“New Year, New Me.” Right? The phrase you may hear hundreds of thousands of times might apply to more than what meets the eye. Loyal GNGH fans, we had an eventful year of hockey. The dynasty that is the Pittsburgh Penguins built around Crosby, Malkin, and company won the franchise’s 4th Stanley Cup over the San Jose Sharks, Jaromir Jagr became 2nd on the all time points list forever to be trailing “The Great One”, and let us not forget of the passing of one of the all time legends to play the game, Gordie Howe, A.K.A. “Mr. Hockey.” These events defined hockey in 2016, but what will define the year of 2017? Can we see the phrase “New Year, New Me” be transformed into “New Year, New Hockey America”? My hopes lie in the possibility that the U.S. further invests talent into the NHL and becomes a dominant power with influence spread through exciting players taking over the highlight reels every night of the week. In my mind, 3 young stars stand out as players who can become explosive ambassadors for the influence of hockey in America in 2017.
The boy who cannot be contained. Elusive, quick, and a feared presence with the puck in his command, Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau is known for his offensive dominance and impressive stick handling. Dubbed “Johnny Hockey” by fans and media alike, the 23 year old star strikes fear into his opponents hearts with aggressive play and a fantastic backhand/forehand game.
Amongst the young, foreign big name forwards in the NHL (McDavid, Seguin, Tavares, ect…) Gaudreau represents America proudly, showing grit and determination and proving that professional ice hockey isn’t just a game for the boys up north. Born and raised in Gloucester, New Jersey, Johnny Hockey moved to Dubuque, Iowa midway through his teenage years and graduated from Dubuque High School. Listed at a measly 5 feet 6 inches tall, Gaudreau fights all odds and despite being undersized is one of the bright young stars in the league. A true expression of the spirit of America, underdogs in size, but the heart of our country trumps all, Gaudreau expresses that every second he is on the ice.
Rookies are often disrespected and looked upon as the dirt of the league, especially in their opening game as a professional. Savvy veterans look upon the young bloods as scared pups with no chance to compete in their current state of fear. Yet, if you score 4 goals in your NHL debut as a rookie, the old guys heads start to turn. This fantasy was a reality for forward Auston Matthews in his first game as a Toronto Maple Leaf when he dropped 4 goals on the Ottawa Senators on October 12, 2016.
While having experience in the USHL, NLA, and international play, Matthews’ rookie potential is astounding. A number one overall draft pick, Matthews lives up to the high expectations laid upon him to carry the Leafs to better places in the league. Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, the winger’s love for the game all began with the almighty zamboni machine (yes that thing that cleans the ice) that captured young Matthews’ attention and spiraled into a love of the game developed into a fantastic addition to the list of great young American hockey players. While only a small body of work is given for this young man, his showing thus far is nothing short of impressive and is a thrill to observe. With a young stud like him in the arena, Canadians quake in fear of the firepower of American born talent in the NHL.
What’s not to love about Jack Eichel? Starting at the collegiate level playing for Boston University, Eichel won the Hobey Baker Award, an award given to the best NCAA men’s hockey player of the season. While this in itself is an accomplishment, Eichel gained this prestigious honor as a freshman, the first to do so since 7 time all-star Paul Kariya in 1993 (solid company).
Drafted in 2015 by the Buffalo Sabres, the Massachusetts native quickly got to work, scoring 24 goals and 56 assists, trailing only Artemi Panarin for top title in both those statistics. Eichel also established himself as a major key to the Sabres’ success being the highest goal scorer in 2015 for the franchise. As well as being pivotal to Buffalo’s operation, Eichel also is great for representing America’s contribution for talent in the NHL, with a fantastic rookie year and more years to come, Eichel will show the firepower of the USA. While missing the majority of this year, Eichel still has plenty to prove and is determined to not lose his edge and prove he can go toe to toe with other explosive players from his draft class like Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, a native of Canada.
These 3 young stars, regardless of their current accolades or statistics, pass the eye test for born stars. The future for America is bright as ever with these 3 and many other names that I predict will prevail strongly over the Canadian stars. As always, this is Drew Bishop signing off. Have a good night filled with good hockey America.
Drew Bishop is the “Hockey America” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him on his email: firstname.lastname@example.org