Top 20 Under 23
As a Canucks fan, watching these 2020 playoffs has got me so excited not only for their Stanley Cup pursuit (looking unlikely at this point) but for the team’s future. Pettersson and Hughes have been off the charts good through the qualifier and one round of the playoffs, so naturally I had to take to the drawing board to see where the two of them stack up against other young players.
This list includes all players born in 1997 or after. Since we are dealing with young players, I should clarify this list ranks how good these players currently are and not how good I think they will become at their peaks. Without further ado, here’s my take on the top 20 U23 NHLers…
- Connor McDavid
(Pos, Team, Birth Year)
C, Edmonton Oilers, 1997
The easy choice for #1 on the Top 20 Under 23, Connor McDavid is the best player in the NHL and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down; his 1.52 P/GP was 0.38 higher than any other U23 player last season. McDavid was outscored by teammate Leon Draisaitl this season, although that’s likely a one season affair and McDavid should be back to his Art Ross ways in 2020-21.
2. Auston Matthews
C, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1997
Auston Matthews at #2 is another easy choice. He scored at a 55 goal pace last year and has averaged a 46 goal pace throughout his young career. Matthews averaged an impressive 1.14 P/GP last season, which was tied with teammate Mitch Marner for 2nd amongst all U23 players. Matthews has taking a step forward every season, increasing his scoring rate every year while also improving his all-round game.
3. Elias Pettersson
C, Vancouver Canucks, 1998
Pettersson has become a two-way, play-driving star in only his second NHL season. I asked Twitter to rank four budding U23 superstars and much to my surprise most people had Pettersson as the best player of these four (Barzal, Marner, and Aho being the others). Petey hasn’t yet cracked 70 points through his two seasons in the NHL but don’t be surprised to see him hit 100 or close to it in the next few years; his talent level is that high.
Rank these four U23 players:
— Ben Misfeldt (@BBMHockey) August 28, 2020
4. Mathew Barzal
C, New York Islanders, 1997
Mathew Barzal is one of the most naturally gifted players in the NHL. His ability to skate with the puck easily ranks top 5 amongst NHL forwards. If he played on a team with a more aggressive offensive system, I have no doubts his point totals would increase by 15-20. The Islanders are lucky to have a such a dynamic #1 center at the helm for many years to come. Let’s just hope his tenure doesn’t end the way their last one did.
5. Mitch Marner
RW, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1997
The second Maple Leaf on the Top 23 Under 23, Mitch Marner didn’t recieve much of the same love he got during the 2018-19 season despite producing at a similar rate. Marner is still 23 years old and coming off seasons of 1.15 and 1.14 p/gp. Barzal and Pettersson rank ahead thanks to having less offensive help to work with, but don’t be mistaken, Marner is right in the same tier as those guys.
6. Sebastian Aho
C, Carolina Hurricanes, 1997
It was tough to rank Aho below Barzal and Marner. I see the arguments for having him 4th or 5th but at the end of the day, I don’t think Aho brings quite as much to the table as Barzal and Marner. Nonetheless, Aho is a brilliant forward who has surpassed every expectation set on him throughout his career. Still hard to believe he was a 2nd round pick only five years ago.
7. Quinn Hughes
LD, Vancouver Canucks, 1999
Quinn Hughes showed the league this year just how mind-numbingly good of a hockey player is and earned my nomination is the top d-man on the Top 20 Under 23 list. I know this pick might be controversial, but I mean come on, Hughes is already one of the best all-round skaters in the NHL and is nearly untouchable when skating with the puck. He also posseses one of the best hockey IQ’s among the league’s defensemen. Hard to go wrong with Quinn Hughes.
8. Cale Makar
RD, Colorado Avalanche, 1998
Cale Makar, although flashier than Calder rival Quinn Hughes, falls just behind him on this list. Makar could become the league’s best offensive defenseman in the near future but for now he finds himself 8th on this list after just one season. Makar’s skating accleration, top speed, puckhandling and natural offensive ability remind me so much of Paul Coffey, who is likely the 2nd best offensive defenseman of all time after Bobby Orr. Makar might not reach that level but he certainly has the tools.
9. Miro Heiskanen
LD, Dallas Stars, 1999
Heiskanen is right in the conversation with Hughes and Makar for the best defenseman on this list. Through two seasons, he has already established himself as the best defenseman on the Stars. A brilliant skater and smart-minded player, Heiskanen is able to contribute at both ends of the rink. His 16 points in 13 games through these playoffs proves he has at least 60+ point potential to go along with his all-round presence.
10. Andrei Svechnikov
RW, Carolina Hurricanes, 2000
Svechnikov took a huge step forward in 2019-20, establishing himself as one of the game’s premier young wingers. Svechnikov is a machine at generating offensive chances for the Hurricanes thanks to his brilliant hockey IQ and incredibly balanced offensive skillset. The 2nd highest rated player on the Top 20 Under 23 from the 2018 draft, Svechnikov will be a dominant force throughout the decade and there’s truly no telling how high he might peak in that time.
11. Matthew Tkachuk
LW, Calgary Flames, 1997
Through four seasons, Matthew Tkachuk has proven himself as en elite two-way player and power forward for the Flames. Both loved and hated across the league, Tkachuk is known for his aggresive and powerful game, which he has used to his advantage to score 81 goals over the past three seasons.
12. Thomas Chabot
LD, Ottawa Senators, 1997
After a break out season in 2018-19, I thought Chabot was one step away from becoming one of the best defensemen in the NHL. However, a less promising season in 2019-20 has him ranked as the #4 defenseman on this list. Despite that, Thomas Chabot is still 23 and a minute-munching machine for the young Senators where he should be an anchor for the next decade.
13. Patrik Laine
RW, Winnipeg Jets, 1998
After an awful second half of the 2018-19 season, Laine recovered in 2019-20 and showed his playmaking side, finishing with more assists than goals for the first time in his young career. Though his career trajectory since his rookie season hasn’t been ideal, Laine still has high 50 goal potential.
14. Rasmus Dahlin
LD, Buffalo Sabres, 2000
Through two seasons in the NHL, Dahlin hasn’t lived up to a lot of the hype he got in his draft season. Still, he is playing on a struggling Buffalo team and only just turned 20, making him the youngest player on the Top 20 Under 23 list. Dahlin has a bright future ahead of him and could surpass some of the defensemen ahead of him.
15. Travis Konecny
RW, Philadelphia Flyers, 1997
Konecny took a huge step forward in 2019-20, surpassing his career high in points by 12 while playing 16 less games. Whether or not Konecny will be a able to carry this success from season to season remains to be seen but if his 2019-20 season is any indication, Konecny should be solid 1st line player for many years to come.
16. Zach Werenski
LD, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1997
Werenski has been an impressive offensive defenseman for Columbus since bursting onto the scene in 2016. While he hasn’t been able to match his rookie season point total of 47, Werenski has become a reliable defenseman for Columbus while also contributing on the powerplay.
17. Pierre-Luc Dubois
C, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1998
Pierre-Luc Dubois is a capable two-way centre who has been manning the Blue Jackets’ 1C slot for a couple years now. Using his size, hockey IQ, and puckhandling ability, Dubois has improved every year. While he might not be a legit 1C as he’s currently playing in Columbus, Dubois is the perfect 2C on a contending team.
18. Carter Hart
G, Philadelphia Flyers, 1998
Carter Hart is the best and only goalie on the Top 20 Under 23 list. Goalies are very rarely starters at Hart’s age, so simply playing in the NHL is already impressive for Hart. Despite being the youngest starter in the league, Hart put up above average numbers. Flyers fans should be super optimistic about Hart since he’s likely 4-6 years away from his top form, which will likely have him consistently in the Vezina conversation.
19. Ivan Provorov
LD, Philadelphia Flyers, 1997
The Russian defenseman has had some ups and downs throughout his young career but he still ranks as one of the top young d-men in the league. He might not be the defenseman some thought he would be after an impressive rookie season but Provorov is still an effective offensive defenseman who has averaged 0.42 points per game in his career to this point. He’s also the third Flyer to appear on the Top 20 Under 23, a team that doesn’t usually get talked about for having a bright, young core.
20. Anthony Cirelli
C, Tampa Bay Lightning, 1997
For those who follow advanced stats, they already know Anthony Cirelli had a monster season at both ends of the rink. His numbers don’t pop off the page at first, but with a more signifcant role on the Lightning, he could really start to produce like a star.
At the end of the day, the talent level in the NHL for U23 players is incredibly strong and leaving some players off the list felt wrong. Some guys like Brock Boeser, Adam Fox, Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller narrowly missed the Top 20 Under 23 despite being excellent players at a young age.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the Top 20 Under 23article. Feel free to leave any comments or questions either on the website, Twitter replies, or Instagram comment section.
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