Be Kind to the Youngsters
By Eric Rosenhek
As another NHL season begins, it’s important to remember the following:
- Carey Price is just 22-years-old.
- Luke Schenn, Steven Stamkos, Nazem Kadri and John Tavares are only 19.
- Phil Kessel recently turned 22.
Some consider these players the future stars of the NHL. They are the individuals who will (hopefully) carry their respective teams to victory and Stanley Cup glory. However, I view these youngsters differently. To me, they’re kids.
Most 18- to 23-year-olds are graduating from school and taking their first steps into the “real world.” It’s a very important time. Mistakes will be made and valuable lessons learned. Rookies like John Tavares are no exception. The only difference is that Tavares’ first taste of reality comes with immense pressure and extremely high expectations.
It’s absolutely ridiculous to expect these young players to make a quick and powerful impact. But for some reason, scores of fans demand a higher form of perfection from the NHL’s youth. During the playoffs last season, Canadiens fans savagely raked Carey Price over the coals for his dismal play against Boston. Granted, Price didn’t help his cause when he gave the “Patrick Roy salute” to the Montreal faithful. Still, the treatment he received was unnecessary.
I know these are million dollar athletes, and therefore, a higher quality of performance is expected. I know these youngsters have had success at the junior and college level. But, all of that doesn’t exclude them from the fact that they’re still kids.
They’re becoming adults, and as we all know, the transition is very hard and never smooth. Sure, there have been players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby who all accomplished so much at a young age. But, The Great One, The Magnificent One and Sid the Kid are rarities.
We need to give these youngsters patience and space. Let them grow. Let them make mistakes. Let them mature before we get overly critical. Besides, patience and space has its rewards.
Guy Lafleur was 20-years-old when he made his NHL debut with the Canadiens. In his first three seasons, the future hall-of-famer failed to produce anything significant. But, he took off in his fourth season, scoring 119 points, 63 more points than his third season totals.
Darryl Sittler had a similar experience. After picking up 32 points in his second NHL season, the Maple Leaf forward tallied 77 points in his third season. Both Lafleur and Sittler were not instant scorers. They needed a few years to develop into all-stars.
So if Luke Schenn scores only 10 goals, or John Tavares has a sub-par rookie campaign, don’t label them as failures. Just sit back and let these youngsters grow and adapt to the NHL’s style of play. The end result will be well worth the wait.