Being a teenager is not easy for anyone. As we get older we discover that even the kids who seemed to have the world at their feet, still had to cope with the same insecurities that the rest of us experienced as we struggled with maturing through life.
There are a select few hockey playing teenagers that had to go finish that last leg of adolescence and navigate into adulthood while trying to survive in the most difficult hockey league in the world, among the most skilled and physical players in the world. The prospect of completing the last of your high school requirements in between practice and a game or having an assistant coach tell you that your mother called and wants to speak to you is a rare experience indeed.
For the players on this list they had to go from playing against fellow teenagers in the spring and then playing against men in the fall. The bigger arena's, more media attention, living out your dream all seem glamorous, but you still have to learn to cook, do your own laundry and generally look after yourself like any other teenager who has left home for the first time. It is an incredible juxtaposition and as fans we look at these young hockey players and wonder if they can handle it all.
The difficulties of the situation are easily identifiable, but even with the odds stacked against them and failure seen as logical and almost unavoidable, some teenage hockey players manage to survive in the NHL. Fewer from that list are the very special type of young hockey player who enters the NHL and thrives.
Probably the most amazing thing about seeing greatness at such an early age is the undeniable urge to imagine how much better they can become.
This year, the hockey world is awaiting in anticpation for yet another teenage phenom to take the league by storm in Connor McDavid, so what better time than to look back on some other youngsters who came into the league with enormous expectations and dominated as teenagers?
Here is a list of the top 10 teenage phenoms in NHL history.
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10 Tom Barrasso
At the time Tom Barrasso was one of the highest drafted American born and trained hockey players. He went fifth overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. He came right out of the ranks of high school hockey and into the big leagues with a splash. In his first year guarding the net for the Buffalo Sabres as an 18-year-old rookie, he won both the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year award and the Vezina Trophy for the league's best goaltender. This was a sign of things to come for the young teenager Barrasso as he would go on to capture back to back Stanley Cup rings with the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins of the early 1990's.
9 Jimmy Carson
He didn't turn into a household name and he'll most likely go down as the guy that was traded for Wayne Gretzky, but Carson was nothing short of spectacular as a teenager playing in the NHL. At the time of the trade, Carson seemed to be a good bet to be a big offensive star for many years to come. In his first two years in the NHL at the ages of 18 and 19 he scored 92 goals and a total of 186 points in 160 games. As a youngster he was able to play two complete seasons and average more than a point a game. Unfortunately a couple of years after his trade to Edmonton, Carson's offensive production fell off and he was never again the offensive star he was as a teenager.
8 Steven Stamkos
As a first overall selection, Stamkos was expected to lead the next wave of great Lightning players, having the torched passed to him from players like Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. As an 18-year-old rookie Stamkos was good, but not spectacular, but during his sophomore season as a 19-year-old, Stamkos exploded for 51 goals and 95 points on his way to winning the Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goal scorer.
7 Steve Yzerman
He was a young skinny kid that was supposed to help turn around a struggling original six franchise that had fallen on some hard times. He didn't waste much time in doing just that. As an 18-year-old rookie Steve Yzerman led the Detroit Red Wings in scoring with 87 points and helped the woeful Wings who had routinely missed postseason play in the 1970's and early 1980's earn a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yzerman was a phenom lifting a forgotten team back to relevance and helping to make Hockeytown what it is today.
6 John Tavares
John Tavares was a phenom even in his early teen years. As a dominant 14-year-old hockey player, he was head and shoulders above his peers and even the kids a few years older than him. In an effort to help grow his game and provide him with greater competition, the Ontario Hockey League created an exceptional player status label for Tavares and future players of his elk, that would permit him at the tender age of 14 to be drafted into junior hockey with players as old as 20. Tavares went on to have an incredible junior career justifying his exception status. In the NHL as a first overall pick, Tavares has consistently been the New York Islanders' offensive catalyst, leading the team in points as an 18 and 19-year-old.
5 Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane was another high draft pick (1st overall) to a struggling original six franchise in the Chicago Blackhawks with the hopes of helping them regain its past glory. In his first year as a 19-year-old rookie with every team gunning for him due to his high profile as the no.1 overall pick, he amassed 72 points leading the entire team in that category. Kane earned the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and the Blackhawks were well on their way towards future Stanley Cup triumphs.
4 Sidney Crosby
The expectations could not have been higher for a young teenage Sidney Crosby. He came upon the hockey world when sports only television channels were staples looking for the next superstar to highlight and the internet was buzzing with video sharing websites allowing fans all over the world the chance to marvel at Crosby's skills. In his first two seasons in the NHL, Crosby scored 222 points, in both seasons eclipsing the magical 100-point barrier. The ultimate compliment to the young Crosby might have come from Wayne Gretzky when he answered that if anyone could break his scoring record, it would be Crosby.
3 Mario Lemieux
Mario Lemieux was the consensus best prospect at the 1984 NHL draft and with good reason, after scoring an unbelievable 133 goals, 149 assists for 282 points in just 70 games during his final year in junior hockey. He also added 52 points in 14 playoff games to cap off that incredible year. He was the epitome of a can't miss prospect. He also became the the first player that was truly linked to a franchise as its savior. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that if Lemieux had not come along, the Penguins would not be playing in Pittsburgh today. He put up 241 total points as an 18 and 19-year-old playing in the NHL and would go onto become one of the game's greatest stars.
2 Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros was a man child in junior hockey; no one had seen such a combination of size, strength and offensive touch. Lindros was supposed to wrestle the NHL away from everyone and make it his own personal playhouse. He was so highly regarded as a teenager that after he refused to play for the Quebe Nordiques, the Philadelphia Flyers traded a whole host of players including Peter Forsberg and Mike Ricci along with $15 million to Quebec to pry Lindros away. After sitting out the year waiting to be traded from Quebec, as a 19-year-old Lindros scored 41 goals in just 61 games helping Philadelphia feel better about all that they had given up to get him.
1 Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky was the first known pre-teen phenom in hockey. It is recorded that in one season as a young hockey player, Gretzky somehow managed to score 378 goals. He was grabbing headlines, creating statistical feats no one had even imagined possible and doing it against competition two, three or even four years older than he was. He was the Beethoven of hockey, born to play and when he got to the NHL, he scored 301 total points in his teen years. It was just the start of what was to become Gretzky re-writing the record books.
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