHL in average age. The team does have a few talented under 30-year-olds in the lineup in Darren Helm Justin Abdelkader, Jimmy Howard, and Drew Miller, but being realistic I don't think there's any way any of those guys will ever see the captaincy in Detroit.
In my opinion the next captain in Detroit will be Henrik Zetterberg, who in my defense, is a "youngster" in Red Wings terms at the "tender" age of 30. The Swedish born winger, alongside his linemate Pavel Datsyuk, has absolutely torn opponents to shreds night after night, and have played a large part in Detroit's nearly unbelievable amount of success over the past ten-plus years. He currently sits on 33 points, second only to Datsyuk in offensive production, and has been among the front-runners of this race for most of his time in Detroit. He's locked up on a long term contract that does not end until... wait for it... 2021. That's a full 10 years from this upcoming summer. With Lidstrom approaching the end of his career (maybe), I wouldn't be surprised to see the Captaincy in Hockeytown pass to yet another hall-of-fame bound Swedish born player, adding still another legendary name to an already legendary list.
Team: New York Islanders
Current Captain: Doug Weight
Doug Weight is yet another example of a current NHL captain who is really on his last legs. At the age of 39, he's only managed nine points in 18 NHL games so far this year, and to me it would really be no surprise if he called it quits at the end of this season, vacating the captaincy on Long Island.
The Isles are a team who interestingly enough boast a whopping four alternate captains, however among those four, really one face sticks out as the young, up-and-coming face of the Islanders franchise: Kyle Okposo. Not only does he boast a sweet first name, but last seasons, Okposo quietly threw down 59 points for the Isles, a team which is starting to show signs of life after a long and in many ways painful rebuild. Unfortunately for Okposo, he suffered a major shoulder injury in training camp this past offseason and is still yet to start his 2010-2011 campaign.
All that aside, I think if the Isles are very likely to choose Okposo for their captaincy position because of the youth movement that is sweeping through Long Island, which has brought about young talent like John Tavares, Blake Comeau and a variety of other players under the age of 26. Of all these players, Okposo is the only one to be currently wearing an "A" on his sweater. If the team is going to continue with this youthful trend, then I believe Okposo will be the next captain on Long Island, even over Mark Streit, Trent Hunter, Mark Eaton and James Wisnewski.
But before that, I'm sure the Islanders are eagerly awaiting his return to the lineup.