Photo credit: Dan Riedlhuber/Getty Images
By Daniel Ronel
It appears as though the NHL is finally shifting into a new era; a new wave of talent is ready to take on the world and upstage the current stars of the sport.
Quick, name the best player in the NHL!
Your unbiased answer should be one of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, or Jonathan Toews. Now, once all you Tampa fans stop fuming over my small list here, you might notice that half of these players are 30-years-old, and the other half are in their late twenties. Now, I want you to think of a top ten, 15, 20, 25 list. Slowly, as you add more players to the ranks, you will see the average age drop.
P.K. Subban, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Johansen, Taylor Hall, Victor Hedman, Filip Forsberg… perhaps now you can add Connor McDavid and even Jack Eichel to the lower dregs of the upper echelons of the NHL. None of the above are older than 26-years-old.
All of these players are fairly new to the NHL — Patrick Kane was the first of the bunch to hit the ice, debuting in 2007 — and are paving the way for an influx of youngsters looking to take the league by storm. With every passing year, the draft seemingly becomes more ‘deep’; this means that said pool of draftees has the potential to produce more NHL players. This may not mean that the best player of the draft is better than other years’ top pick. Rather, it tells teams to be more excited than usual about their third and fourth round draft picks
As a sport, hockey is one of the fastest growing in the world. In recent years, Latvia has joined the ever-growing list of hockey producing countries. Hong Kong and China are rapidly gaining interest in the game, as evidenced by Andong Song, who recently became the first Chinese player to be drafted or have his rights owned by an NHL team. Costa Rica has grown from some forty participants to a few hundred players, and is looking into building more rinks. Almost 1.8 million people in the world are registered hockey players — ranging from house leagues all across the world to the NHL (USA and Canada), KHL (Russia and other Slavic nations), SHL (Sweden), ELH (Czech Republic), Liiga (Finland), DEL (Germany), Slovak Extraliga (Slovakia), and National League A (Switzerland) — an 8.5% increase from last year. Japan has had one player (goalie Yutaku Fukufuji) play in the NHL, and in terms of registered players, the country ranks in the top ten in the world. In Argentina, just over a thousand hockey players play at the only international-size ice rink in the country.
The NHL itself is looking to expand its fan base, with plans of expansion well set into motion. Las Vegas and Quebec City are poised to sport franchises, while Seattle, Hamilton, Milwaukee, Markham, and Saskatoon continue to show interest in bringing the NHL to town. Quebec City, fuelled by fans of the Nordiques (the city’s former NHL team), appears ready to support a team with ease, while Las Vegas holds a lot of potential for its many “Canadian snowbirds”. While some fear that the addition of teams to the NHL will “water down the league talent pool”, others argue that it provides an opportunity for good players buried under better rosters (see: Jimmy Hayes, Chicago Blackhawks).
Furthermore, it is very apparent that the parity in the NHL is matched by no sport anywhere. In basketball, you can safely assume the Cleveland Cavaliers will at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. In football, the New England Patriots are always topping the league and winning championships. In baseball, the likes of St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles often find themselves contending. However, the NHL is the only sport in which most of the league can legitimately — without bias — see their favourite team contending for the Stanley Cup. Because of the parity, the NHL has plenty of room to ‘water down the talent pool’.
Let’s face it, the NHL is about to get hit by the next generation, full blast. Get ready for the new kids on the block, because they’re not just on their way; they’re already here.