Looking at recent drafts, it seems that there are more young players than ever in the league. Obviously the lockout played a part in that, but we have had lockouts before that didn't wind up with a huge influx of talent from the prospect ranks immediately following. It seems that players are better these days, and better younger. Am I crazy or are there numbers to back this up? Have we graduated a historic number of draft picks into highly successful players in the last few years? Looking to this draft and the future, it seems to be a continuing trend. If I'm not completely incorrect with the basic premise here, does this represent an overall, sustainable, long-term upgrade of talent in the player pool? Will we be seeing a lot more journeyman players pushed to the wayside and more stars at every position on every team?
yea definitely. Its a result of several things I think.
1.) since hockey is becoming a more and more profitable sport to play, kids and parents are taking it more seriously
2.) modern workout regimines are being introduced at an early age (crosby started when he was like 13)
3.) Wider variety of avenues to take to the NHL
4.) More practice/playing time for young kids nowadays (often as a result of #1)
I honestly thought the new free agent rules would cause the reverse to happen. So many young players burning a year until they are UFA. You can argue if their development is better in the NHL with small minutes or in junior.
while i dont disagree with any of the above comments. I think one of the biggest reasons we are seeing younger kids playing in the league now is because size and strength are nowhere near as important as they used to be. Pre-lockout you had to be able to play the game with a guy draped on your back.
The biggest single reason more young players are making it to the NHL early is the salary cap. GMs need a few players on their first or second contracts to offset the bloated salaries of the veterans.
But it's true that training and development, conditioning, nutrition, etc have all improved (for those kids with the discipline to pursue them) so that they are more likely to be able to handle the rigours of a pro season than previous generations would be. The flipside is that older players are also bgger, stronger and faster than in previous generations (remember when players used to come to camp to get in shape, rather than having to be in shape to attend camp?), so the relative enefit for these kids may not be as obvious.
The idea that the entry-contract players are more valuable today in the payroll cap world than ever before is debatable--only because they were highly valuable even in the old days. (Cliff Fletcher told me 12 years ago that the most valuable player on your team is a player on his first contract who plays on your top two lines. Simply because that player freed up money to spend elsewhere ... same as today.)
I asked Orr and Cherry about the teams that they first coached at the prospects game and the latest crews ... both said the players were significantly bigger. I suspect that's true. 'Course there's more of a place in the game for the smaller, skilled kid as well. Maybe just a greater range in size.
I suspect the kids are better coached and I know they're much more highly trained.
The question is whether this coaching & training leaves them as much room for improvement as pros or whether they are just closer to finished products earlier.
In the 20-something years I've been around it, I think the 16-year-old coming into the junior leagues is about as hockey-savvy (business-wise) as the 19-year-old back when. I also think coaches find it harder today to command the juniors' attention. Definitely harder to coach.