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Baby Faced Assassins

By John King, 11/16/15, 5:00PM CST


20 is the new 25 in the NHL. Do the Wild pass “the eye test?”

Creation No. 0007 

Well, we promised Game On! content was going to be different. I’m fairly sure this column and video will live up to those standards. 

Is the reason the Blackhawks have eliminated the Wild from the playoffs in each of the last three seasons because their players look younger? This is precisely the sort of quandary Game On! hopes to delve into. 

All great experiments start with a hypothesis, and that’s precisely how this began. Conventional wisdom has long taught us that a hockey player peaks between the ages of 25 and 30. That’s how it’s always been, and we’ve accepted this to be truth. The thinking being that even if a player is immensely talented when they enter the league as a teenager, it still takes time to learn how to play against men, develop your skills, and transform your body.

But today with kids specializing at such an early age, and seemingly every NHL draftee working out with fitness specialists like Gary Roberts prior to their first season—the kids are coming into the league more prepared and ready to contribute straight away. These observations led to my hypothesis: 20 is the new 25, and the NHL is officially a young man’s game. 

Nowhere is this fountain of youth more apparent then during the Stanly Cup Playoffs each spring. Think of the players that have stood out for both the Wild and their opponents the last few playoffs: Mikael Granlund (23), Erik Haula (24), Jason Zucker (23), Nathan MacKinnon (20), Vladimir Tarasenko (23), Patrick Kane (26), and Teuvo Teravainen (21).

Next year’s World Cup of Hockey will include Team North America, a squad composed exclusively of Canadian and American players 23 years of age or younger. Dean Lombardi, the GM for Team USA in the World Cup, openly complained that he believed this age distinction weakened his squad as he’d love to pluck players like Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (19) from the kids’ table and put them on Team USA’s grown up roster. 

So if youth is the key to success in the modern NHL, and even more so in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we decided to test our hypothesis that 20 was the new 25, and investigate what it might mean for the Wild. 

Hockey has long lived by the theory of “the eye test.” Go to any rink or arena, watch a game, and the most dominant and dynamic players will stand out—almost jump out at you. The best players in the game pass the eye test.

Eureka! We had our hypothesis, now we were ready to conduct a social experiment. We pulled lineups for each of the Central Division teams, specifically their top 6 forwards and top two D pairings. We printed out their head shots from the official team website. Next we brought these printouts to bartenders, bouncers, and managers at local Minneapolis watering holes and asked them to look at the player photos and decide if that player was someone they’d ask for I.D. from because they looked younger than 21, or if they wouldn’t ask that player for I.D. because he looked like a grown ass man. They could also put a question mark on the player photos they weren’t sure about.

The “eye test” had officially become the Central Division I.D. test.  Here’s what happened:

So who passed the eye test, and who didn’t? Here are the rankings of Central Division teams with the highest percentages of players who would get carded (for looking under 21) by Minneapolis bartenders: 

ST. LOUIS 0.73
Source: Very sophisticated bartender/manager survey conducted by Game On! Minnesota.


Yep, that’s right. If Central Division NHL teams were headed out in Minneapolis for a couple barley pops after a game, Winnipeg, St. Louis, Chicago, and Dallas would have the most players that didn’t look old enough to get in. Unfortunately, in our survey Wild players were only carded about half (55%) of the time and ended up in the bottom three with Colorado and Nashville as teams that look old in a league that’s in the midst of a youth movement. 

What does this mean for the Wild long term, it’s tough to say? In our survey only two Wild players would have been carded at all four bars because they looked too young:  Granlund (23) and Zach Parise who at age 31 must sleep in a hyperbaric chamber. Ryan Suter (30) would have been asked for his I.D. the least, and Thomas Vanek (31), Marco Scandella (25), Mikko Koivu (32), Justin Fontaine (28) and Jason Pominville (32) all looked old enough that the bartenders and bar managers in our survey would have allowed them to belly up to the bar.    

Should we be worried?  Is this even real science? Of course not. But it is interesting to see players on the back side of that traditional age 25-30 prime window like Sidney Crosby (28), Corey Perry (30), and Ryan Getzlaf (30) getting off to such slow starts this season.

As for the Central Division, it is a bit troubling that the Blackhawks top six forwards could play The Lollipop Guild in a remake of The Wizard of Oz.  Not to mention that seemingly every team has at least one baby faced assassin like Vladimir Tarasenko (23), Artemi Panarin (24), Filip Forsberg (21), Tyler Seguin (23), Nathan MacKinnon (20) and Nikolaj Ehlers (19).

This only reinforces just how critical the Wild’s youngest players like Matt Dumba (21), Jason Zucker (23), Charlie Coyle (23), Mikael Granlund (23), and Nino Niederreiter (23) will be to any future success. With Lord Stanley’s Cup looking more and more like the fountain of youth, it’s imperative the Wild keep investing in young legs . . . or at least some Botox.

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