We are more than a quarter of the way through the 2023-24 NHL season, and we’re still handing out some grades from what we have seen so far.
Here, we turn our attention toward each team’s top young player and how they have performed individually this season. Specifically, each team’s best player under the age of 25.
Some teams have more than one top player under that age, but we are limiting the grades to one per team and picking out the most important player among the group. That might be a subjective choice in some cases, but draft position, role and expectations all factor into our choices.
And players who are already 25 years old (or older) do not make the cut for this report card.
So, let’s see how each team and our selected names are performing.
Boston Bruins: Matthew Poitras
The Bruins’ farm system hasn’t received a lot of love in recent years, and it has been a little on the thin side. But that doesn’t mean there are not some strong players coming through the pipeline, and the 19-year-old Poitras has made a surprisingly big impact this season to help the team remain a top Stanley Cup contender.
He made the most of his early look and convinced the Bruins to keep him in the NHL and burn the first year of his entry-level deal. As of Wednesday, he has five goals and six assists in 24 games and has not looked out of place on the biggest stage.
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin
Dahlin emerged as a Norris Trophy contender a year ago and was one of the reasons the Sabres had high expectations coming into this season. Collectively, though, Buffalo has been one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL this year.
Individually, Dahlin, 23, has taken a small step backward this season in terms of his overall game and has not been quite as impactful as he was a year ago. The offense is still there with 21 points in 26 games, but everything else has regressed. He hasn’t been bad, but it’s not a Norris-level performance.
Detroit Red Wings: Moritz Seider
The Red Wings might finally be taking their long-awaited step forward under the Yzerplan, and Seider’s development is a big part of that. The 22-year-old is on pace for 57 points over 82 games and playing solid defense.
Every Stanley Cup contender needs a big-minute, all-situations defenseman as part of its core and the Red Wings have that in Seider, who leads the team with 22:34 TOI per game.
Florida Panthers: Anton Lundell
When Lundell made his NHL debut three years ago, he looked destined to be a top-line player in the NHL. And he still might end up being that, but he has regressed regularly since then, and that has continued this season.
The most concerning thing is that not only has his offense regressed, but his defensive impact has also taken a step backward. The talent and upside are still there, and he still has age on his side at 22, but he is starting to become more suspect than star.
Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield
Caufield is one of the league’s bright young goal-scorers and off to a strong start for the Canadiens, even if the goals are not entirely there (seven so far).
The one thing that is holding him back so far is a shooting percentage (7.8 percent) that is about half his career average. But his assist numbers, possession numbers and shots on goal numbers have all steadily improved, and he is on pace for a career high in total points, as he’s at 20 in 25 games.
When his shooting luck changes, the 22-year-old could be in line for a huge year.
Ottawa Senators: Tim Stützle
You could flip a coin between Stützle and the 24-year-old Brady Tkachuk regarding who the top under 25 player on the roster is, but we’re going with the German because he is younger and plays a more premium position (center versus wing).
While the Senators have been a disappointment as a team, sitting last in the Atlantic Division at 10-10-0, the 21-year-old is having a strong year even though his goal-scoring numbers are being crushed by an unsustainably low shooting percentage (8.1). He is a core player and one of the best youngsters in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning: No player under age 25
The Lightning have one of the oldest rosters in the league and have zero players on their roster at the moment under the age of 25.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthew Knies
The Maple Leafs were reluctant to trade Knies when he was their top prospect in recent years, and he is now getting his first crack at a regular spot in the lineup.
It’s been a rocky start for the 21-year-old, though. He is on pace for around 20 goals and 40 points offensively, but his overall game has been lacking when it comes to driving possession and his defensive play.
When Knies is on the ice, the Maple Leafs are giving up almost 3.5 expected goals per 60 minutes during five-on-five play, one of the worst marks on the team.
Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov
This should probably be more of an incomplete than anything else. Svechnikov missed a significant chunk of the campaign to start as he recovered from a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2022-23 season, and he has not yet gotten up to speed or made his full impact yet.
When healthy, the 23-year-old is one of the Hurricanes’ top players, but he has not had a chance to show it.
There’s nothing to worry about with his numbers (1 goal, 10 assists in 15 games). It’s just a slow start as he comes back from a serious injury.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Adam Fantilli
The Blue Jackets must have been ecstatic to see Fantilli still sitting there for them with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 draft, and he might be the most anticipated young player to enter the organization in years. Perhaps ever.
Early on, the 19-year-old looks the part of a cornerstone player and has more than held his own as a teenager in the NHL with five goals and seven assists in 27 games.
The 8-14-5 Blue Jackets might stink this season, but they have a building block here.
New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes
The only thing that has limited Hughes in his career—including this season—is injuries.
When the 22-year-old is healthy and on the ice, he is one of the league’s elite offensive stars and a potential scoring champ.
After scoring 99 points a year ago, he is on a 144-point pace (30 points in 17 games) this season.
New York Islanders: Noah Dobson
Dobson is one of the Islanders’ most consistent skaters and one of their best overall players.
The 23-year-old was already one of their best offensive players (even as a defenseman) and is averaging close to a point-per-game this season (five goals, 17 assists in 22 games).
Add in solid defensive play—at least compared to the rest of his team)—and you have an outstanding all-around player.
New York Rangers: Alexis Lafrenière
The Rangers need their young players to become stars, and Lafrenière has at least taken a step toward that through the first quarter of this season.
The 22-year-old is on pace to shatter his previous career highs in goals (19) and points (39), as he has eight and 16 in 24 games, his shot volume has taken a big step forward and his possession numbers are strong.
He might not ever be the superstar you hope to get with a No. 1 overall pick, but if he plays like this, he has a chance to be a great top-line player.
Philadelphia Flyers: Joel Farabee
Farabee’s 2022-23 performance had to be a pretty big disappointment for the Flyers, and nobody would have blamed them if it cast some doubt into his long-term outlook with the team.
However, the 23-year-old has bounced back nicely this season, and with eight goals and 15 points in his first 23 games, he is on pace to have one of his best offensive years.
The Flyers are rebuilding and still probably a few years away from serious contention, but they are playing competitive hockey and hanging around in the playoff race in the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Joseph is one of the few young players on the roster who might actually have a future in the league, but he has been limited to five games this season due to injury.
Even when healthy, though, the 24-year-old seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and the organization as a whole. Not much to see here.
Washington Capitals: Connor McMichael
McMichael has done a lot right this season, and he seems to be gaining confidence in the NHL as he gets a bigger role in the lineup.
With Nicklas Backstrom’s career looking like it is over and Evgeny Kuznetsov being a shell of his former self, the Capitals are going to need the 22-year-old to become a major contributor.
The point production isn’t great (10 in 22 games), but he has done everything else very well when it comes to driving possession and keeping play moving. His expected goal share of 53 percent is one of the best marks on the team.
Arizona Coyotes: Logan Cooley
The Coyotes have been desperate for a superstar who can help change their franchise, and they might have it in Cooley.
The goal numbers are not quite there yet with three in 24 games, but he is still a 19-year-old getting his first taste of NHL life.
Even without the goals, he still has the look of an NHL star and some outstanding playmaking skills.
Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard
There was an almost unreachable bar set for Bedard given the predraft hype that followed him around, but he has done the impossible and absolutely matched it through the first quarter of his first season.
He is everything the Blackhawks hoped he would be, and his best days are still in front of him. He is on a 39-goal, 71-point pace over 82 games as an 18-year-old rookie.
Those are the types of numbers you only see from the elite of the elite at that age. Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin. Auston Matthews. Connor McDavid.
Colorado Avalanche: Bowen Byram
There were high expectations for Byram coming into this season and a belief that he would start to become an All-Star level player on an already stacked Avalanche defense.
Overall, though, the 22-year-old defenseman has been just…OK. There is still another level he can reach, but he hasn’t attained it yet.
Dallas Stars: Jason Robertson
For most players, Robertson’s early performance (14 points in 22 games) would probably be an easy A. But given the bar he has set for himself over the first three years of his career, he is just a little behind that this season.
His line with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski has been one of the best in the NHL, but it has not been quite as dominant as it has been over the past two years.
The good news for the Stars? They are still winning a lot of games while the 24-year-old has not yet played his best hockey.
Minnesota Wild: Matt Boldy
Boldy was an immediate star for the Wild when he made his NHL debut two years ago and then had a breakout, 30-goal performance a year ago.
However, the 22-year-old is one of the many Minnesota players off to a slow start this season while he has also been limited to just 16 games.
He did score two goals in the team’s win on Tuesday night, though, and might be on the verge of a goal-scoring binge to get back on track. So far, he’s got five goals and 13 points in 16 games.
Nashville Predators: Luke Evangelista
The Predators have a fairly young roster in a lot of areas but nobody who looks to be a future star.
Evangelista had a strong showing a year ago, but he hasn’t really stood out much this year. Entering play on Tuesday, the 21-year-old had just three goals in 23 games and owned some of the worst possession numbers on the team.
St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas
Thomas is one of the best playmaking forwards in the league, and that aspect of his game is still very much there this season. But he has also taken a big step forward as a shooter and goal-scorer.
Through the first quarter of the season, the 24-year-old is on pace for a career year in terms of his shot generation and goal-scoring (eight goals in 24 games), and he is establishing himself as one of the Blues’ best core players.
Winnipeg Jets: Cole Perfetti
The No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft, Perfetti showed glimpses of being an outstanding player a year ago, and he looks to be on the verge of a true breakout season in 2023-24.
He is on pace for more than 30 goals and 60 total points as a 22-year-old and looks like he will be a key building block for the Jets’ long-term outlook.
Winnipeg does not make many trades or sign many free agents, and it depends almost entirely on its farm system to produce talent. Perfetti might be the next player to come through that pipeline.
Anaheim Ducks: Leo Carlsson
Trevor Zegras makes the highlight-reel plays in Anaheim, and he is a very good player with a bright future, but Mason McTavish and Carlsson are going to be the true building blocks for this team.
The Ducks raised some eyebrows when they took Carlsson with the No. 2 pick over Adam Fantilli, but nobody should be second-guessing that pick so far.
The Ducks are bringing the 18-year-old along slowly with his ice-time and games played, but he looks like a blossoming superstar when he has been on the ice.
Calgary Flames: Connor Zary
The Flames have a fairly veteran team, but Zary is the one young player who has gotten a bit of a look this season.
The 22-year-old has mostly played in some sheltered roles, but the 2020 No. 24 overall pick has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing team.
Zary had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) entering play on Tuesday with a 54 percent expected goal share. That is a strong showing for the rookie.
Edmonton Oilers: Evan Bouchard
He might not win it, but Bouchard should be on the early-season watchlist for the Norris Trophy.
The 24-year-old is averaging a point per game offensively and has one of the best expected goal shares (over 62 percent) of any defenseman in the entire NHL.
The Oilers are starting to turn things around after a dreadful start, and Bouchard is one of the main players leading that charge.
Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield
After selecting him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, the Kings have been patiently waiting for Byfield to start to become an impact player.
A significant injury derailed some of his development early on, but now that the 21-year-old is healthy and getting a look on one of the Kings’ top lines—next to Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe—he is starting to put all of the pieces together to become the top-line player L.A. expected him to be. Thus far, he sits with 18 points in 22 games.
San Jose Sharks: William Eklund
The most important thing for the Sharks this season is that the young players they are going to be counting on as part of their rebuild take a big step forward and show they can be long-term solutions.
Eklund is starting to show he can be one of those players, and after his three-point effort on Tuesday, he is up to 12 points in 26 games this season.
They may not be great numbers, but the 21-year-old is still new to the NHL. He can be a legit top-line player.
Seattle Kraken: Matty Beniers
After winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year last season, expectations were high for Beniers to take an even bigger leap forward this season. It has not happened for him yet, though.
His offense has taken a big step backward from 57 points in 80 games to 13 in 26, while his defensive play and two-way game has left a lot to be desired.
There’s no need to panic too much about that performance just yet, but it has not been a great start to the season for the 21-year-old.
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes
Hughes has to be the early-season front-runner for the Norris Trophy. He is not only one of the top point producers among defensemen, but he is also one of the top point producers in the NHL. Period.
Thus far, he has nine goals and 27 assists in 26 games.
While the 24-year-old’s defensive play is sometimes the target for criticism, he is a much better all-around player than he gets credit for. He is already an elite defenseman in the NHL and only getting better.
Vegas Golden Knights: Paul Cotter
The Golden Knights are one of the most veteran teams in the league and don’t have many young players on the roster. Cotter is one of the most prominent, but he hasn’t really done much to stand out in a meaningful way this season. In fact, he might be one of the weak links on one of the best rosters in the league.
The 24-year-old has eight points (three goals, five assists) through Tuesday and some pedestrian underlying numbers (a 48.57 percent expected goal share on Vegas is not great). He had some moments for them a year ago, but he is far from a core player.