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Top players at every age: 18-23

Aaron Ekblad, Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist are among hockey's most valuable at their age. Getty Images

Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM this season, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.

Hockey players peak at different times. Wayne Gretzky achieved more than half of his career scoring -- and all but one of his 50-goal seasons -- by age 26, while Phil Esposito earned every single one of his 100-point seasons from ages 26 through 32 and John Bucyk doubled his career scoring totals after age 33. At age 40, Gordie Howe was one of the three players to first break the 100-point barrier, in 1968-69. Who are the most valuable players at each age today?

To answer this question -- as Neil Greenberg did last season -- I'm going to use a variety of hockey analytics to help me establish the context of each player's usage, to compare skaters to goalies, and offensive contributions to defensive play. Unless stated otherwise, my primary data source for non-traditional statistics is Behind the Net, and we are considering players' current ages as of Feb. 1.

Since I'm essentially approaching this from the perspective of which players front offices should be trying to retain or pursue, a player's past, current and expected future performance will be considered. Contractual matters are not weighed heavily, largely because it's my view that when players are this good, they should get paid whatever it takes to get and keep them in a friendly uniform.

Even with all these numbers floating around, there is still a fair deal of interpretation to pack into each age group, and I'm open to see who you'd suggest in certain spots -- use the comments section below, or the Twitter hashtag #NHLAgeMVPs to join the conversation.