By Graham O’Dwyer
Asst. Photo Editor
Whether you’re a hard-core fan or just a casual fan of the National Hockey League (NHL), there are a handful of players that everyone knows.
Superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist are just some of those first names that come to mind. They may all play on different teams and even have rivalries between them, but one thing is shared between the three: they have all been in the league long enough to be considered veterans.
As we all know, athletes aren’t totally superhuman and they begin to gradually decline in performance as they age. A change in the NHL style of play is happening right now, and it isn’t the veterans who are making that happen.
Over the past five seasons, there has been a big youth movement within the NHL. Players such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Matthew Barzal are helping to lead the youth movement in the league.
Now you may ask: how are some of these young phenoms changing the game? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Connor McDavid was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers back in 2015. In his first season he put up 48 points in 45 games, averaging just over a point per game.
Needless to say, that is impressive for any rookie, even the first overall pick. After his first season in the league, he was named the Oilers captain and led them to a playoff berth – all before his 21st birthday.
His blazing speed and skill with the stick drew a lot of attention and helped further propel the league from one of grit and size to one of speed and skill. Veterans around the league also noticed, with a few of them accepting less money just to play alongside McDavid.
Auston Matthews is another young gun who has already made his presence felt around the league. Drafted first overall by Toronto in 2016, Matthews brought a lot of the same qualities as McDavid did.
Matthews is currently leading the Toronto Maple Leafs this season to the third-best record in the East. Even though he missed about ten games to injury, he is still leading his team in points and plus/minus rating.
With the continuing success of Matthews and other young talent on the Leafs roster, the team has become one of the most exciting to watch in the league. With important veteran leadership mixed with the exciting game the young guys bring, the Leafs—a team that has been bad for years now—have found the formula for success.
Another exciting young talent—whom all of you Islanders fans know about—is Matthew Barzal.
Barzal has taken the league by storm and leads the rookie scoring race, and it’s not even close.
Barzal currently leads all rookies in assists with 46, the next highest being 28. He also leads all rookies in scoring with 62 total points, with the next highest being 49. The kid can flat-out play and has shown that he can not only score goals, but can also dish out plenty of beautiful assists.
Similar to McDavid and Matthews, Barzal is part of the youth movement that is changing the way the game of hockey is played.
The NHL for years had been the tough guys league, where size, grit and hitting were emphasized. With the recent youth movement in the league, those aspects of the game are still there, but they are not as important as they used to be.
The young guys have brought tremendous speed and skill to the game, which hasn’t been seen like this before. The NHL is a different game to watch compared to 20, or even just ten years ago.
The change in gameplay has brought a new wave of excitement to fans of the league and even those who just began getting into the sport.
If you’ve become a fan of how the game is being played now, give the young guys a thank you, as they are the future of a changing league.