The last two NHL Drafts have produced some of the best young talent the league has seen in decades. Here are five of the top young players in the NHL right now.
Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers, DOB 1/13/97, Age 20)
Connor McDavid is a once in a generation talent. Don’t take it from me, just ask Wayne Gretzky. The Great One called the Ontario native the best prospect he’s seen “in 30 years.” Drafted number one overall in 2015- a draft that experts called one of the best in NHL history- McDavid is already living up to the hype that has been building since he was a 15 year old member of the OHL’s Erie Otters.
Currently in his second season, McDavid has firmly established himself as a top 5 player in the league. As of today, he leads the NHL in both assists (37) and points (51). The high assist total reflects McDavid’s pass first-shoot second mentality. This playmaking mindset is the most integral aspect of Connor’s otherworldly on-ice vision.
Ultimately, it is McDavid’s complete game that makes him such a prodigal talent. Look for a weakness in his play- you won’t find one. Night in and night out, he is the best skater, shooter, passer, and puck handler on the ice. What’s more, the young man also boasts impressive leadership qualities: in October, at only 19 years of age, the Edmonton Oilers made him the youngest captain in NHL history.
Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres, DOB 10/28/96, Age 20)
Boston, Massachusetts native, Jack Eichel, was selected #2 behind Connor McDavid in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Standing at 6’2 and tipping the scales at 201 lbs., Eichel possesses the natural size to develop into a dominant power center. While his game hasn’t progressed as quickly as McDavid’s (nobody’s has), the 20 year old is already a consistent scoring threat whenever he steps on the ice.
Eichel’s game is rooted in his powerful skating and phenomenal stick handling skills. These elite abilities allow the 20 year old to gain separation from opponents in all three zones of the ice.
When you combine Eichel’s physical talent with his work ethic and high level hockey IQ, you get a player that will terrorize opposing goaltenders for years to come.
Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, DOB 9/17/97, Age 19)
Had Auston Matthews been born two days earlier, he would have been eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. The Arizona native would surely have been selected directly after Eichel and McDavid, but instead, Matthews had to wait until 2016 before he was chosen first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After a record setting NHL debut in which he scored a staggering 4 goals, the young Matthews has put up 37 points through his first 41 games. His 21 goals are tied for third in the league.
Matthews uses his imposing size (6’3, 216 lbs.) to bully opponents at both ends of the ice. His dynamic skating, coupled with his soft hands and quick release, allow Matthews to score from anywhere in the offensive zone.
Ultimately, the 19 year old is the center-piece of the Maple Leafs rebuilding efforts. Although he’s only played half a season, all signs point to Auston Matthews becoming the top flight franchise center Toronto needs.
Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets, DOB 4/19/98, Age 18)
Hailing from Finland, Patrik Laine was chosen #2 behind Auston Matthews in the 2016 draft. As a rookie, his rise to the top of NHL scoring charts has been nothing short of sensational. Before being sidelined with a concussion on January 7th, Laine amassed 21 goals and 16 assists for 37 points. For the first two months of the season, the 18 year old Laine was locked in a battle for the league lead in goals with megastar Sidney Crosby.
The most elite aspect of Laine’s game is his shot. Whether it’s a snap shot, wrist shot, or a one timer on the man advantage, Laine possesses one of the quickest releases in the NHL. The ridiculous torque behind this shot is produced by Laine’s sturdy 6’4, 200 pound frame.
While goalies around the league are certainly enjoying Laine’s quick absence due to concussion, the young Finn will be back soon enough to continue his goal scoring tear.
Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets, DOB 7/19/97, Age 19)
Zach Werenski was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. An offensive minded, puck moving defensemen, Werenski uses his elite skating ability and agile frame (6’2, 209 lbs.) to create scoring chances.
The Minnesota native’s impact has been immediately felt by the Blue Jackets. Columbus, who has been the season’s biggest surprise, is currently the second best team in the NHL with 29 wins and 62 points. Werenski not only leads Columbus defensemen in scoring, he also leads all rookie defensemen in goals (6), assists (20), and points (26).
If Werenski can maintain his current pace over the second half of the season, expect him to be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy Award (NHL’s best defensemen).
All five of these young men are making opposing players shake at the knees before they’re legally allowed to consume alcohol in the United States. It is going to be a true pleasure to watch their development and maturation over the next several seasons. If there is one thing I can promise, it is a plethora of highlight reel goals.