- Neil Greenberg, NHL
Phil Housley was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres directly out of high school as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1982 NHL entry draft. He went on to have what could be argued as the best two seasons by a teenager in the NHL: 143 points in 152 games, including a 30-goal campaign as a 19-year-old during the 1983-84 season.
As a 20-something, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better player than the Great One, Wayne Gretzky. During the 1980s, Gretzky would just dominate. He led the league in goals scored eight times, was voted either most valuable or outstanding player 13 times and was MVP of the playoffs twice.
Defensemen put a stranglehold on exceptional performances in the twilight years of a career. Ray Bourque and Nicklas Lidstrom appeared to get better in their 30s, and Chris Chelios patrolled the NHL blue line until he turned 48.
But we don't have to look through history for dominant players; there are talented players at every age currently playing in the NHL. Don't believe me? Here is the best player at every age (ages on record as of Feb. 1, 2014) in the NHL right now, based on conventional statistics (goals, assists and shots on goal) and advanced metrics that take into account nuances of their play (such as puck possession and their impact on linemates).
Current statistics are taken into account, as well as career-to-date performance. Bear in mind that in considering these choices, I look for an established track record of success rather than future potential. If you are unfamiliar with any of the advanced metrics used, you likely can find an explanation here.
As expected with a list like this, I am sure no one will disagree with any of the choices:
18 years old
This is a two-horse race between Nathan MacKinnon and Nichushkin, but you have to give the nod to the No. 10 overall pick over No. 1. The young Russian has 25 points in 50 games and plays a very disciplined game. He has delivered 61 hits and made 20 takeaways, but has only been whistled for two minor penalties all season. In terms of puck possession, Dallas sees 52.4 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor when he skates, while Colorado enjoys just 46.4 percent with MacKinnon on the ice. Healthy scratches aside, Nichushkin is the better-rounded player right now.
Honorable mention: Nathan MacKinnon
19 years old
Neil Greenberg ranks the top NHL player at every age. While there were some easy age groups from which to select a winner, certain ones (such as age 23, with Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Erik Karlsson) provide substantial debate.