Sporting News’ NHL top 25 players under 25 series is a project to identify and celebrate the very best young talent in hockey. A 10-person panel of SN NHL experts submitted ballots ranking players 1-25, forming a composite list. For a detailed explanation on voting criteria and the indexing process, read on here.
The NHL’s youth movement is in full swing.
More than ever, the league’s youngest players double as its most vibrant, marketable stars — and there are plenty. Such an embarrassment of riches is on full display in Sporting News’ NHL 25 under 25 series, a comprehensive ranking of the best NHL players under the age of 25 heading into the 2018-19 season.
Between Aug. 20-24, we’ll reveal our picks in increments of five, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. Today’s installment breaks into the top 10 (6-10), which includes several of the biggest breakout scorers in the NHL over the last two seasons, SN’s top-rated under-25 defenseman, and a darkhorse for the Hart Trophy in 2018-19.
SN 25 under 25 schedule:
Monday, Aug. 20: 21-25
Tuesday, Aug. 21: 16-20
Wednesday, Aug. 22: 11-15
Thursday, Aug. 23: 6-10
Friday, Aug. 24: 1-5 + honorable mentions
10. Mathew Barzal, C, Islanders
Highest ranking: 7
Lowest ranking: 20
Accolades: One year of NHL service; Calder Trophy winner (2017-18); member of Canada’s IIHF World Championship team (2018)
Why he made SN’s list: The NHL rarely sees a rookie with Barzal’s scoring chops, especially one who wasn’t heralded as a sort of “generational” player in his draft year. Two years removed from going 16th overall in the draft, Barzal jumped straight out of the WHL and into hockey’s upper-echelon of point producers. His 85 points for the Islanders in 2017-18 rank 17th all time among first-year NHL players. Only eight — Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin, Dale Hawerchuk, Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Steve Yzerman, Evgeni Malkin — did it prior to their 21st birthday. How much more can the Isles ask for?
Future outlook: The franchise is turning over to Barzal after John Tavares’ departure. And while it will be unfair to place the same expectations on his shoulders as a sophomore, Barzal is undoubtedly the present and future for an Islanders team that’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Not many teams have a budding superstar readily available to replace another, and at least that’s reason for optimism.
9. Seth Jones, D, Blue Jackets
Highest ranking: 3
Lowest ranking: NR
Accolades: Five years of NHL service; two-time All-Star (2016-17, 2017-18); two-time member of USA’s IIHF World Championship team (2014, 2015); member of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey (2016)
Why he made SN’s list: Following his trade to Columbus, Jones graduated from touted top pick to one of the most complete defenders in hockey. He’s anchored the Blue Jackets’ blue line — and, by effect, their rise to relevance — the last two seasons, turning in a career performance in 2017-18 with 16 goals and 57 points. That brought Jones some well-deserved Norris attention, though he ultimately fell just outside of the shortlist. He’s the top under-25 defenseman on our list by a mile.
Future outlook: There’s a strong case to be made Jones was snubbed as a Norris finalist last season. But the Texan’s evolution into the upper-echelon of NHL defensemen is nearly complete. Not bad for a player who turns 24 on the opening day of the season.
8. Filip Forsberg, LW, Predators
Highest ranking: 3
Lowest ranking: 12
Accolades: Five years of NHL service; All-Star (2015-16); two-time member of Sweden’s IIHF World Championship team (2015, 2018); member of Sweden’s World Cup of Hockey team (2016)
Why he made SN’s list: Forsberg continues to write the narrative on one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history, delivering four consecutive 25-goal seasons as a franchise cornerstone in Nashville. He’s a model of consistency, especially in the playoffs, where he’s scored at nearly a point-per-game clip the last two years. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player more effective in all three zones.
Future outlook: The start of Forsberg’s career was a bit of a slow burn, but a career 2017-18, if not cut short by injury, might just ignite his rise into superstardom if he can keep up the 0.96 points per game. There isn’t a more important forward on the Predators, now or in the future.
7. David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins
Highest ranking: 6
Lowest ranking: 15
Accolades: Four years of NHL service; two-time All-Star (2016-17, 2017-18); three-time member of the Czech Republic’s IIHF World Championship team (2016, 2017, 2018); member of the Czech Republic’s World Cup of Hockey team (2016)
Why he made SN’s list: Pastrnak’s rise coincides with the Bruins’ return to contention, and that’s not by accident. After two years up and down between the NHL and AHL, he partnered Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in 2016-17, forming one of hockey’s most dangerous lines — in any zone.
Future outlook: In the last 20 years, Pastrnak is one of 14 players with two seasons of 70 or more points before turning 23. He’s on the way to becoming Boston’s best player before long.
6. Jack Eichel, C, Sabres
Highest ranking: 4
Lowest ranking: 11
Accolades: Three years of NHL service; All-Star (2017-18); two-time member of USA’s World Championship team (2015, 2017); member of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey (2016)
Why he made SN’s list: It’s more than a little ironic neither the Oilers nor Sabres, who dove head first into McDavid and Eichel in 2015, have managed to convert their fortune into much success, so far. That’s especially true for Eichel, who’s endured injury and three miserable losing seasons in Buffalo. He’s made the most of it, though, thriving when healthy (2.04 points/60) and asserting his elite skill, even as the team faltered around him. His eight-year, $80 million extension kicks in this season, and that means the pressure is only going to go up from here.
Future outlook: Eichel’s misfortune could finally change in 2018-19, likely with a “C” strapped to his chest and some semblance of a supporting cast taking shape in the form of No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt and Jeff Skinner. It’s even led some to compare Eichel and the Sabres to Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall, who willed their teams from last place to longshot playoff berths a year ago, creating one of the more compelling Harty Trophy races in recent memory. At least, no one doubts that’s Eichel’s potential.