Every year the eligibility list for the Top 25 Under 25 takes on a new character. Last year, it was pretty old with a host of players near the upper end. This year it’s missing all of those off-season additions, and hasn’t got anyone younger than last year’s youngest draft pick.
What can you read into the demographics of these players? A few things, but it’s not as intentional a collection of players as we’d like to pretend, particularly not for a team that has been trading away young players in recent years. You move out the players who happened to get good enough to be in demand. You keep the ones too good to trade and the ones unlikely to ever make the NHL.
Age is where we’ll begin, and so I converted everyone’s age on July 1, 2020 to number of days and sorted them out.
JD Greenway, pictured above, is the median player on this list of 35. He just turned 22, and he was drafted in 2016 in the third round. You’ll notice he’s a little bit younger than Auston Matthews, and this marks the first year Matthews is in the older half of the list.
At the top, is Max Veronneau, who is new to the Marlies, and William Nylander, the oldest NHLer on the list. Next year, assuming we use July 1 as the cutoff date again, we’ll lose Nylander, Adam Brooks and Pierre Engvall off the eligibility list. Both Egor Korshkov and Kasperi Kapanen were born in July, so they get one more year as the oldest men.
Moving gradually younger, you might notice that Jeremy Bracco, someone who was a controversial pick last year and who didn’t help his case with his play since, is only 58 days younger than Denis Malgin, a player who has 192 NHL games played so far.
Jesper Lindgren, who might still have more to show in his game, is only 14 days younger than Mitch Marner. And Joey Duszak, who seems like he just arrived, is older than Matthews.
In the middle, along with Greenway, are a lot of 1998 and 1999 birth dates, with Kristians Rubins, just signed to an ELC, older than all of them.
Somehow Rasmus Sandin is still the seventh youngest on the list, even though we think he’s a full time NHL roster player now. If there had been a draft already this summer, there’d be a half a dozen or so players younger — assuming a lot of overagers weren’t drafted, which isn’t a safe bet — but the youngest players eligible for this year’s draft (via the big Elite Prospects list) are Joe Miller and Mitchell Smith who both were born on September 15, and are one year and four days younger than Nick Robertson. The oldest players who are in their first year of eligibility are Nicholas Wong and Simon Andersson, both born on September 17, 2001, or six days after Robertson.
The nationality of Leafs player and prospect pools is usually as diverse as possible. But the large number of Americans drafted falls in with the current thinking that the least scouted and most likely to be underrated prospects are sometimes not very far away. Everyone has believed for years that the Russians are the untapped source of talent, and that’s likely still true, but the USA has a lot of hockey players, and a system that doesn’t always sort the top prospects into a place where they can easily be seen.
The Leafs have not gone in much for drafting from small hockey countries where the prospects have been the one good player on their team all their lives. Switzerland is Malgin, and Latvia is Rubins, and neither were drafted by the Leafs. Filip Kral, the only Czech, was a draft pick, but out of the WHL.
That works out to 19 forwards, 14 defenders and two goalies. That is fairly close to the proportion of players on a standard 23-man roster, with a bit of an excess of defenders, mostly at the expense of the goalies.
Of those 14 defenders, six are right-shooters, and one, Mikko Kokkonen, routinely plays pro hockey on the right side.
One last look at these players, this time an odd one in NHL games played, only ordered by age. It’s not a surprise that the names at the bottom have the most games, but you have to start asking questions about the older players like Korshkov and Bracco. Has their chance has passed them by? At the other end, the days of a stable of teenage stars in the making about to jump into the NHL is long past. You get that glorious year full of hot prospects once or twice as you rebuild, not all the time.
Aside from the seven mostly full-time NHLers, there’s also Sandin who split his season in half with the AHL. There are 10 other AHLers, some of whom played some ECHL.
There are six full time junior players, with five playing in Canada, and one in the USHL. There are three full-time NCAA players, and four with some KHL games played, although none had a full season. In the top European leagues below the KHL, there are six players with full-time pro seasons, but most of those are VHL players in the older half of the list.