The new faces of the league have entered the NHL in the last two seasons. These young sensations have “battled” their way into becoming some of the most recognizable faces in the sport. They did not come here to just be in the league either…they are here to take over.
Organizations across the board like Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit and Winnipeg all have youth movements in full swing. Some are still in that rebuild waiting to break through. Teams are bringing more excitement and entertainment value to their cities than ever.
Top-tier talent is becoming more and more prevalent in annual drafts that once structure is in place, teams are taking off. Complete change over has already occurred in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Who’s next?
The Hart Memorial and Art Ross trophies are for the league’s most valuable player and leading scorer. Both of these honors went to a player (Connor McDavid) playing in his first full season. He became the youngest captain in league history before the season started. This NHL phenom turned 20 midway through last season.
McDavid did more then receive individual accolades. In one year, the Oilers’ captain has transformed the hockey culture in Edmonton. He affirmed the conclusion of the Oiler rebuild last year, leading them to their first postseason appearance in 10 years. According to ESPN, their attendance has gone from 21st to 13th in the last 2 years. The excitement is back in the Gateway of the North, and it’s not leaving any time soon.
McDavid has gone from the NHL’s most highly touted prospect, to the league’s brightest star after playing in just 127 games. The Oilers have come out of the bottom of the league and straight to the top. Edmonton notched 103 points last season (up from 70) and finished seventh in the league’s standings (up from 29th).
McDavid signed an eight-year, $100 million extension this offseason as he and the Oilers look to stick together and be proven contenders this season.
Rising threat for the opposition
Of the top-10 goal scorers during last year’s regular season, half of them were 25 or younger. The No. 3 goal scorer recorded 40 (Auston Matthews) and turned 19 at the start of training camp. Matthews and the No. 7 goal scorer, Patrick Laine (19), were two of the three rookie of the year candidates on this list.
They are no longer looked at as kids waiting their turn. Their overall production is making each of them the faces of the league.
These bright new faces are outperforming Hall-of-Fame caliber players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. They are younger, faster and fearless.
Confidence is huge in any sport and young players like Matthew Tkachuk (19) have the ability to get under the opposition’s skin. Tkachuk drew reactions out of notable veterans Drew Doughty (and almost every L.A. King) and Brent Burns last season. Every player in the NHL deserves respect, but that doesn’t mean these newcomers will be intimidated.
As a fan, the players you hate are the great ones that do not play for your team. They work hard, they get under your skin and they produce at the same time. These first and second-year players already fit this mold.
Next Chapter in Saga
The New Jersey Devils signed No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft Nico Hischier to a three-year, entry-level deal with an average annual salary of $925,000. He turned 18 this year in early January. So, why wait?
“There’s a spot for him on our team,” Devils general manager Ray Shero told NHL.com. They believe he is a center that is great in all areas of the game, including defense.
The Philadelphia Flyers signed the No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick to a three-year, entry-level contract with the same average annual salary as Hischier with performance bonuses. Barring more setbacks stemming from his recent surgery, the Flyers expect him to compete. Philly general manager Ron Hextall has been decisive about not signing veteran role players and is committed to the youth movement.
We are one month away from the start of the 2017-2018 regular season. Hockey is coined “the coolest sport on earth” for various reasons. Much of it has to do with the speed and the changes on the fly. With these youth movements in place, we could see an even faster growing game for years to come.
Featured Image by Sportsnet
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