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.


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?