As we have noticed, especially we who are a bit older and were born during the 1960’s and 70’s, the hockey game has changed a lot since back in the days, and for the better, I have to emphasize.
Moreover, I am claiming that the game during the 1980’s and parts of the 1990’s was not particularly good to be honest, even if it was quite entertaining with many goals and some enforcers attracting people to the venues.
However, most of the current players are apparently miles above in skill and speed in comparison to most of the players who were in action during the 80’s and 90’s.
I guess that the change of the game (repeat it once again: for the better) increased the level of challenge to make it more difficult for upcoming prospects from Europe these days than it would have been for Kurri, Tikkanen, Forsberg, and Sundin for example.
At the very least, I have myself noticed that many players whom I thought would be talented enough and able to take a place in an NHL team’s fourth or third line have had to return to Europe and to their domestic leagues relatively quickly or been sent down to the AHL or perhaps even ECHL because they couldn’t keep it up.
Therefore, I have been wondering for quite some time: how does one keep a place in the NHL nowadays? What is and what will be required from current and upcoming players? What is the most common reason why players who’ve been drafted are not able to keep a place in the NHL? Is there a common thing or is the answer more complex than that?’
Probably I would get plenty of different answers and perspectives depending on who I’d ask, but I asked this time two very eminent experts of the game: Mr. Adam Proteau, whom we know from The Hockey News and Hockey Buzz, and Coach Gordie Dwyer who has been a former NHLer in Montréal and Pro-level player among other clubs. Dwyer is currently Coach for Medveṧčak Zagreb.
Mr. Adam Proteau:
“I’d say the most common thing that separates NHL players from AHL players is speed. Today’s game requires speed first and foremost – and if you can add brilliant high-end hand-eye coordination to that speed, you can be a top-six forward or a top-four defenceman.
Without skating speed, even players who have that hand-eye skill tend to languish in the minors. I honestly wonder sometimes if Brett Hull could’ve played in today’s game. Nobody would ever question his scoring prowess, but in a game that’s become a track meet, would he be able to (a) backcheck; (b) be in the right scoring positions; and (c) beat defenders to pucks? I’m not so sure.
That speed factor may change if the NHL decides to put the red line back in and slow down the product, but as it stands right now, I think skating is the key. There’s a reason why many teams now employ retired figure skating coaches on their staff, and a player like Connor McDavid is almost singlehandedly going to increase the speed of the sport even more”
>>>And, here below comes a bit of a different answer and perspective from Coach Dwyer in comparison to Mr. Proteau. However, it gives some more light as well:
“There are many reasons why and most of them circumstantial but here are a few points to consider…
There are roughly only 650 jobs in the NHL with the majority of players on one-way contracts. A one-way contract certainly helps secure your security in the NHL. Before that, each NHL team has I believe has 50 contracts available, with most teams hovering in the high 40s.
The draft isn’t an exact science. It’s still hard to project a player in the future and his development. Teams have added extra resources to assist player development as it is critical to a franchise’s success.
In the salary cap era, teams need cheaper entry level talent as part of the equation thus possibly opening the door to younger players for auditions with the big club.
Draft picks and salary cap room are top currencies in the NHL today.”
As I said, two different answers but both enlightening the questions I have had for some time.
Well, I am myself very glad that the game and the players have evolved for the better, as it is more entertaining to see great moves, passes, and shots, also saves as well, rather than have to break the action because of two not particularly hockey skilled enforcers interrupting the game for several minutes.
Another thing that I tend to agree with totally: Mr. Proteau also mentioned that most of the players back in the days would probably have been playing somewhere between AHL and the ECHL.
Only a few like Gretzky, Lemieux, Forsberg, Sundin, Kurri, Jagr (who is still active unbelievably enough) etc. and the famous Soviet formation with Krutov, Larionov, Fetisov, Makarov and Kasatonov, of course, would have been able to keep it up if they’d played today from the start.
This is mostly because by their skill they had already then brought the hockey 15-20 years ahead of their own time. Today we have Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine for example.
And, we always need those kinds of players, who are above the others, because they set the standards for the upcoming players, as they are in the forefront of the evolution.
One of the big questions for younger prospects of today in Europe and North America:
What are they prepared to do in return for being able to take a spot in the NHL?
The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well.