A New Wave of Future NHL Stars
Barely a month into the NHL’s 2016-17 campaign, we’re seeing the emergence of the NHL’s next generation of scoring stars. While established veterans such as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane still rule the roost, their potential successors are already making their presence felt.
Leading the pack is Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid. The 19-year-old provided a tantalizing glimpse of his abilities in his injury-shortened 2015-16 debut. His 48 points in 45 games made him a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.
Only 12 games into this season, McDavid had 13 points and ranked among the league’s top-10 scorers. Named the Oilers captain before the start of this season, he’s embraced what could’ve been a burdensome task with a maturity that belies his youth and relative NHL inexperience.
Toronto Maple Leafs 19-year-old rookie center Auston Matthews is considered the foundation player for his rebuilding club. The first-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft is wasting little establishing his credentials as a scorer, with 11 points in his first dozen games. He’s already notched his first NHL record, scoring four goals in his first-ever NHL game.
Matthews teammate and fellow rookie William Nylander, 20, earned NHL rookie of the month honors for October, leading all rookie scorers entering November with 11 points in 10 games. His playmaking abilities have drawn favorable comparison to Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom.
The impressive play of Matthews and Nylander overshadowed the performance of Mitch Marner, another promising young Leafs rookie. With 10 points in 12 games, the 19-year-old Marner is starting to garner his fair share of recognition.
In Winnipeg, Jets winger Patrik Laine is already dazzling fans with his quick release. With seven goals and 10 points in his first 12 games, the 18-year-old Finn was among both the rookie and league goal-scoring leaders. Ovechkin was Laine’s idol growing up, and there’s a lot of similarity in their offensive style.
2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey attracted considerable attention in the offseason over his unrestricted free agent status and his eventual signing with the New York Rangers. With six goals and 10 points in 12 games, the 23-year-old winger seems to be adjusting quickly to the NHL pace.
Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak appears to be having a breakout performance. Only nine games into his third NHL campaign, the 20-year-old tallied seven goals and 11 points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets could have an impressive puck-moving defenseman in 19-year-old Zach Werenski. He’s off to an impressive start to his rookie season, netting 10 points in as many games.
Of course, one must be wary of over-hyping these youngsters. We’ve yet to fully evaluate them over the long haul of an NHL campaign. Still, we could be getting a preview of the players poised carry the NHL forward through the next decade.