Thursday, November 24, 2011

Get Young or Die Trying: Part 2

NHL GMs are steamed at having to pay for a players potential and not their list of accomplishments. In 'Get Young or Die Trying: Part 1' it became painfully obvious that contracts to young RFA's that are establishing themselves amongst the games elite are still very affordable and probably better in the long run, now lets examine what this endless crop of young talent means to the on-ice product.

Did you know that 14 of 30 NHL teams can boast that their first or second highest scoring player is 22 years of age or younger? There are a number of other teams with U22's in third and fourth as well, and really, Edmonton's top two leading scorers are both under 22, so it's pretty well half of the league.  In no particular order:

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Age: 20, Points: 20, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins, Age: 19, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, Age: 22, Points: 20, Team Rank: 2nd in scoring (by one point)

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators, Age: 21, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, Age: 22, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers, Age: 18, Points: 22, Team Rank: Tied for 1st in Scoring, Jordan Eberle (22) and Taylor Hall (19) are second and third.

Kevin Shattenkirk, St.Louis Blues, Age: 22, Points: 12, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in scoring

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche, Age: 20, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, Age: 21, Points: 18, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, Age: 21, Points: 11, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Max Paccioretty, Montreal Canadiens, Age: 17, Points: 22, Team Rank: 2nd in team scoring

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets, Age: 20, Points: 14, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes, Age: 19, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

John Tavares, New York Islanders, Age: 20, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

The teams included on this list: The Islanders, Hurricanes, Jets, Habs, Devils, Senators, Avalanche, Blues, Oilers, Lightning, Bruins, Blackhawks, Predators and Stars.

When you look at the teams its hard to say that there's an obvious correlation because some of them have recently won Stanley Cups, many haven't had a few, or even one off year that would allow for the type of youth infusion or high draft picks it might require to have a young star at or near the top of your teams scoring lead.

The draft position used (including Eberle) to take these players: 1st (4), 2nd (1), 3rd (1), 4th (1), 7th (1), 14th (1), 15th (1), 22nd (2), 82nd (1), 98th (1) and 129th (1).

Six of the 15 picks were made by teams that had made the playoffs in that draft year, three of them weren't even first round picks.  It's not the struggle of the team that necessarily leads to the acquisition of the player and the opening of a roster spot for him, as much as the calibre of the player and the forward thinking of the club that selected him, either first overall or in the final round.

In Matt Duchene's rookie season he lead the Avalanche to an unlikely playoff birth. Tyler Seguin is leading the Bruins in scoring in just his second year, he's got a cup ring already. The year Dalls drafted Jamie Benn they had 107 point season. Tampa was in a heap of trouble when they took Stamkos first overall, but he took them to within one game of making the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Max Paccioretty may have been the difference in the Canadiens heartbreaking seven game round-one loss to hated rivals and eventual cup winners the Boston Bruins last season. The year the Sens drafted Karlsson they were a playoff team and just one year removed from a run to the Finals.

Indisputably some of the teams on this list have benefited from their continued failures, but, atleast they had the foresight to take their prized picks and let them play right away.  It didn't hinder their development, and, one of those first overall picks has a cup ring already. Most of them have already been re-signed, some of them before their rookie contracts even expired, so who cares if inserting them directly in to the NHL roster from the draft gets the clock ticking on their next big deal.

As the youth movement strengthens in the NHL this number will grow, and oddly enough as of right now only one of the Eastern teams on this list is in a playoff spot, and only three in the west, but give it a few weeks and those numbers could be anywhere from 0 to 100%.

The point is that there aren't just a whole bunch of starry eyed junior players waiting to get drafted in 2012 and jump straight in to the NHL, the real issue is that there are four years worth of picks in this age group, either in the NHL, major junior, the minors, college or overseas, that could be on this list right now, and will be sooner than later.

Sure, Detroit is currently in a playoff spot in this up-and-down season they've had, but how long can this go on for? Henrik Zetterberg is having a pitiful year, Tomas Holmstrom and Nick Lidstrom are almost done, and there isn't a lot of offensive help coming down the line. And Calgary, wow, this group is putrid. The only team in North American professional hockey they could beat is their farm squad, so the future isn't looking too friendly. If it's not now, or five years down the road, if you're team isn't getting younger then they're not getting anywhere.

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