Every sport reaches the height of its popularity when it has young superstars dominating the league. The NHL struggled to replace Wayne Gretzky as the face of the league for years until Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin came along. With those great players coming to the end of their careers, it is time for some new players to step up. These are four young hockey players that can be the next icons of the NHL.
Nathan MacKinnon got his career started by winning the Calder Trophy at the age of 18. Things did not always go great for MacKinnon early in his career, but he has now developed into a bonafide superstar. After narrowly missing out on the MVP the last three years, MacKinnon looked poised to win the trophy in 2021 before getting sidelined with any injury. It is only a matter of time before he is honored as the league’s best player.
It only took Connor McDavid two years to win the top individual trophy in the NHL. McDavid is set to add another MVP to his name after completely dominating during the 2021 season. He easily led the league with 105 points in only 56 games. Only one other player in the league had more than 70 points this year. McDavid has not reached the prime of his career and he is already an unstoppable force with the puck.
Leon Draisaitl won his first NHL MVP award in 2020 at the age of 24. He will likely finish second in the voting this year behind his Edmonton teammate Connor McDavid. Draisaitl’s impressive 2021 season saw him put up 84 points in the shortened season. While they may never reach the level of Gretzky and Mark Messier, Draisaitl and McDavid have quickly become the most dangerous duo in hockey.
Auston Matthews has only been in the NHL for five years, but he has already led the league in even-strength goals three times. Matthews scored a career-best 41 goals in 2021 despite only playing in 52 games. Matthews may not create a lot of scoring chances for his teammates, but no one in the NHL is better at putting the puck in the back of the net.