Neil Greenberg of ESPN caused a little ruckus last season when his list of the top 25 players under 25 was released without the name John Tavares on it (21 years old then, 22 now). While he wasn’t all that high on the NHL Scoring Leaders List at the time (he wasn’t exactly low on it, either), he ended with the 7th most points in the league, yet didn’t crack the list – names like Brian Little held him back.

Needless to say, it was time to release the Kraken outrage for the hockey community. There are plenty of lists out there that folks slough off, but this is ESPN stuff (and before you reflexively trash ESPN hockey, the print side – Greenberg, Lebrun, Burnside, Custance, Strang, and more – are excellent). Folks wanted an explanation.

A lot of the reason Tavares didn’t make the cut was because Greenberg’s list has a certain set of protocol, most notably that it’s the top 25 players under 25 years old in the NHL…based purely on past performance in the NHL. (Neil came on the Backhand Shelf Podcast to explain this by the way, and did a good job.) You needed years to accrue proof that you’re NHL-quality.

Because of that, you sort of end up with a list that’s The 25 Oldest Good Players That Aren’t Yet 25, because some of them have had six years to compile NHL accomplishments, while a guy like Gabriel Landeskog, one of the notables left off the list this season, has not.

I think to most of us – and I could be wrong here (but so rarely am) – consider the Top 25 Players Under 25 as the guys who, if their sticks were all thrown in the middle to be picked up by NHL GMs in a draft today, would be the guys who get taken, and in that order. Which is to say, Tyler Seguin’s stick gets picked up before his teammate Brad Marchand’s does. Logan Couture most assuredly does not see his stick chosen third, etc, etc. I want to know if my team has one of the 25 best players under 25 going forward, which is the direction time progresses.

SO, guess what hockey fans.

ARBITRARY LIST TIIIIIMMMMEEE. /Air guitar solo

You can check out Greenberg’s list here – it’s well done, and worth a read. Below is my take on the current Top 25 Under 25. My criteria is that players with zero NHL games – as in, new draft picks – are not eligible. Like the ESPN list, players who turn 25 before February 1st (Crosby, Giroux, Backstrom etc.) are not eligible, just so we can keep it consistent.

  1. Steven Stamkos
  2. Jonathan Toews - Many, many people think Toews should be number one, but I just can’t bump a 22-year old with 156 goals over the past three seasons from the number one spot. Stamkos is just too dynamic, too rare a commodity – not to take away from Toews’ greatness.
  3. Drew Doughty - Cornerstones are tough to come by.
  4. Erik Karlsson - 22-year old Norris winner. Is that good?
  5. John Tavares
  6. Patrick Kane – Proven talent that rarely gets hit. Potential to put up stud numbers for years.
  7. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - If Erik Karlsson can win a Norris, it’s not impossible that this kid could too. He skates the way a deer runs. Just…graceful.
  8. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  9. Taylor Hall
  10. Tyler Seguin
  11. Jordan Staal
  12. Jamie Benn
  13. Milan Lucic - There’s a few people who attempt to play the way he does, but nobody can do it while also being the toughest guy in the league. What a nightmare opponent in a seven-game playoff series.
  14. Jeff Skinner
  15. PK Subban
  16. Sean Courturier Philly won’t trade this guy for a reason. And from what we know, Paul Holmgren will trade anyone.
  17. Logan Couture
  18. Jordan Eberle
  19. Max Pacioretty
  20. Chris Kreider - Originally had him higher up the list, but bumped him a bit after getting some quality opinions. Will be a valuable NHLer though, no doubt.
  21. Matt Duchene - Thought I might get some guff for having him above Landeskog, but really feel like he just had a down year. He’s a “watch the game” guy for me – do that, and you get it. So tough to handle down low, will bounce back. High ceiling.
  22. Gabriel Landeskog
  23. Brayden Schenn
  24. James Van Riemsdyk
  25. Alex Pietrangelo

There were many, many honorable mentions. Among them:

Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, Victor Hedman, Tyler Myers, Ryan McDonagh, Wayne Simmonds, Brad Marchand, Evander Kane, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Jayden Schwartz, Adam Henrique, Sam Gagner, Nick Leddy, Sven Bartschi, Erik Johnson and more.

The trouble is, to put someone on the list, you have to take someone off, and there doesn’t seem to be a no-brainer flip in there.

Something else worth mentioning: holy shit the NHL has a lot of great young talent right now; lockouts are super-awesome, aren’t they?

So, let’s have it. Did I nail the Top 25 players Under 25, or would you tinker with the list?

Comments (60)

  1. How many of them will be in the AHL this year? I’d be going to some Barons games if I lived in OKC.

  2. I think both you and Greenberg underrate Pietrangelo, but that’s my bias showing through. He was great last year, and I don’t use that term lightly. Let’s see him repeat it, and what that does to his status around the league.

    • I agree about Pietrangelo. Just last year he was voted as 4th best in the league. He should be at least up with O E-L just based upon sample size and situation play.

    • Last year was his “repeat’ year.

      2010-11: 79GP, 11g, 32a, 43pts, +18, 22:00
      2011-12: 81GP, 12g, 39a, 51pts, +16, 24:44

      A bit more ice time, a few more assists, but otherwise very similar. He has to be top 10 on this list, maybe top 5.

  3. Out of curiosity, what were the opinions on Kreider that bumped him down in your rankings?

  4. Great list, but missing Claude Giroux!

  5. Generally speaking I wouldn’t suggest there is much I would change about this list (at least not in a significant way) except for Pietrangelo. I’d slide a few guys up a few spots and a few guys down a few spots but Pietrangelo needs to be way higher on this list. Top 10 at least. Maybe top 5. He is every bit as good defensively as Ekman-Larsson but is significantly better offensively. He is 9th in points by defensemen over the past 2 seasons with 94 compared to Ekman-Larsson’s 43. He averaged 24:43 in ice time per game last year compared to Ekman-Larsson’s 22:06. He played 3:12 of PK ice time per game vs Ekman-Larsson’s 1:35. If I were starting a franchise from scratch today, there wouldn’t be more than a couple of defensemen I would take over Pietrangelo. He is a franchise defenseman if there ever was one, up there with Doughty.

    • Justin does say that this is a list going forward, unlike greenbergs list which is a what have they done to date list. With that there is an argument that OEM should be higher than Pietrangelo as OEM just turned 21, and Pietrangelo will be turning 23 in two months. OEM is just turning the age Pietrangelo was during his rooking season and already has a 30 point season under his belt, not an out of line suggestion to think he wouldn’t make a large jump in his 3rd season NHL season at 21.

      • What evidence is there that he will be better than Pietrangelo who is already one of the best (top 5) defensemen in the league? He could, but the odds are not good.

  6. Couture rated below Subban, Couturier, and Benn? I don’t think so.

    • I have two responses:

      1) You don’t think so? But it’s right there, up the page, showing Couture rated below Subban, Couturier and Benn. You should reconsider; and
      2) Oh, well… you’ve convinced me! Great job, Peter.

      • Ha, that’s the type of response I’d generally like to leave. Peter, that’s fair, but some defense of your position is necessary other than “Big Sharks fan here.”

        • Couture has not had a full season with fewer than 30 goals. Even as a shoot-first center, not having a sophomore goal-scoring slump is pretty great. Small sample size but same with most of the other guys on this list. He and Clowe basically carried the Sharks on their backs for the beginning of the 2010-2011 season.

          I think Sharks fans get sensitive about people in different time zones not wanting to stay up late to watch the team, and when you look at only stats, Couture does seem to be underrated on this list.

          When he was nominated for the Calder, so many people said as a complete player, Couture should win it, but Skinner will. And that happened.

  7. This should really be called “Top 25 Players with the Biggest Upside Under 25.” If I were to build a team for 2012-2013 and it would disband after the season, after about #6, this list would look a lot different.

  8. Chris Kreider looks like he’ll be good, but with only 18 career NHL games, I’m not convinced I’d put him over someone like Ryan McDonagh or Evander Kane…

  9. so can we start mock drafting for 2014 olympics?

  10. I haven’t seen a ton of games JVR has played, but when I do watch, I don’t really notice him on the ice. That might be because he’s in the background of guys such as Giroux, Briere, Hartnall, Schenn, but still, he doesn’t wow me as a top 25 type guy in this category.

    • I’ve always wondered about the JVR hype. I’ve never been that impressed. He has skill, but I don’t see him developing into much more than he is.

      • I have seen JvR play a ton of games, and that was the pretty consistent pattern for JvR throughout his tenure in Philly. Remember, he started last year with the opportunity to be on the top line with Giroux and he wasn’t very productive. He’s had some bad luck with some nagging, lingering injuries so maybe that’s had something to do with it, but I dunno. He’s the type of player who, if he were Russian, would get called an “enigma” all of the time. He’ll go from being a physical, aggressive force out there one night, looking for all the world poised to become a really dominant player, to playing so timid you hardly even notice him the next night.

  11. With Toews and Stamkos and picking between the two you have to decide are you looking for pure offense, or an all around game. It was no different than when people would debate on AO and Crosby. Stamkos is going to net you 50+ goals a season. Toews is going to get you 30+, but also is going to be your top PKer, leader on and off the ice and net you 30+ assists a season.

    I really like Stamkos and his skills, but I would take Toews over him based on his all around play.

  12. Ekman-Larsson that high? Alex P that low? What planet are you living on? He should probably be 25th on that entire list, not 7th. Landeskog is amazing yet you have him 24th? Do you even watch hockey?

  13. Surprised Brayden Schenn’s on here over guys like these

    Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, Victor Hedman, Tyler Myers, Ryan McDonagh, Wayne Simmonds, Brad Marchand, Evander Kane, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Jayden Schwartz, Adam Henrique, Sam Gagner, Nick Leddy, Sven Bartschi, Erik Johnson

    His overage juniors numbers were great, but his NHL game to date seems to be based around not scoring, not backchecking, making people mad and then getting beat up or crushed by somebody because of it.

    Guys like Adam Henrique Evander Kane and, heck, probably even Derek Stepan already reliably contribute more than Schenn’s upside (which he hasn’t given any indication he’ll reach, to date).

  14. Justin, I really gotta disagree with your listing of Krieder here. He’s played 18 NHL games, scoring 7 points. Now, I’m not trashing him. He tore it up at BC, and he’s an A+ prospect. But he’s just that; a prospect.

    Let’s compare him to my boy Adam Henrique. Played in, you know, the NHL last season. Calder candidate. 13 points in the post season, including a couple OT winners.

    How could we know that Krieder is as good as we think he is? In my opinion, his inclusion is very speculative. I really don’t know how good he is or if his play will carry over to the NHL. I don’t know how anyone else can know, either.

    • Yep, Krieder seems to have the tools, but it’s a very small sample to draw from. There are a lot of guys that light it up in Jrs or College and can’t transition their game to the NHL. I’d have McDonagh or Kane in his spot.

  15. How come Cody isn’t on the list?? Someone needs to pay!

  16. Marc-Edouard Vlasic? One of the top shutdown defensemen in the entire league, but it’s not surprising that he keeps falling under the radar.

  17. Toews better than Stammer.. Proof: Conn Smythe & a Ring

    Erik Johnson = BUST, thanks for pointing that out

    Alex Pietrangelo best D-man on this list.. Pietrangelo’s played 2 seasons : 94 points
    (doughty 1st 2 seasons: 86 points, has consistently less points the past 2 seasons = dwindling player rating)

    Kind of Shocked you rated Jayden Schwartz higher than David Perron..

    • You don’t think it matters that Doughty was 18/19 those two years where Pietrangelo was 21/22?

      • Doughty vs Pietrangelo is an interesting case study. If you look at just their 21/22 seasons, Pietrangelo probably comes out better. Doughty is good, but a lot of his reputation comes from his age 20 season when he scored 59 points. But, of those 59 points, 31 came on the PP which is a very high number, and fairly unsustainable. Karlsson only had 28 last season despite scoring 78 points.

        Doughty’s non PP point totals are: 5, 28, 25, 23. Pietrangelo’s are: 29, 27. I believe that Pietrangelo is probably better defensively as well which would indicate to me that Pietrangelo quite likely is the slightly better defenseman.

        Last season McDonough had 23 non PP points, Ekman-Larsson 24, and Subban 22.

        • I have a lot of respect for Pietrangelo, but ranking him over Doughty right now is a difficult argument to make based on their careers. Doughty had injuries early on in both of the past two seasons. His reputation is not entirely based on points, either; he’s taken on tough assignments as a #1D from an early age.

          I’d put Petro higher on this list, but not higher than Doughty. Maybe in time.

          • I agree. Out of all the Dmen on this list I’d take Doughty #1, Pietrangelo as #2. I don’t think Karlsson and Subban are even close defensively to these two. Throughout the Kings run in this year’s playoffs, Dougly was constantly matched up against the #1 lines…which turned out pretty well.

    • Towes is a great player no argument but the kings had better defense then the lightning. Stamkos is also a great player, 2 rocket Richard trophys

  18. Ryan McDonaugh has to be on there, and frankly has to be near the top. Karlsson put up a ton of points in good situations with talented teammates, McDonaugh and Pietrangelo were cornerstones for the best defenses in the league. If Doughty is number 3, they should be in the 6-9 range. They’re more valuable than Tavares and maybe Kane, and they’re flat-out better than Ekman-Larson and maybe even Karlsson

  19. No Ryan O’Reilly even in the honorable mentions? This kid is criminally underrated. it seems like in the national media (MSM and blogs) Jeff Marek is the only one to give him any kind of recognition.

    • I think he’s a great player, but most of my other honorable mentions genuinely made me go “this guy could steal a spot 20-25 and nobody would flinch. O’Reilly – again, great player – would never bump those guys without an eyebrow raise, so I left him out. Gotta draw the line somewhere!

  20. Stamkos vs. Toews will be interesting going forward. Both are trending toward the other’s strengths. Stamkos’ overall/defensive game is improving, and Toews’ offense is picking up (was on pace to score 40+ goals before concussion).

  21. Glad to see OEL get some credit

  22. The one that really jumps out at me is that you rated Subban 10 spots ahead of Pietrangelo. I honestly believe that 9 out of 10 GM’s would rather take Pietrangelo given a choice.

  23. The lack of Henrique on this list is astonishing. He should be above Schenn for sure.

  24. Is it just me or is posting this a week after Kessel turns 25 funny?

  25. Kreider doesn’t need to be on the list yet, I’d put Adam Henrique in the 20-25 range, but other than that the list is spot-on.

  26. Curious as to why you listed Baertschi as an honorable mention, after only playing 5 games in the NHL. Especially if Huberdeau, Granlund, etc. aren’t mentioned.

    I’m also high on Ekman-Larsson as well, put I will add in that Pietrangelo is even with him. Good list.

  27. Maybe it’s just me but I see Landeskog as Toews part 2. I think I would have him above Couturier but then again I have seen him play much more than Couturier. Also OEL is the real deal.

  28. Agreed on Stamkos over Toews, after all, he has a gold medal, Stanley up and Conn Smythe while being a perennial Selke candidate and faceoff wizard.

    Oh wait.

    • I’ll overlook your smug, side-splitting hilarity and say that I think Toews will be a Hall-of-Famer mentioned in the same breath as Yzerman and Sakic. I also think Stamkos will be, just mentioned along the likes of Brett Hull. It’s really a coin flip.

  29. I don’t see how Kreider is ahead of Landeskog and the majority of the honourable mentions list to be honest. Not a big enough sample size to say just how good he’ll be as a consistent NHLer. Already ranked higher than Marchand, Kane, Pietrangelo and Henrique? I don’t know about that just yet…

  30. Ranger fan here.

    First, gotta jump on the Toews over Stamkos bandwagon. If ever ‘intangibles’ have a tangible value, it is Toews. He just makes everyone else with him better, and the goals he does score always seem to be in the third period, ‘clutch’ goals that clinch a playoff spot or something equally dramatic.

    Next, I would take Krieder off the list because he only played playoff games, which is a different animal from the regular season grind. He hasn’t had a camp and been molded in a Tortsian Ranger yet.

  31. The only thing I’ll say that I feel like I’m saying all the time, is I like Alzner over Carlson, and I guess that’s a “watch them play” thing for me. Especially this past year.

  32. Talking cornerstones on Doughty and you have McDonagh in honorable mentions? The kid was bedrock last season, I’m sick of this haven’t seen enough shit. He only gets better every year… god i miss hockey… happy opening day

  33. The fact that Giroux isn’t on this list, is utterly ridiculous. That alone makes the list a bunch of garbage.

    • To say Couterier is a better player under 25 is asinine, and Schenn. Must just not like Giroux

    • Or for those folks who read the post…

      “Like the ESPN list, players who turn 25 before February 1st (Crosby, Giroux, Backstrom etc.) are not eligible…”

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