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.

B's determined to 'keep it going' during good offensive run

B's determined to 'keep it going' during good offensive run

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- The Bruins are going through a nice, little bountiful stretch of offense right now after a half-season of struggle.

The Bruins are averaging more than three goals per game in their last 12 contests, and have scored a whopping 22 goals in their last six games including dropping six scores on the Flyers Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. Combine that with the 7-for-25 performance on the power play during the month of January, and things are finally starting to catch up with a Bruins team that was all shoot/no score for months of frustrating hockey this season.

“If you want sustained success then you have to be good defensively, but you also have to score some goals. That’s definitely part of it and we have to keep it going,” said Patrice Bergeron, who has four goals and eight points in his last nine games after struggling out of the starting gate. “You’re not going to get rewarded every night like we did [against the Flyers], but you have to find that consistency where you’re close to having that every night.”

One thing nobody should expect out of the B’s, however, is to get outside of what they do well now that they’ve started slapping some numbers up on the board. Instead the Bruins are intent on their bedrock of disciplined defense and sensational goaltending with the added offense just making it much tougher to beat them these days.

“I don’t know if we can stand here and say we’re going to sustain that we’re scoring lots of goals. I think what we need to sustain here is winning more games than we lose,” said Claude Julien. “That’s what we’ve got to sustain. Whether it’s a 1-0 or 2-1 game, or it’s a 5-2 or 5-3 game it doesn’t really matter. It’s about winning hockey games much more than it’s about how much you scored, and how much you don’t score.

“Overall when I look at the scoring chances we’re giving up per game, that doesn’t seem to have changed. Goals allowed may have changed a little bit lately, but overall I think we’ve been very steady in that area [of defense].”

So now the Bruins will again be looking for that ideal balance of offense/defense when they take the ice against the Islanders on Monday afternoon for their second straight matinee at TD Garden. 

Morrow has 'confident feeling' as he readies to jump into B's lineup

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Morrow has 'confident feeling' as he readies to jump into B's lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It’s been a long month of bag skates and lonely practices for Bruins defenseman Joe Morrow.

That’s about to change thanks to injuries to both Kevan Miller and Colin Miller, who are both not expected to be able to play against the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon at TD Garden. That means Morrow will be in the B’s lineup for the first time since a Dec. 12 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a span of 16 consecutive B’s games that the 24-year-old has been watching from the press box.

Morrow skated in a pairing with John-Michael Liles in Sunday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena prior to Monday’smatinee, and obviously he’s looking forward to getting back into games given this season’s sporadic practice schedule.

“[Playing well after sitting for long stretches] isn’t necessarily something you want to be good at, but if you are good at then it’s a good tool to have in your bag. It’s a confident feeling that I’ll be able to come in [and play well],” said Morrow, who has an assist and a minus-3 rating in 13 games for the Black and Gold this season. “I’ve stayed in good shape and worked hard in practice, and that’s all I can do up until this point.

“Put simply, [this year’s compacted schedule] is exhausting. Countless times I’ve skated by myself, and anybody would tell you there’s nothing harder than skating by yourself on a sheet of ice. Mentally and physically it’s just exhausting. There haven’t been many practices and there haven’t been many game-type situations in the practices we do have. Skating with the whole team is almost like a pregame skate scenario. But you’re still skating every day, so it’s putting it upon yourself to go out there and stay ready for things.”

The one issue for Morrow, a former first round pick, over the last couple of seasons has been maintaining a high level of play once he draws his way into the lineup. It feels like there’s a drop-off in his play once he’s played a few games in a row whether it’s physical mistakes or mental lapses in his play, and that’s something he wants to avoid when given an opportunity to suit up.

“I feel like when I have played this year that I’ve been quite consistent and that I’ve played well,” said Morrow, the last remaining part of the 2013 Tyler Seguin trade still in a Bruins uniform. “I’m just in a situation that the cards are playing out the way that they are, so it depends on how many games I get whether it’s one, two, 30 or however many games are left [in the season]. It’s realistically entirely up to me. If I can shake the rust out in the first couple of shifts and start from there, it’s going to be a big positive in my book. It’s the really the only option I have left now.”

Given that Colin Miller began skating on his own on Sunday morning, it might not be a very big window for Morrow to impress upon the coaches just how badly he wants to play. But one would expect he’s going to bring his best on Monday against the Isles with the hopes that it will be somebody else sitting up in the press box when it once again becomes a D-man numbers game for the 7-8 players for six lineup spots.