- Neil Greenberg, NHL
As the lockout continues, many fans are afraid they will be robbed of another NHL season at a time when the league is stocked with fantastic young talent. With so many young players making an impact, it becomes harder and harder to decide who ranks among the best 25 players under the age of 25. But as time marches on, the older players cycle out after reaching age 25 and others join the ranks after establishing themselves as standouts in the NHL. To that end, 14 players have graduated from the previous edition, leaving plenty of room for a new generation of skilled skaters to take their place.
To be clear, these rankings -- and the guiding criteria -- are my own. Just like in my previous rankings in January, in constructing this year's list, I once again selected players based on their career-to-date performance in the regular season and the playoffs. I weighed conventional statistics (goals, assists and shots on goal) and advanced metrics that take into account the context in which they play (such as puck possession, zone starts and quality of competition faced). If you are unfamiliar with any of the advanced metrics used, you likely can find an explanation here. Additionally, I looked at how the performances of linemates are affected when a particular player is on and off the ice.
A few other ground rules: As the title of the ranking indicates, players 25 or over -- and those turning 25 before Feb. 1 -- are inelligble for this list. That removes several of the list's previous top names -- including Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom and Claude Giroux. Also, by looking for an established track record of success rather than future potential, you won't find any of the league's talented 2011-12 rookies on this list. That even includes the NHL's reigning rookie of the year Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, although I have no doubt they will feature prominently in future lists. In fact, later this week, ESPN Insider's NHL scout, Grant Sonier, will take a look at his most likely future additions.
Last season, there was some disagreement about the players who did and did not make the list, and I am sure this installment will be no different. Have a differing opinion or think I left someone out? Feel free to make yourself heard in the comments.
Note: Ages listed are as of Feb. 1, 2013.
1. C Jonathan Toews
Chicago Blackhawks, 24 years old
Let's start in the faceoff dot, where Toews led the league with a 59.4 percent win percentage (minimum 1,000 faceoffs) last year. He has historically won 55 percent of his even-strength defensive draws and 53 percent of the draws he takes during the penalty kill. Winning faceoffs helps establish puck possession, so it is no wonder anyone who skates with Toews is on the ice for more shots for than against.
Over the past six seasons, all 17 players who have shared at least 500 minutes of even-strength time with Toews -- including frequent linemates Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp -- all saw more shots in their favor with him than when they skated without him.
The Hawks' captain contributes offensively, as well, registering 144 goals and 324 points in 361 regular-season games over the past five seasons despite continually being matched up against the toughest opposition among Chicago's forwards.
Toews does it all -- kills penalties (1:52 per game), produces on the power play (registered points on 67 percent of power-play goals scored in 2011-12) and drives possession at even strength -- which is why he is once again at the top of the 25 Under 25 list.
2. C Steven Stamkos
Tampa Bay Lightning, 22 years old
The top pick in the 2008 NHL draft has become one of the league's most prolific goal scorers. He had 23 goals in his rookie season, then exploded with 51, 45 and then 60 last season, including 48(!) at even strength. It was the first time since Wayne Gretzky's 1984-1985 season that the 60-goal mark was met with 12 or fewer goals coming during the man advantage.
His puck possession metrics took a big step forward last season, with his linemates seeing almost eight more even-strength shots per 60 minutes directed at the opposition's net when he was skating than when he was on the bench.
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