For once, I’m shying away from doing a strictly Penguins article. This still has Penguins’ tie-ins, but it’s about the future of the NHL. One that almost seems impossible for even Gary Bettman to ruin.
This generation has seen its fair share of players. No one has been a better overall player than Sidney Crosby. No one has sniped as purely as Alexander Ovechkin has. No one in the NHL has been as dominant as Carey Price has been when healthy over his past few seasons. Remember, when I say no one, I mean no one from this generation. I’m not suggesting that these are the all-time greatest at their aforementioned talents.
This current wave of NHL players has seen three young comparable players who potentially could soon be their generation’s best. If you’ve had the opportunity to feast your eyes upon Conor McDavid, Patrick Laine, or Matt Murray, then you’re seeing potentially the next Crosby, Ovechkin, and Price.
McDavid & Crosby
Let’s just discuss how great Connor McDavid looked against the Penguins on Election Night. Skating crisply and beating defenseman soundly, the young phenom chipped in three assists to help his team but it wasn’t enough to push them past the reigning Cup champions.
I think it was evident that McDavid may have had the better individual performance in the first of hopefully many incredible head-to-head matchups. But Crosby led his team to the win and that’s the most important part.
Oh, don’t worry. Edmonton is soon going to become a complete team around McDavid just as the Penguins have around Sid. That’s when McDavid will shine brightest. Those games where McDavid will put up 3 or 4 points in a rout of another poor goalie will come soon enough. But with every star player comes off nights. McDavid will have nights, or even stretches, where he’s not going to play like himself. Because the team around him is so good, they’ll pick up the victory. Edmonton will be there, I promise.
The 200-foot game is very slowly coming to fruition with McDavid, too. One thing that makes Crosby the best in the world is his ability to score 100 points per season in the offensive zon, then turn into a defensive, back checking freak on the other end. McDavid is slowly following in his footsteps. Give him the right teammates, or the crumbles of linemates you can, and McDavid will be his generation’s Sidney Crosby. I guarantee it.
Laine & Ovechkin
It’s fun to make fun of Ovechkin’s lack of playoff success despite taking home the Rocket Richard pretty much every season because he’s got the most lethal shot of his generation.
Winnipeg Jets rookie Patrick Laine is just as lethal. In fact, he’s already got two hat tricks under his belt and he hasn’t even played 20 games in the NHL yet.
If you haven’t been blessed enough to watch this release, please do so…
Unreal, right? The first goal wasn’t even fair, he was almost upright standing still and released a shot so quickly past Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen that Lehtonen wasn’t even ready for it.
The second shot? Where have you seen that before? A right handed shooter corrals a pass from his teammate on the left circle, walks in, and fires a wicked twisted past the goalie? You guessed it. Alex Ovechkin.
That goal was so similar to what Ovechkin’s done to torture teams and their goaltenders for years. Patrick Laine has that same ability. Laine will hit 50 goals at some point in his career. Maybe multiple times. He’s the next generation’s Ovi.
Murray vs. Price
If Matt Murray can be anywhere as close to as successful as Carey Price has been, the Penguins are in great hands after the core ages.
Put this in perspective: Sidney Crosby will be 38 years old in nine years when his contract expires. Nine years from now, Matt Murray will be 31. Carey Price is only 29 right now. He’ll be 38 as well when Murray hits 31.
Murray will only be in his prime years when Crosby hits the age where players begin to consider retirement. Goodness, the Penguins are in good hands.
But don’t be fooled for a second. This love story could quickly go south.
For what it’s worth, Carey Price was never a highly touted prospect. He came to the NHL and struggled initially. Only in 2013-2014 did Price begin to find his footing and he’s put together a beautiful stretch as of recent years.
Matt Murray came from the other spectrum. He was a third round pick who, despite starting out as the second of two prospect goalies behind Tristan Jarry, set AHL records for multiple goalie statistics. He’s already powered his team to a Stanley Cup Championship and has played spectacular in his regular season career.
Murray’s positionally sound game lets him use his size rather than athleticism to make saves. He’s good at not giving up rebounds which keeps garbage goals from getting in.
Price is the same technically sound goalie who isn’t easy to beat. He powered the Canadiens to the top of the league until his injury last season. He’s currently undefeated in regulation this season.
Price may go down as having the best stretch this game will ever see. Murray, and no goalie possibly ever again, will touch those numbers. Hopefully, Murray grooms to be the best goalie of his generation.
So, the point of all of this was really to shift your eyes to how special the future of the NHL is. This is no doubt still Crosby’s league. It’s undeniable Ovechkin is the league’s most lethal shooter. No questions asked that Carey Price is the league’s best goaltender. But soon, McDavid, Laine, and Murray could be those things. There isn’t a single problem in the world with that either.