It seems the trend in today’s NHL is to hand the team captaincy to the most-skilled player regardless of his age or experience. The perfect example of this was the recent announcement naming 19-year-old Connor McDavid as the new skipper of the Edmonton Oilers even though he had played just 45 regular-season games. In previous eras of the league, most captains were well-respected veterans who had paid their dues for years in both the in regular season and playoffs. These were men who exemplified excellent leadership qualities both on and off the ice. A captain has to be able to motivate and push his teammates to a higher level of performance and help them reach their C.
This was especially true of successful clubs such as the Montreal Canadiens when veterans such as Jean Beliveau, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, and Yvan Cournouyer were awarded with the captaincy. Times have changed though and most captains these days are well under 30. This list represents the best 15 young captains in the NHL. The majority of them were handed the C in their early twenties, with the oldest on the list being 27 when they received the honour. As a note, Brian Bellows was the youngest captain ever in the NHL at 19 years and 131 days old, in 1984, but he was the interim captain only for the Minnesota North Stars.
15 Connor McDavid
Some fans believe Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid shouldn’t be on this list at all right now while others believe he should be higher up. Connor McDavid debuted as the youngest captain in NHL history on October 12th when he led his teammates to victory in his club’s 2016-17 season opener at the age of 19 years and 273 days old. There’s no doubt that McDavid is one of the most exciting players in the NHL right now and could very well go on to break numerous scoring records. There’s also a good chance that he’ll top off his career years from now with an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. However, McDavid’s first game as skipper was also just the 46th contest of his NHL career. He was also captain of his OHL squad in Erie and wore the C for Team North America at this year’s World Cup of Hockey and he may very well top this list in the future, but for now, it’s only fair to the rest of the players on this list to wait and see how well he performs his new duties.
14 Alexander Ovechkin
Russian sniper Alexander Ovechkin hasn’t managed to lead his Washington Capitals teammates to the Stanley Cup as of yet, but it’s hard to blame him. The exciting Ovechkin has been one of the best players in the NHL year in and year out and has led the league in goals on six occasions. He plays with passion, is a multi-time 50-goal scorer, can skate, set up plays, and is a punishing body checker. Ovechkin was handed the C back in January of 2010 when he was 24 years old after former captain Chris Clark was traded to Columbus. At the time, he was the third-youngest captain in the league behind Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin could have taken the Washington captaincy when he was younger, but turned down the offer. The All-Star winger and former Rookie of the Year is certain to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as he’s won numerous individual awards and set several team and league records. Ovechkin entered the 2016-17 season with 525 goals and 966 points in 839 games with 41 goals and 82 points in 84 playoff outings.
13 Jim Schoenfeld
Bruising 6-foot-2-inch defenceman Jim Schoenfeld ranks as the eighth-youngest captain in NHL history as he was 21 years and 362 days old when the Buffalo Sabres announced him as their new on-ice leader back on September 1, 1974. He then led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals that season only to lose to Philadelphia in six games. Schoenfeld, who was drafted fifth overall in 1972, was far from a high-scoring blueliner. In fact, he was an excellent old school defenceman who took care of his own end first. He was probably also the best shot blocker the NHL has ever seen. Schoenfeld was rough and tumble and wouldn’t hesitate to drop the gloves. His fight with Wayne Cashman of the Boston Bruins back in 1972 was a classic as the two combatants broke through the Zamboni gate and continued to beat the hell out of each other down the arena ramp. Schoenfeld did know what to do when he had the puck though and scored 51 goals and 255 points in 710 career games.
12 Dustin Brown
One of the most underrated captains on this list is former Los Angeles Kings skipper Dustin Brown. Although he’s not considered a superstar like most of the others listed here, he did a fine job while wearing the C on his sweater for the Kings. Unfortunately, Brown’s captaincy was given to centre Anze Kopitar during the recent offseason as Brown’s ice time and production has been reduced. The 31-year-old wasn’t happy with the decision after leading his teammates to a pair of Stanley Cup championships and 10 playoff series wins during his eight seasons on the job. Brown led the Kings to the title in 2011-12 and again in 2013-14. The power forward was named the club’s captain three years before Darryl Sutter took over as head coach and the two haven’t always seen things eye to eye. After being named captain at the age of 23 in October of 2008, Brown led the Kings to their first-ever Stanley Cup and he became the second American-born player after Derian Hatcher to captain a title-winning team. Brown started this season with 470 points in 884 games and had another 46 in 81 playoff contests.
11 Bobby Clarke
Dirty was actually one of the nicest words to describe former Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke. But there’s no denying he’ll go down as one of the league’s fiercest leaders. Clarke was drafted 17th overall in 1969 and made his NHL debut the same year. Three years later he named the team captain at the age of 23, making him the youngest-ever captain at the time. Clarke was the leader of the Flyers’ Broad Street Bullies Era and led his team to two straight Stanley Cup victories in 1973-74 and 1974-75. The Hall of Famer, who suffered from diabetes, held the C until 1979, but the centre had to give it up when he was named an assistant coach. NHL rules stated that he couldn’t be team captain and a coach at the same time and Mel Bridgman took over as skipper. Bill Barber replaced Bridgman as captain, but Clark then took the C back from Barber in 198-83 when he relinquished his coaching duties. Clark scored 358 goals and 1,210 points in 1,144 games and added 119 points in 136 playoff matches. Clarke also won several individual awards.
10 Sidney Crosby
To many hockey fans, Sidney Crosby is still the best hockey player in the world today. That may be debatable. But there’s no arguing that the Pittsburgh Penguins centre belongs on this list of best-ever young NHL captains. Crosby helped change the fortunes of his franchise with his play and leadership skills after being drafted first overall back in 2005. Just two years later, on May 31, 2007, Crosby was named the permanent captain of the Penguins. When the announcement was made, he was 19 years and 297 days old, making him the third-youngest captain in league history. The next season, Crosby led his teammates to the Stanley Cup when he was just 21 years old. A few years went by, but Crosby managed to lift the Cup again last June when Pittsburgh won it for the second time under his leadership. Crosby just turned 29 this summer and is certain to be inducted to the Hall of Fame when he retires.
9 Ted Kennedy
Ted ‘Teeder’ Kennedy, played his entire NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1942 and 1957 and wore the C on his sweater for eight of those campaigns from 1948-49 to 1956-57. He was the first player in history to skate on five Stanley Cup winners and the last Leaf to capture the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the league. The Hall of Fame centre was one of the most complete hockey players of his era and was recently ranked number three on the top-100 Maple Leafs of all time list. Kennedy broke into the league as an 18-year-old and was named captain of the Maple Leafs at the age of 23 when he took over from Syl Apps. The Leafs never failed to make the postseason when Kennedy played a full season and he became the youngest player to score a Stanley Cup-winning goal when the Leafs beat Montreal in 1946-47. Kennedy led the Leafs to the Stanley Cup in 1948-49 and again in 1950-51. He scored 560 points in 696 games and added 60 more in 78 playoff contests.
8 Jonathan Toews
Current Chicago Blackhawks captain and centre Jonathan Toews is the seventh-youngest player to be given the permanent captaincy of an NHL team when he was awarded the honour on July 18, 2008. At that time, the young man was 20 years and 80 days old and was the third-youngest skipper. Since then, Toews has helped turn the Chicago franchise around as the club won Stanley Cup titles in 2009-10, 2012-13, and 2014-15. Like all championship teams, Toews has had an excellent supporting cast with teammates such as Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and former 'Hawk Patrick Sharp. Toews was drafted third overall in 2006 and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy for his playoff performances in 2009-10. Toews, who’s known as Captain Serious, has also won gold medals at several tournaments for Canada including the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the World Junior Championships, the World Championships, and the Winter Olympics. Toews entered the 2016-17 season with 251 goals and 564 points in 645 games and another 108 points in 124 playoff outings.
7 Joe Sakic
Former Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche centre Joe Sakic is currently ranked number two in NHL history for acting as captain of his team for 17 years. The only player to serve longer was Detroit’s Steve Yzerman at 19 seasons. Sakic is another All-Star player on this list who belongs to the Hall of Fame and won more than his fair share of individual trophies, milestones, and honours. He was 21 years old when he was named as co-captain of Quebec along with Steven Finn in 1990-91 and just 23 when he was given the C on a permanent basis in 1992. Sakic then went on to lead his Avalanche teammates to Stanley Cup triumphs in both 1995-96 and 2000-01. He also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP for the 2000-01 season. The two-time 50-goal scorer was also MVP of the 2002 Olympics when Canada won gold. Sakic retired with 625 goals and 1,641 points in 1,378 games and added 84 goals and 188 points in 172 playoff outings.
6 George Armstrong
Right-winger George ‘Chief’ Armstrong, played his entire 21-year career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and served as captain from 1957 to 1969. As Leafs fans should well know, Armstrong was the last man to captain a Stanley Cup winner in Toronto, almost half a century ago. Armstrong wasn’t a big scorer, but was consistent. He netted 296 goals and added 417 assists for 713 points in 1,187 games and added 60 points in 110 postseason games. Armstrong was the longest-serving captain of the Maple Leafs and was recently voted as the 12th-best Leaf player of all time. Armstrong had just turned 27 years old when he received the captaincy, which was relatively young in the Six Team Era. He led the Leafs to four Stanley Cups and holds the franchise record for games played. Armstrong was one of the younger players on many of the Leafs veteran squads, but was still trusted with the coveted leadership role.
5 Mario Lemieux
Lanky centre Mario Lemieux is considered by many to be the best offensive player ever not named Wayne Gretzky. Lemieux’ scoring exploits and battles against cancer and back problems are well known and his 1.883 points-per game ranks him second best in NHL history behind Gretzky’s 1.921. Lemieux was just 23 years old when he was named the captain of the Penguins in December of 1988. The former Rookie of the Year, who scored on his very first NHL shift, played from 1984 to 2006 and the Magnificent One led his franchise to a pair of consecutive Stanley Cups triumphs in 1990-91 and 1991-92. He won gold medals at the 2002 Olympics and World Cup of Hockey in 2004 as well as the 1987 Canada Cup. Lemieux also won a boatload of individual trophies and honours for his magnificent play and the Hall of Famer’s 0.754 goals scored per game is second only to Mike Bossy’s 0.762.
4 Denis Potvin
Defenceman Denis Potvin of the New York Islanders may have been slightly older than some on this list as he was 26 when named the captain of his club. However, he was extremely effective in the role when he took the C prior to the 1979-80 season after Clark Gillies handed it over to him. Potvin held the title until 1987 and during that time he led his teammates to four straight Stanley Cups, the first coming in his debut season as captain. Potvin also led the squad to a fifth consecutive Final appearance, but the Islanders’ cup-winning streak was halted. In fact, the Islanders reached the playoffs in each of the eight seasons Potvin captained the team. When he retired, Potvin was the all-time leader for NHL defencemen in goals and points. He’s currently ranked fifth in career regular-season goals with 310 and seventh in career points at 1,052 in 1,060 games. Potvin also racked up 56 goals and 164 points in 185 playoff outings.
3 Steve Yzerman
High-scoring centre Steve Yzerman will be known as one of the best-ever one-team players in NHL history as he skated his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings. He was also the seventh-youngest permanent captain in league annals when he had the C sewn onto his sweater back on October 9, 1986. At the time, Yzerman was 21 years and 153 days of age and was the youngest skipper in NHL history. He became one of the best two-way players in the game and the Hall of Famer led his teammates to a trio of Stanley Cup triumphs in 1996-97, 1997-98, and 2001-02. Yzerman is the seventh-leading scorer in history with 692 goals and 1,063 assists for 1,755 points in 1,714 regular-season encounters. He also chipped in with 70 goals and 185 points in 196 postseason games. Yzerman represented Canada at numerous international tournaments and won several medals along the way, including an Olympic gold in 2002. He was the longest-serving captain ever at 19 seasons.
2 Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky was undoubtedly the greatest offensively-skilled hockey player in NHL history. The statistics prove it and some of the five dozen records he currently holds may never be broken. However, Gretzky was also a great leader as he captained three of the four NHL teams he played for. The Great One wore the C for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, and St. Louis Blues, but wore it only on an interim basis for the New York Rangers when regular skipper Brian Leetch was sidelined with an injury. The slim centre from Brantford, Ontario led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup titles and took the Los Angeles Kings to the Final in 1992-93 when they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. The NHL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,857 points was just 22 when named captain of Edmonton on October 4, 1983 and as they say, the rest is history.
1 Mark Messier
Centre Mark Messier will go down in history as one of the greatest team leaders in any sport. He’s currently the one and only NHL players to lead two different teams to the Stanley Cup. However, Messier didn’t wear the C early in his career since somebody named Wayne Gretzky had it with Edmonton. Messier eventually wore the C with every NHL team he played for; Edmonton, the New York Rangers (twice), and the Vancouver Canucks. He was 27 years old when made captain for the first time with Edmonton in 1988, but deserves to be on this list for his individual and team achievements. These include having an award named after him called the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Messier won cups with Edmonton in 1989-90 and scored the winning-goal when the Rangers won the trophy and snapped their 54-year championship drought in 1993-94. In total, Messier won six Stanley Cups along with a pair of Hart Trophies and a Conn Smythe. He’s also currently number two on the league’s all-time scoring list with 1,887 points in 1,756 games.
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