Traditionally the NHL entry draft has even the top players coming from their junior, college, or European backgrounds with only token World Junior Championship experience at best. However, this year 6 of the top 9 prospects not only played at the WJC, but played major roles for their respective countries. With the state of the Canadian team this year, one could argue that Jakob Chychrun should have been the 7th out of 9.
This all begs the question, are players becoming that much more advanced or was this a special year?
I think the answer is actually yes and yes, though that sounds like a contradiction. The first yes is that players are definitely becoming that much more advanced. The entire sporting community is constantly evolving to produce new techniques to give athletes a greater physical and mental edge than competitions of just a few years ago. The second yes is that this 2016 WJC and entry draft cohort is special. Whether the top couple picks of 2016 become better than the top picks of the last few years is open to debate, it appears that the top 9 of this draft will be a bumper crop of top level, long term NHL talent. I also believe this is cyclical, with the state of athletic development combining with the salary cap to push young talent into the NHL. Looking back and to other sports, it was not that long ago that tennis players were bursting onto the scene at 16 and taking over the courts. These days, the top men’s players are dominating in their mid- to late-20’s and the women, beyond Serena Williams, are the same if slightly younger. As technology and training methods advance, along with the Collective Bragaining Agreement and the salary cap, trends will emerge that favor youth over veterans now, but will no doubt swing back to veterans over youngsters.
We should savor this draft class and if you had the pleasure of watching the WJC on TV, online, or in person as I did – remember the 18 years olds of 2016, because you are not likely to see so many have such a big impact again any time soon.