Young guns taking NHL by storm

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Young guns taking NHL by storm

BOSTON -- Its no wonder the NHLs premier first-round draft picks like Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have hit it big within the first couple of NHL seasons.

The NHL has become a world of teenage sensations where speed kills, and younger is most definitely better.

Its simply a different era in the NHL since offenses opened up and lanes became much less treacherous following the lockout in 2004-05.

Now 18-year-old skill players are thriving in the best league in the world, and teams that sit atop the draft can count on immediate contributions from their hand-picked talent.

Once upon a time players like Ray Bourque and Wayne Gretzky -- baby-faced players able to jump right into the NHL before they even had to shave on a daily basis -- were the exceptions to the rule.

But now, a handful of top draft picks stick with their teams each and in some case help turn things around immediately upon their arrival.

Nugent-Hopkins is the latest rookie sensation with 12 points for the young and hungry Oilers this season, and guys like Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Larsson are taking the Flyers, Avalanche and Devils by storm, respectively.

Hall and Seguin were the tale of two different hockey upbringings last season, with the Oilers rookie getting plenty of ice time to hone his game and pile up points while Seguin learned gradually on a Stanley Cup-winning team. But they also are a big part of an undeniable pattern over the last ten years. Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Hall, Seguin, John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Steve Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Patrick Kane, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were all top-three NHL draft picks that have made the jump straight to the NHL without any juniorminor league time in between.

In all, 13 of the 16 player selected in the top two spots in the NHL draft since 2004 have gone straight to the NHL. More amazingly, 5 of those 16 players have already won Stanley Cups in the last seven seasons as key skaters on some excellent teams.

Its nice to see, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. Its good to see. It just goes to show you how our game is being developed as far as youth hockey is concerned and how its being managed. Youve got a bunch of guys with skill. Tavares is another one that because of his age probably got held out of the draft the year before he was chosen.

Its nice to see those things happening. Youve got those young guys from the Oilers coming in, weve got our young guy in Seguin for sure and Tavares is in there as well having some sort of an impact at a younger age. Im really okay with that.

So whats the reason for the league getting younger, and seemingly overnight? What game-changing event created a habitat where 18-year-old kids can flourish when they once might have been physically unsuitable to hack it in the NHL?

Edmonton coach Tom Renney says its about new strength training and dietary breakthroughs that allow younger players to compete and endure against men twice their age at the NHL level. There is certainly plenty of validity to the Edmonton coachs theory.

Every player has a personal trainer these days and fitnessnutrition is paramount, said Renney.

I also think the (2004-05) lockout and the attrition that took a toll on the older players really allowed an influx of the younger players into the league.

The change made it a younger league and its continued to take on the trend ever since then. Its exciting hockey. Sometimes you have to get out of the way as a coach and let em go. Thats okay. The big thing is that it cant be at the expense of the two points or playing the game properly without the puck as well. Its fan-friendly at this point and I think the game has been that way since the lockout . . . maybe since the Oilers days of the 1980s. Its exciting for the fans because of the young guys and I think its important to identify with that.

Julien also thinks the gummed up, trap-happy game prior to the lockout might have made it impossible for younger players to break through.

Id answer by saying that the clutching and grabbing that used to go on really slowed things down and I dont think the younger guys would have been strong enough to deal with that, said Julien. It took away a lot of the skill that these are bringing to the table. But because theres no holding back or slowing things down theyre able to showcase their talent quicker and better. Thats what sticks out in my mind.

Whatever the reason, the youth uprising within the NHL game is happening all around North America. Young, energetic superstars fwith speed, skill and dazzling creativity are taking over a league that once tried to beat it out of them by the time they reached the big stage.

The change to youth and skill is making hockey a better game each and every year while holding onto the blue collar tough qualities that make it such a unique sport.

Dont believe me?

Just take a peek at the talent level and heart-stopping plays made on the ice when the Oilers hit the Garden ice against the Bruins on Thursday night, and three of the best NHL players under the age of 20 vie for bragging rights.

Thats the new NHL that the league builders dreamed of when they came out of the lockout, and now its a picturesque reality.

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

The Coyotes have hired former player Craig Cunningham as a pro scout, keeping the 26-year-old in hockey after a cardiac episode ended his playing career this season. 

Drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Cunningham played 34 games for Boston over parts of two seasons before he was waived and claimed by Arizona. He totaled 19 games for the Coyotes, but served as captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team’s AHL affiliate. 

Cunningham was hospitalized after he collapsed during pregame warmups on Nov. 19. He was kept alive by continual CPR, but had his lower left leg amputated the next months due to an infection from the episode. 

Known as a high-character player who was popular with his teammates, Cunningham’s transition to scouting lets him further his career after a scary break. 

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my life with the Coyotes," Cunningham said in a statement released by the team. "I'm very grateful to John Chayka, Dave Tippett, the Coyotes and Roadrunners organizations, and all of the great fans across Arizona for the incredible support I've received over the past year. I'm looking forward to helping the Coyotes and I can't wait to get started in my new role."

Said Chayka, the team’s general manager: ”We're thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout. Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. We're confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club."
 

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while really enjoying what the CW does season in and season out with the Flash.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Don Brennan says that the Senators fans not showing up for Game 6 is their way of sticking it to Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

*The talk is turning to the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and what they can do to help open up communication up and down the roster.  

*A guy that wore a Habs toque on his twitter avatar writes a glowing, praise-filled article about the performance of PK Subban during these Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s undoubtedly been good, but he just might have been wearing his Montreal Canadiens footie pajamas when he wrote this one, and rattling his fist at Habs management all the while.

*Interesting piece by Jason Gregor about the “window to win” for the Edmonton Oilers, and an odd notion that the window will close when Connor McDavid has moved out of his entry level contract. I’d say that’s kind of ludicrous.

*The Colorado Avalanche coaching staff has been let go after last year’s dreadful season, and that’s too bad for a really good guy in former Providence College head coach Tim Army. I’m sure he won’t be out of work long.

*Colin White made his Stanley Cup playoff and NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators in Game 6, and helped push Ottawa to a Game 7. It will be interesting to watch the Massachusetts native and former Boston College standout develop with the Senators as White was one of the players that the Bruins skipped over to instead draft Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The others, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny and Kyle Connor, are all either in the NHL or knocking on the door as well, and it’s going to be a challenging road for both of Boston’s forward prospects to live up the justification of the B’s drafting them first. Granted DeBrusk and Senyshyn are also both doing their thing for the P-Bruins as they push into the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, and they’re both bright prospects in their own right. It’s going to take years to determine the rights and wrongs of that first round, but White getting into the lineup for the Senators is proof of just how high that organization is on him.

*Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan says that Sidney Crosby handled the targeted abuse well from the Senators in a Game 6 loss that will push to a Game 7 between the Penguins and the Senators.

*For something completely different: A great message from Brookline homey and former Sox GM wonder boy Theo Epstein in his commencement address to Yale University.