Auditing the best player by age list
January, 29, 2014
By Craig Custance | ESPN Insider
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDo scouts and executives agree that Valeri Nichushkin is the NHL's best 18-year-old?On Monday, when the Dallas Stars played the Colorado Avalanche, it was a chance to see how two of the league’s most impressive young players stacked up at this point in their first season.
Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon has climbed to the top of the Calder race (with surprising pressure from Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson) while fellow Class of 2013 draft grad Valeri Nichushkin has stayed on the fringes of the discussion with his impressive bursts of talent and production.
In watching the two forwards earlier this week, Stars GM Jim Nill observed that the strategy in deploying them by both their coaches has been similar.
These two players have the talent to eventually be first-line stars, but both Patrick Roy and Lindy Ruff have been careful in managing minutes and competition.
“[MacKinnon] scored against us, but they’re kind of doing the same thing we are,” Nill said when we chatted Tuesday afternoon. “MacKinnon was centering the third line. That helps him. Now you’re not playing him against the best every night. Maybe it’s against Anaheim’s third line, not [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry. That’s what we do with [Nichushkin].”
It’s all part of the growing process for an 18-year-old competing in the NHL, a distinction we sometimes forget when we want these future stars to produce night in and night out.
On Tuesday, Neil Greenberg produced an Insider article with an interesting concept: picking the best players in the NHL by age. Right off the bat, the selections were intriguing (even if completely wrong, though I say this as a fan of Greenberg's work). He picked Nichushkin as the best 18-year-old over MacKinnon.
As we like to do sometimes with Greenberg’s advanced stats-inspired lists, I checked around the league with some scouts and executives to see what they thought. In some cases, they agreed. In others, they didn’t.