One of the best times of the year in sports is about to get even better tonight. Professional leagues are nearing their conclusion, heading into mid season, or in the case of the NHL, just getting started. From Montreal to Minnesota and Calgary to Carolina, hockey fans everywhere are ecstatic.
Much like the NBA and the Golden State Warriors, the NHL landscape is being dominated by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions will take center stage tonight. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have cemented their legacies as hockey legends. Although the night will be a celebration of their accomplishments over the past two years, there is another narrative that is taking center stage.
A recent wave of young talent in the NHL has changed the game. Franchises are investing millions of dollars in young athletes that aren’t even old enough to legally drink in some cases. Their skills are unmatched, but now they have a franchise on their shoulders heading in to this season. The future is there for the taking for these stars in the making.
Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
Who knew Scottsdale, AZ would be the home one of the best and most explosive young stars in the NHL. Normally a kid from the North, Northeast or Europe would be first in line, but Matthews, only 20, has changed that narrative. He was first player to be drafted first overall that was born in the US since Patrick Kane. If you’re wondering, his career is turning out just fine.
For a debut, Matthews became the first player ever to score four goals in his first NHL game. He ended the season with 40 goals and 69 points. Additionally, those stats enabled Matthews to take home the Calder Trophy, the NHL equivalent of Rookie of the Year.
However, the most important aspect of Matthews’ rookie campaign was that the Maple Leafs returned to the playoffs. They expected a star, but got a franchise cornerstone for the next 10-15 years.
Patrick Laine – Winnipeg Jets
Right behind Matthews in more ways than one is Patrick Laine. He was drafted second overall, finished his rookie campaign with 36 goals and was second in the Rookie of the Year vote.
Laine was injured during his rookie season, hindering his stats a bit, but there is no doubt he is the future of the team. He is only 19, but led Winnipeg to an above .500 regular season. A native of Finland, Laine has been preparing for NHL stardom for his whole life. Now with that dream so close to being attainable, he will look to build on his early success.
The two will square off against each other to start off the regular season, and this is a match up you won’t want to miss. Laine is a creative player from the right wing position, and will put pressure on the Maple Leafs defense all night.
Jake Guentzel – Pittsburgh Penguins
Unfortunately, Crosby and Malkin can’t play forever. When the hang up the skates, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be in good hands. Jake Guentzel only managed to score 16 goals last season as a rookie, but came up big when it mattered most. He added 13 goals in the postseason, including four in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Relatively anonymous throughout the regular season, Guentzel was the catalyst for the Pens during their dominant run. He holds a share of the record for most points a by a rookie in single postseason, and has to be one of the most confident players in the game heading in to this season.
The Penguins quest for a repeat starts Opening Night in the NHL against the St. Louis Blues.
Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers
All three of the aforementioned players are chasing the legend that is growing in Edmonton. The Canadian born Connor McDavid is the second coming of Wayne Gretzky. Fans of the Oilers can only hope that his stats lead to Stanley Cups, which was exactly what The Great One was able to do.
McDavid didn’t win Rookie of the Year because of an injury. Otherwise he would have ran away with it.
However, he did not let that phase him as his sophomore season in the NHL was unforgettable. McDavid notched an incredible 70 assists, 100 points and won the Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player). In his first full season, he made everyone on the Oilers a better player. His creativity and vision on the ice is unmatched.
In the playoffs he rose to the occasion as well. As a 20-year old he led the Oilers to an upset against the defending Western Conference champs, and then lost a tough second round series against the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
McDavid has set the bar incredibly high for young athletes coming in the league that are expected to be stars. All four of these young studs will be on display during the first night of NHL action.
The complete schedule for tonight is as follows:
View the complete NHL schedule for every team right here!