The DNVR Avalanche Podcast drops with Nathan Rudolph and AJ Haefele looking around the NHL to see how things like award races and playoff matchups are shaping us as the final stretch begins.

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  • I posted this on yesterday’s pod but since you guys were kinda hitting on some of the same points I figured I’d drop this here too. Interesting how the league has matured the last 5 years.

    TLDR: It was a lot easier for an 18 year old to find immediate success in the NHL 5 years ago than it is today because they were able to grow up with the rule changes. I think it will become common for top end prospects to have to wait until they are older (like it was in the past) because everyone has been playing with the same rules during their formative hockey years. The high amount of successful 18 year olds was a product a generation change of rules and will only be temporary.

    I have had a thought about how development of very young players has changed over the last decade and where I see it going in the future. Could maybe be a different view on the maturation of the NHL recently and was curious on the thoughts from the DNVR crew and the community as a whole.
    So in 2007’ish is when all the major rule changes were made that helped skilled players and has created the exciting brand of hockey that we watch today (for reference Mikko would have been 10 years old and he was part of the 2015 Mcdavid draft which is one of the best drafts of recent memory). This trend of 18-year olds having success in the league immediately was a result of there still being so many of the older dead puck era players who have now been pushed out of the league. At the end of the 2015 season, dino Jamie Benn led the league in points and he is a perfect example of the way the game has changed. This was also the last time that the Art Ross trophy was given out to someone with less than 100 points. Since that time the league has been dominated by the younger generation of players who have played with the new rules during their formative competitive years of youth hockey.
    The NHL landscape is completely different today than 5 years ago. In my opinion it is becoming harder for 18-year-old players to break into the league because they are now playing mature players who also grew up with the post lockout rule changes. Over the last 5 or so years the league has trended offensively, and they have learned how to play with and against high-end skill. If you look at mildly similar players like Barzal and Jack Hughes you can see quite the difference in success during their rookie years. Is Barzal a better player than Hughes? It is possible but I don’t think so. I think the league has had an influx of very skilled players the last decade and this is making it harder for the young players to break in.
    A narrative I often hear is that over the last 5 years all the best players were 18 when they came in and found success so if a player now doesn’t do the same then they are probably not as good People often overlook that all those players breaking in 5 years ago at 18 are now 23 and moving into the prime of their career and they have not gotten worse. The best scoring player in the league 5 years ago was Jamie Benn which is laughable today. So basically, I find the comparison of rookies now vs then to be a bit unfair and I think it is time we start evaluating younger players in a little bit different way. It seems like the league has finally matured with these rules and I think it will be much more common for top players to take a little more time to develop, ideally. Of course, there will always be exceptions for the truly great but that is a different conversation.
    Sorry for the long post and I hope it isn’t too confusing. I just think it is interesting how the league has changed and I think it will only get harder for 18 year olds to break into the league unless there is another massive rule change that gives them time to develop under those rules. I believe the 2015 draft class was the first-year rookies had enough time to be groomed for these rules in this generation and I think that is why there were so many more successful 18-year olds breaking in for a few years.
    P.S. I should probably put this much effort into my actual work…

    • It’s a nice theory but I’m not sure it really holds any water. The only players to score 50 points or more in there 18 year old seasons since 2015 are Matthews, Eichel, Laine and Hischier. That’s not really a huge trend of 18 year olds having success and 2 of those players are special talents that everyone knew were going to be great, and another had a shot that’s absolutely out of this world. Hischier is the only real outlier there. And you mention Mikko (not sure if it was supposed to be related to the point) and Matt Barzal (as a comparison to Jack Hughes) but neither of those players played their 18 year old seasons in the NHL. Honestly I think it’s a pretty common year for rookies. A couple of older rookies making an immediate impact (Quinn, Cale, Kubalik) and a couple of good but probably never elite 18 year olds (Kakko, Dach), and one possibly future elite but currently very undersized 18 year old (Jack), struggling to find their footing.

      • Great points! Ya I think I wandered on my initial point I guess. I wasn’t necessarily saying that 18 year olds were dominating when they entered the league but more that they were entering the league at all (but some did dominate pretty early). Overall I was saying that the 2015 draft (Mikko/mcdavid/barzal/eichel/marner) was the first year that players had mostly grown up (since age 10) with the new era of rules. So starting at about that draft the young guys fundamentally played differently and very quickly started taking roster spots and pushing out the low to mid-range guys who were used to playing that big grindy style. I think this is trend is starting to equalize now because the rules haven’t changed much since 2007, so I think it is just going to be a bit tougher for prospects to come in as young as they have been recently. Basically I just think that the NHL getting way younger is only temporary and my theory is that the avg age of rookies and the league will normalize back to what it was before this “changing of the guard”. The players that have came in the last 5 years or so will not be pushed out as quickly as the generation before in my opinion.
        I do think that under 20 scoring over the last 5 years has been dramatically higher than it had been previously which is no surprise. Now that the players who have been coming in over the last 5 years are starting to mature I think it is going to be more difficult for the younger players to come in and contribute the way that they have been in my opinion. I think that is part of the reason for the tough seasons from Kakko/ Hughes and why most of the rookies doing well are 20+. Makar and Quinn are both studs which help as well.
        Hopefully I made my point a bit better this time! Rolling theories around in my head is a lot easier than putting it down on paper apparently. lol

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