A lot has been written about this season’s terrific crop of teenagers in the NHL. There does seem to be an inordinate amount under twenty year olds excelling so far. From Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Michael Del Zotto and Viktor Hedman to Matt Duchene and Evander Kane there are a total of 14 teenagers currently skating in the league. If none of them are sent back to their junior squads as we approach the ten game mark, this could be the largest group of NHL teenagers over the last ten seasons. It will be far from the highest number of sub twenty year olds in league history.
There were also fourteen teenagers that played at least twenty games in 1999/00 led by Vinny Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Tim Connolly and Nik Antropov. These four players were in fact the only four of the fourteen that notched at least 30 points (Connolly and Antropov just barely). The current season’s crop definitely has the chance to have far more players with at least 30 points.
The 1995/96 crop of NHL teens was the highest since 1986 and numbered 17 but it’s quality seems to have been lower than the two discussed already as Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan were the only two semi-stars produced. The six year period between 1980/81 and 1985/86 however, was a golden age for teenage NHL’ers as each season produced at the very least 15 of them. The peak was 1984/85 when twenty-four teens played at least 20 games. Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine and Cam Neely were the cream of the 84/85 teen crop. Joining these four that season was Tom Barrasso, Kirk Muller, Ed Olczyk, Russ Courtnall, Al Iafrate and Peter Zezel. A truly exceptional group of teenagers for one season that is more impressive considering there were 21 teams compared to the 30 of today.
This spike in the early 1980’s was a definite anomaly as those levels of youthful players have not been matched before or since. Prior to 1980 the most teenagers in one NHL year was 1974/75 with nine, headed by the French trio of Pierre Larouche, Wilf Paiement and Mario Tremblay.
During World War II, the shortage of players in the league prompted a rise in teenagers in the league. There were seven teens used in 1942/43 and seven more used in 43/44. The extreme of this practice of using teenagers occurred in November of 1942 when “Bep” Guidolin suited up as a 16 year old for the Boston Bruins. He would tally a very respectable 22 points in 42 games that year. As well, in 43/44 Ted Kennedy debuted with Toronto as a 17 year old and scored 49 points in 49 games.
Overall, this year’s contingent of teenage NHL’ers may not be the largest ever or the greatest ever (although time will tell), but there is a definite resurgence in the use of youngsters throughout the NHL.