The NHL has plenty of talent among its youngest and oldest players

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happystamkosandstlouis.jpgEarlier this summer, a article that nominated Sidney Crosby as the best athlete in all sports under 25 years old sparked further discussion about the league’s incredible amount of talent in that age group. NHL.com produced two articles that shows the great players in the two largest age extremes in the league.

First, NHL.com took a look at the best players under 21. While I didn’t see a goalie on the list, the forward ranks are lead by Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane while the defensemen include Drew Doughty and Tyler Myers. Take a look at some of the other forwards listed by the Web site.

John Tavares, New York Islanders
Age: 19

Tavares, one of the most heralded junior players in years, stepped right into the NHL after being taken No. 1 in the 2009 Entry Draft and gave the Isles — last in the overall standings in ’08-09 — an offensive boost. He didn’t tear up the League, but he did finish with 24 goals, 30 assists and the promise of a lot more to come as he gets stronger and smarter. The Isles are banking on Tavares to be the cornerstone of their rebuilding efforts.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche
Age: 19

Despite a late-season offensive slump, the Avs were more than happy with what they saw from Duchene, whom they selected with the No. 3 pick in 2009. The speedy center finished with 24 goals and a rookie-leading 55 points in 81 games, helping the Avalanche improve from last in the Western Conference in 2008-09 to a playoff team last spring.

Before everyone over the legal drinking age starts to feel like underachievers, note that the NHL.com list of the best players above the age of 35 shows that the league’s elder skatesmen are not to be outdone by those young whippersnappers. Just look at who would play on the blueline and in net (sponsored by Centrum Silver and Oil of Olay, I imagine).

Goalie

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Age: 38
The winningest goaltender in NHL history shows no signs of slowing down. All he did last season was lead the League in games (77) and minutes played (4,499), wins (45) and shutouts (9), while finishing third in goals-against average (2.24) and leading the New Jersey Devils to another Atlantic Division title. Brodeur is at 602 wins and counting, and he added the NHL’s all-time shutout record to his list of achievements last season. Time will catch up to him someday — but by the looks of it, that day isn’t coming anytime soon.

Defense

Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
Age: 35
The calendar says he’s 35 (he turns 36 in the season’s first week), but Pronger, now with Philadelphia, is still one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. With 10 goals and 55 points, he’s one of the top offensive contributors on the blue line, and at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Pronger remains a physical force as well. Had the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, Pronger was likely the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Age: 40
The best news the Detroit Red Wings received after being eliminated from the playoffs is that Lidstrom will return for another season. Though he wasn’t a postseason All-Star in 2009-10, Lidstrom became a member of the 1,000-point club and was captain of a team that rallied from an injury-riddled first four months of the season to make the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At 40, he still moves the puck better than almost any other NHL defenseman and put up 40 assists and 49 points while going plus-22.

It’s interesting that one of the forwards in the over-35 group (Martin St. Louis) enjoyed such great chemistry with one in the under-21 section (Steven Stamkos).

The beauty of the NHL’s post-lockout emphasis on speed and skill is that true talent can show through (sorry, Mike Rathje). As those two polarized posts reveal, the league may wave goodbye to a great old guard of aging players, but the future is bright when you consider the fact that the Kanes and Doughtys of the world haven’t even entered the prime of their careers just yet.

Is Rickard Rakell worth $4M per season to the Ducks?

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have two significant restricted free agents they still need to take care of, and Hampus Lindholm is easily the most important name to cross off the list.

(Seriously, the analytics community pegs him as a budding star, so the Ducks should probably lock him up for as long and cheap as possible.)

While Lindholm is a must-sign, Rickard Rakell‘s situation is more interesting since it presents a murkier risk-reward debate.

Elevated ground

Rakell broke through in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. He blew away all of his previous numbers while logging more than 16 minutes per game.

His agent Peter Wallen told the OC Register that the team and his RFA client “I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement,” yet one must wonder if Ducks management is trembling at the gamble ahead.

That report ponders a long-term deal that would net Rakell around a $4 million cap hit, something that the Hockey News backs up.

Kadri’s six-year, $27-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which pays an average of $4.5 million per season, is probably the upper limit of what Rakell is set to earn, while Coyle’s five-year, $16-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, an average of $3.2 million per season, is likely the low end. The most likely comparisons boil down to two players, then, with Rask and Backlund each having signed their current deals over the course of the past 13 months.

For a budget-conscious team like the Ducks, betting big on Rakell could be especially risky.

Cushy gig

If the 23-year-old does land a generous deal, he should send Bruce Boudreau a “Thank You” note or three. Rakell began a whopping 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2015-16, putting him in a great position to maximize his chances.

His most common skating partners were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sami Vatanen and Lindholm to boot.

One shouldn’t penalize Rakell for seizing his opportunities, but with a limited sample size of the young forward being a difference-maker, you have to wonder how much his value has been inflated.

***

The OC Register explains the advantages of locking him up for a longer term (avoiding arbitration years, not having to risk an even bigger deal if Rakell pans out), yet a “bridge deal” might be the better way to go here.

Replacing Boudreau with Randy Carlyle was a polarizing decision, yet that the Ducks face some other tough calls this off-season.

Report: Blue Jackets on the verge of signing Sam Gagner

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before a face off against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It sounds like Sam Gagner may determine his destination for 2015-16 in the near future.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets are close to signing Gagner to a one-year, one-way deal. Such an agreement might not be made official until Monday, according to Portzline.

After a bumpy season with the Philadelphia Flyers in which he spent some time in the AHL, Gagner must especially appreciate the one-way nature of his next contract.

The Blue Jackets aren’t the only team interested in the 26-year-old, as his name was also connected to the Vancouver Canucks:

It looks like the still-quite-young scorer will get a clean slate after bouncing around and being defined by a bloated contract originally signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

Remember when he broke one of Wayne Gretzky’s records during an eight-point night?

Gagner’s presence could make life easier for the likes of Boone Jenner:

It’s conceivable that Gagner could enjoy a nice rebound season if used in a specialized, protected role. The Blue Jackets may very well be the right fit.

… And on the other hand, the deficits in Gagner’s all-around game could at least provide some John Tortorella rage and entertainment.

Everyone wins.

Former Sabres forward Jochen Hecht calls it a career

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01:  Jochen Hecht #55 of the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Mannheim Eagles announced that German forward Jochen Hecht is retiring from hockey.

(It’s OK to be a little bewildered that he was still playing, just don’t be too mean about it.)

Hecht played 833 regular season games and 59 playoff contests at the NHL level, making his greatest mark as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

His last bit of NHL action came in 2012-13, when he scored 14 points in 47 games for Buffalo.

Since then, he wrapped up his career with the Mannheim Eagles, a team he’s sporadically played for since 1994-95.

Honestly, it’s weird to see Hecht in any sweater not related to German’s national teams, the Eagles or Sabres, even though the Blues actually drafted him:

Then again, he could also look odd in a certain Sabres sweater.

Apparently he got the NHL 16 Hockey Ultimate Card treatment:

Plenty of Sabres fans and reporters fondly remember Hecht, so here’s to a nice career.

Yes, it’s really happening: Vegas NHL team installs ice for first time

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Sometimes you just need a reminder that a remarkable thing actually is happening.

Saturday presented the latest evidence that the NHL coming to Las Vegas isn’t just a collective fever dream, as the still-nameless franchise noted that they’ve begun the process to install ice at T-Mobile Arena for the first time.

It’s not the prettiest picture, but it means a lot:

While setting up the first sheet of ice is a physical sign that things are coming together, the front office side will dictate the sort of team that eventually plays on it.

For more insight into that process, Puck Daddy takes a look at Murray Craven, who appears to be a key part of bringing things together … even if it’s difficult to nail down a specific title.