Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nhl Blue Lines Seeing Youth Movement

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nhl Blue Lines Seeing Youth Movement

Article excerpt

RALEIGH, N.C. - Back when he was coaching a whole bunch of 18-year-old defensemen in junior hockey, Bill Peters would never have entertained the thought of throwing one into the NHL, even the most supremely talented.

The idea was somewhere between inconceivable and incomprehensible. And yet Thursday night, as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, he'll have 18-year-old Noah Hanifin in his opening-night lineup against the Nashville Predators.

"I wouldn't have believed it," Peters said Wednesday.

But Peters is also the first to acknowledged the game has changed. Thanks to the salary cap, the veteran depth player is rapidly becoming extinct. If you're not a star or don't have a specific skill - winning faceoffs or killing penalties - you'll lose your job to a younger, cheaper player.

So instead of a bunch of 30-something forwards who know all the tricks, players like Hanifin are more likely to be battling players of their own generation in the corners and in front of the net. Meanwhile, in open ice, speed and skill have become more important than size or savvy, which plays directly to Hanifin's strengths.

"Everyone has different experiences playing in this league at a young age," Hanifin said. "I'm just trying to focus on myself. I want this year to be a big learning process for me going forward."

There's no shortage of evidence behind these theories. Aaron Ekblad won the Calder Trophy as an 18-year-old last season for the Florida Panthers. The year before that, Seth Jones stepped right into the Predators' lineup while Rasmus Ristolainen did the same for the Buffalo Sabres. And over the previous six years, Adam Larsson, Cam Fowler, Victor Hedman, Dmitry Kulikov, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn all made the full-season jump to the NHL in their draft years as 18- and 19-year-olds

Including Hanifin, who is expected to play the majority of the season in the NHL, that's 11 of the 46 defensemen taken with the first 15 picks of the draft since 2008. …

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