With the conclusion of the 2016-17 NHL season right around the corner, I decided to put my obsession with young dynamos onto one list. Following is my take on the top 25 players under 25. This is not a list solely based on potential, rather one that accounts for both future upside and past performance. That is why you will not see top prospects like Thomas Chabot on the list or underperforming young studs like Sam Reinhart. Let me know who you think is missing, or a grievous error!
Tier One- McJesus
- Connor McDavid C, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 20 Drafted: 2015 1st round 1st overall
Starting off with the easiest pick on the list. The #1 pick in the 2015 draft has already established himself as one of the league’s premier players. In just his second season, he captured the Art Ross trophy with a whopping 100 points.
Tier 2- Franchise Players
- Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 19 Drafted: 2016 1st round 1st overall
Matthews put together one of the most exciting rookie years in recent memory, and for that he lands at number two. Matthews was the number one pick in last year’s draft, and began the season with a four-goal game and never looked back. Matthews already profiles as a terrific first-line center that can anchor Toronto teams for years to come.
- Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Age: 23 Drafted: 2011 2nd round 58th overall
Kucherov had a marvelous year this year. Despite Tampa Bay not living up to expectations, this was no fault of the winger. He set a career high in points, goals, and TOI. Kucherov was the driving force of the office for the first time with Steven Stamkos’ injury. Early on in the season, Kucherov even garnered some Hart buzz.
- Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Age: 20 Drafted: 2015 1st round, 2nd overall
Many see the beginning of Eichel’s career as a disappointment given the hype going into his rookie year. Despite the underperformance and injuries, Eichel made huge strides in his second year. He increased his PPG from .69 to .93 and played a much more consistent game in all three zones. Eichel has an extremely bright future on the up-and-coming Sabres team.
- Patrik Laine, RW, Winnipeg Jets
Age: 19 Drafted: 2016 1st round 2nd overall
So the much-maligned Ovie comparisons weren’t too ridiculous after all. Laine displayed his point shot and a lot of other abilities during his rookie season, scoring 36 goals, and immediately slotting into the Jets top line. Laine’s most prominent element to his game is his heavy shot, yet he is not a completely one-dimensional player. He looks to form a dominant tandem for years to come with Mark Scheifele, who is later featured on this list.
- Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers
Age: 21 Drafted: 2013 1st round 2nd overall
Sasha Barkov is an extremely complete center. He is an excellent distributor from the center position and has a great shot of his own. His has a large frame that he utilizes in the defensive zone. His prowess there is well-documented, finishing 6th in the Selke voting a year ago. Barkov is a center in the mold of Anze Kopitar, and has the ability to affect the game in many ways.
- Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 19 Drafted: 2015 1st round 8th overall
As a Blue Jackets fan, I quickly fell in love with the young Michigan product this year. Werenski quickly made his mark on the team with a red-hot start, even prompting some to label him as the Calder front runner. Over the course of the season, he slowed down a bit, but put together a year that rivals any young defenseman in the league. Drafted behind many great prospects in the 2015 draft, Werenski has asserted himself as perhaps the best up and coming blue-liner in the league. He excels at moving the puck and is a great power play distributor, all while being solid in his own zone. If his defensive play improves a bit, Columbus may have a superstar on their hands in the mold of Roman Josi.
- Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Age: 21 Drafted: 2014 1st round 1st overall
Following his Calder winning rookie season and solid sophomore year, no one would have expected Ekblad’s ascension to be stunted. This year was a rough year for Ekblad, which served as a symbol for the Panther’s struggles as a whole. He saw his point total plummet from 36 to 21 and his plus-minus go from a stellar +18 to a dreadful -23. While much of this can be attributed to his underperforming team, many of the trends surrounding Ekblad’s game are concerning for a supposed superstar. Ekblad is the lowest rated player on this list in terms of point shares.
Tier 3- The Goalie
- Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Age: 23 Drafted: 2012 3rd round 83rd overall
I thought slotting Murray into this list would be easy, yet it proved to be very difficult. It’s rare for a young goalie to be this accomplished with so little playing time. He won the cup despite almost no experience, and technically was still a rookie this year. He earned a stellar .923 save percentage in his first full year, and is no doubt the best young goalie in the league.
Tier 4- Elite Players
- Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Age: 24 Drafted: 2015 1st round 7th overall
Scheifele had a huge breakout season, proving to be an active center in his fourth full season. He was over a point-per-game player, and was a key cog on the Jets’ dangerous first line.
- Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Age: 23 Drafted: 2011 4th round 104th overall
The Boston College superstar was not heralded coming into the league as a 4th round pick, but most teams regret not picking the diminutive young winger. He has proven that his elite stickhandling and power play talent translates more than well to the NHL game, and is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league.
- Ryan Johansen, C, Nashville Predators
Age: 24 Drafted: 2010 1st round 4th overall
Johansen has seemingly been around forever, completing his 6th NHL season this year. He is a great first-line center, combining dynamic passing, faceoff ability and a steadying presence. He also excelled this year in the possession metrics, with a 55% Corsi for and 7% CF% relative. Johansen does not have the upside of some of the guys on the list, but is all but guaranteed to be a consistent performer for years to come.
- Leon Draisaitl, C/RW, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 21 Drafted: 2014 1st round 3rd overall
I believe Leon Draisaitl may be the most underrated player on this list. The German center had an incredible season in 2016-17. He posted nearly point-per-game numbers with 77 points. Midseason, the Oilers decided to play him at winger to get him on a line with Connnor McDavid, and Draisaitl continued to perform. In the future, if this pairing persists, expect high points totals and many more playoff appearances.
- Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
Age: 22 Drafted: 2013 1st round 8th overall
This huge Finn has improved every year of his career. A stable presence on the ice, Ristolainen is incredibly gifted as a power play quarterback and uses his large body well. He has improved many different aspects of his game in every year as a pro, and will continue to grow with this young Buffalo team. I think he has a shot to be the better long-term player than Aaron Ekblad.
- Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Age: 22 Drafted: 2012 1st round 11th overall
Boy are the Capitals regretting trading Forsberg for Martin Erat! Forsberg continued to play an exiting game this year with 31 goals and 58 points. He even had back to back hat tricks this year. However, perhaps the most underrated aspect of the winger’s game is his defensive play, which earned him a 10th place Selke finish last year. This is the reason I ultimately made Forsberg the last member of his tier, because although he may not have the offensive numbers of some of these guys, he plays better in the defensive zone than perhaps any forward but Barkov and McDavid.
Tier 5- Developing Studs
- Nathan McKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
Age: 21 Drafted: 2013 1st round 1st overall
- Mitch Marner, C/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 20 Drafted: 2015 1st round 4th overall
- David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins
Age: 21 Drafted: 2014 1st round 25th overall
- William Nylander, LW/RW. Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 21 Drafted: 2014 1st round 8th overall
- Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 22 Drafted: 2013 1st round 4th overall
- Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens
Age: 23 Drafted: 2012 1st round 3rd overall
- Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary Flames
Age: 23 Drafted: 2011 1st round 9th overall
- John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Age: 24 Drafted: 2010 5th round 131st overall
- Brandon Saad, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 24 Drafted: 2015 2nd round 43rd overall
- Victor Arvidsson, LW, Nashville Predators
Age: 24 Drafted: 2014 4th round 112th overall
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks
Johnathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers
Johnathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Sean Monahan, C, Calgary Flames
Shayne Ghostisbhere, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Nicolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Matthew Tkachuck, LW, Calgary Flames
Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg Jets
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*All players ages as of June 1, 2017
Credit to http://www.hockey-reference.com/ for statistics, ages
A comparison of defenseman on the list- http://www.hockey-reference.com/play-index/pcomp_finder.cgi?request=1&match=0&player1_hint=Seth+Jones&player1_select=Seth+Jones&player1=jonesse01&p1yr=2017&player2_hint=Dougie+Hamilton&player2_select=Dougie+Hamilton&player2=hamildo01&p2yr=2017&player3_hint=Aaron+Ekblad&player3_select=Aaron+Ekblad&player3=ekblaaa01&p3yr=2017&player4_hint=John+Klingberg&player4_select=John+Klingberg&player4=klingjo01&p4yr=2017&player5_hint=Zach+Werenski&player5_select=Zach+Werenski&player5=werenza01&p1yr=2017&player6_hint=Rasmus+Ristolainen&player6_select=Rasmus+Ristolainen&player6=ristora01&idx=players&p6yr=2017