Earlier 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
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
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).
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
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.
Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
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
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.