By Ryan Orlecki
Younger, faster, better, stronger – these are some of the reasons behind changes in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the past few years. The amount and prominence of young talent drafted into the NHL has risen. Now the whole league is changing, in both the level of play, and in the way the game is played.
Hockey Reference, a sports statistics site, estimated at the start of the 2016-2017 season that the 82 games to be played would yield a higher average of goals per game since the 2005-2006 season. The average currently sits at 3.02 goals per game, which is the highest rate since the 2005-2006 season recorded 3.08. Notably, the 2005-2006 season was when Sidney Crosby, then 18, and Alexander Ovechkin, then 20, entered the league. They immediately made an impression, and both were among the league leaders in their NHL debuts with a combined total of 91 goals and 117 assists.
The 2005-2006 NHL season showed that more advanced players were rapidly improving once being drafted, and needed less time to develop and excel. In the last few years, this trend has become more evident. Auston Matthews, 19, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, became the first rookie to score four goals in his NHL debut. Patrik Laine, 18, of the Winnipeg Jets, scored a hat trick in his second career game.
And then there is Connor McDavid, who, at 19, has yet to play a full season and is arguably the best player in the league. After becoming the youngest captain in NHL history, he is expected to lead the rebuilding of the Edmonton Oilers. The same pressure and expectations are on for rookies like Matthews and Laine.
The changing draft demographic has influenced the composition of the NHL. Teams are no longer looking to develop young players on their affiliate minor-league teams, rather they are looking to throw a rookie straight into play with high expectations met. A player who is high on the list of draft picks is not expected to take long to develop or adjust to the skill level, but to be NHL ready the moment they hit the ice. Fans, coaches and general managers seem to grow impatient to see their young star-players perform at the NHL level instantly.
Young spectacles storming the NHL has and will continue to cause the game to change. Not only will it keep becoming faster, fans and teams will also place less emphasis on the toughness of players, in favour of the exceptional statistical merit in their goal-scoring and point-production abilities. Even defensemen are expected to be offensively minded and produce points. Erik Karlsson, 26, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 25, are considered two of the best young defensemen in the league, not only for their defensive abilities, but for their impressive offensive statistics as well.
Change is not necessarily a bad thing for the NHL. The many young players drafted mean a faster pace and more goals scored, both of which mean engaged fans and an interesting season. Teams will also be able to rebuild faster, as more young players are added and the team dynamic continues to change.
The NHL is becoming a young man’s league. Older stars are becoming less relevant, and the rookies have become a focal point of the season. The best NHL players don’t appear to develop into great players in their prime, they must begin that way. This does not mean the NHL is worsening, simply that it is changing.
Also Published by The Blank Page: http://home.blnkpage.org/opinions/young-nhl-rookies-are-changing-the-game-from-the-ice-up/