The ongoing question for the NHL since its lockout in 2005 has been finding a way to make NHL hockey a must-watch sport in American households.
Selling the sport to a country dominated by football, baseball, and basketball is a daunting task.
But now, as the late NHL Coach Badger Bob Johnson once said, "It's a great day for hockey."
It also so happens to be a great time for hockey.
Look around. Since the lockout, there has been an overwhelming resurgence of talent, bringing unlikely teams deep into the playoffs and sometimes to championship seasons. These have created some of the best story lines in sports.
Most importantly, though, is that the great talent in the NHL is young talent.
Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL need to use this to their advantage by attracting America’s youth.
As a young kid, I was always intrigued by young athletes who were making it big in the professional sports world.
They were close to my age; I could relate to them rather than the older veterans that grew up in a different time.
That's what made it so cool to watch young players work hard and become the "youngest player to do xyz."
Surely if someone close to my age could achieve greatness, then it must be possible for me to do the same if I mimic his or her work ethic.
We are in the midst of a generation of gifted hockey players and they have all but taken over the NHL.
I'm talking about players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, Zach Parise, Drew Doughty, and Mike Richards.
Bettman should market these players.
The NHL had the right mindset to market Crosby and Ovechkin as they became breakout players their rookie years. They were fresh faces full of potential in a League that was losing its spark.
However, I think the NHL can increase revenue while bringing in fans, young and old, by showing the different kinds of talent in their young players.
Crosby and Ovechkin are high-power, high-scoring forwards, but not every aspiring hockey player wants to—or will be able to—play their style.
For kids who find themselves on offense but playing more of a defensive game, what better NHL players demonstrate those skills other than Jonathan Toews or Zach Parise?
How about forwards with a physical punch? I say Mike Richards.
What about defensemen with an offensive touch? There were few—if any—better than Drew Doughty.
Or stay-at-home defensemen? Brent Seabrook and Marc Staal have made strong cases.
I don’t want to bring down the play of the “older” NHLers like Joe Thorton, Henrik Zetterberg, or Martin Brodeur, but they are as established as they'll get. Now is the time for the emergence of the young hockey players.
All necessary proof can be found in the last two NHL seasons. Crosby and Toews became two of the youngest captains to win the Cup. Ovechkin’s never-ending dominance in scoring. Stamkos reached the 50 goal threshold at the age of 20. Doughty, also 20, received a Norris Trophy nomination. Goalie Steve Mason tallied a record seven shutouts as a rookie. The list goes on.
The NHL needs to keep in mind that successful, young athletes are the connection between kids and their dreams of becoming great athletes.
Make kids feel more connected to these athletes and you will find more young fans.
Once you’ve caught the interest of the youth, everyone else will follow.