Sports

The NHL's Millennial Generation Is Lit AF

From Auston Matthews to Connor McDavid, the NHL is enjoying a historic infusion of exciting young talent. Will anyone outside of Canada notice?
October 31, 2016, 3:06pm
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Blaming Millennials for society's woes and changing habits has become an internet cottage industry. See a new trend in literally any industry? Don't like it? Find a way to tie it to people who identify as Millennials and you've got a veritable click bonanza.

The decline in napkin sales. Smaller hotel closets. Taking vacations. There's nothing young people can't "ruin" or "kill." We must stop this entitled generation from tearing apart the fabric of civilization before we find ourselves using paper towels! Burn them like witches! Use the napkins for kindling!

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However, there's one place where young people aren't being faulted for the decline and fall of Baby Boomer civilization. To the contrary, this industry features talented Millennials turning their field on its head—and the inevitable trophies coming their way won't just be for participation.

Welcome to the NHL, where the rookies are taking over and no one is angry about how they are killing boring hockey or stealing jobs from the olds. Instead, everyone wants more.

Read More: Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Halloween, Ralph Macchio, and the NHL's Broken Salary System

This is mostly about this season's crop of outstanding rookies—Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are the headliners, while Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny, and Zach Werenski are strong supporting actors—but it's also about Connor McDavid, who still feels like a rookie after having half of his inaugural season stolen by injury. It's too early to tell where this lit af group will rank historically, as we are barely ten percent into the season, but the early numbers show we're headed somewhere special.

As of Monday morning, the 19-year-old McDavid is tied for the NHL lead in points, while Matthews, 19, and Laine, 18, are tied for the league lead in goals. A teenage rookie has never finished the season as the NHL's top scorer. McDavid is considered to be in his 20-year-old season, so if he wins the Art Ross Trophy, it won't be quite the same—but it will still be a rare accomplishment.

When you're technically not considered a teenager. Photo by Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Anyway, it's not just that McDavid, Matthews, and Laine are scoring goals and picking up points; it's that they are already worth-the-price-of-admission players. They create highlight-reel wonderments on an almost nightly basis. Did you see that stick twirl by Laine after he scored that goal? It's such a little thing but it's a great sign that an injection of personality—something the NHL needs a whole lot more of—is also part of this new crop.

This doesn't even include old-ass rookies William Nylander, 20, and Devin Shore, 22, who probably need someone to explain Snapchat to them. Jimmy Vesey is 23 years old, and right now sitting at his computer searching "lit af meaning" to figure out what the hell I was talking about earlier. The 19-year-old Anthony Beauvillier will hoverboard past a confused Vesey and be like, I can't even fam.

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Of course, this situation is not without its problems, although the problems have nothing to do with the talent.

Just like the real world, the young people are essentially cheap labor on entry-level contracts earning far less money than their older, inferior counterparts. They may not have to pay dues to get ice time, but they'll have pay dues before receiving fair pay from their even older bosses. But unlike your average millennial at their first job, none of these guys have to answer Craigslist ads for people looking for a third roommate to share a studio in Williamsburg. McDavid can afford to buy in the Edmonton real estate market.

Another issue is conformity. There is so much creativity and ingenuity inside these players, and the tendency of the NHL is to methodically beat it out of them. Remember Alex Ovechkin's hot stick celebration? Or Linus Omark's shootout spin? Or just about anything P.K. Subban has ever done? This league is also your average workplace: give it time, and it can take the most enthusiastic person and suck the soul right from their body.

But for now, this is great!

How great? They are eight rookies who have played at least five games averaging 0.75 points per game. The last time that many rookies averaged that many points per game while playing at least 60 games in a season was 1981-82, but that was a season in which teams averaged 8.02 goals per game, about two more than this season.

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From 2008-09 to 2015-16, a total of eight rookies averaged 0.75 points per game over a full season.

There are four rookies—Matthews, Nylander, Laine, and Joel Eriksson Ek—averaging at least a point per game, something that hasn't happened in a full season since Teemu Selanne, Eric Lindros, Joe Juneau, and Alexei Zhamnov did it in 1992-93, when no one could have predicted it would take another 23 years to see that type of youthful production, never mind a world shaken by the loss of an app that allowed unfunny people to make six-second skits.

We are living in a rookiessance. A rookbirth. It is our day of rookiening.

The NHL rookiessance is so strong, it has managed to combine hope and excitement with having "Jets" on your sports uniform. Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming that previous paragraph got past my editors (Editor's Note: It did, consider it an early Christmas present), this rookiessance presents one problem for fans. And not a problem like, "Ugh, why do these kids think it's OK to wear noise-canceling headphones in the office?" I mean a problem like, "The #brand #reach of these #millennials is hindered by a lack of #engagement #platforms."

Matthews and Nylander play in Toronto. Laine plays in Winnipeg. McDavid plays in Edmonton. This is great for fans in Canada, but who cares about Canada? (No one in Canada can see this, right?) In America, the land of the free and home of Stanley Cup since 1994, the only national carrier of the NHL would rather show a monster truck rally than a Canadian franchise on its airwaves. The Leafs' second game this season was on NBCSN, but only because Matthews scored four goals in his NHL debut.

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So long as these rookies continue to do things that haven't happened in a century of hockey, maybe they will receive American exposure. If Laine has a six-goal game on November 29th and McDavid climbs into the stands to deliver a child on November 30th, maybe NBCSN will carry the Jets–Oilers game on December 1st.

Regardless of how long it takes American television to catch on, McDavid and the rookies are game-changing talents, and fun to watch in a way we haven't seen in decades.

Then again, they receive unfair wages, will be subjected to undeserved criticism by their older peers that could alter their fun playing styles, and won't get the exposure they deserve because of a television contract between two entities that was signed without their consent.

Hmmm. As a non-Millennial, I may have ruined—killed?—the premise of my own column.

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