When the NHL returned in 2005-06 after a one-season lockout hiatus, it instituted the salary cap, compelling all 30 teams to operate within the same salary constraints. As a result, the value of restocking an organization with gifted youngsters skyrocketed, allowing younger players to contribute in a bigger way at a younger age -- and most before they turn 25 years old.
In constructing the NHL's best 25 under 25, I selected players with a track record of success based on conventional statistics (goals and assists) and advanced metrics that take into account the context in which they play (such as puck possession, zone starts and quality of competition). So in essence, this ranking is based more on the here and now than on future potential. That means up-and-coming superstars such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Logan Couture are not represented on this list -- but I have no doubt they will make routine appearances on the next few lists.
Have a differing opinion or think I left someone out? Feel free to let me know in the comments.
1. C Jonathan Toews
Chicago Blackhawks, 23 years old
Drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2006 entry draft, Toews made the jump to the NHL in the fall of 2007 at age 18, and since then he has made Chicago's best players even better.
Starting in the faceoff dot, where he has won 56.6 percent of his draws, Toews is the engine that drives Chicago's puck possession. Fellow stars Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook all have seen better puck possession when sharing the ice with Toews (over 7 percent more even-strength shots in their favor on average).
Last season, Toews was the only pivot to play more than 40 games while logging more than 15 minutes of ice time at even strength to post a Corsi relative (Corsi Rel) of 14 or higher. That means with Toews on the ice, Chicago generated 14 more shots per 60 even-strength minutes than its opponents.
The Hawks' captain produces on the offensive side of the puck, as well. He has registered 137 goals and 308 points in 344 regular-season games over the past five seasons.
Throw in his Olympic gold for Team Canada in 2010 and his part in bringing a Stanley Cup to the Windy City (earning the Conn Smythe for being most valuable to his team during the playoffs in the process) and you have the game's top player under 25 years old.
2. C Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins, 24 years old
Crosby is the youngest player to record two consecutive 100-point seasons and the youngest player to lead the NHL playoffs in scoring, as well as the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup. He shared the Richard Trophy in 2009-10 with Steven Stamkos for most goals (51) in a season. Last season, especially, was one for the ages.
Not only was Crosby tied for 14th overall in scoring with 32 goals, but he needed only 41 games to do it. Plus, he did it despite starting in his own end most of the time against the opposition's best shutdown pair.
Sid the Kid has delivered in every way (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, and Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Lester Pearson and Hart trophies) and would have been a runaway favorite for the top spot if not for a concussion that continues to put his NHL career in doubt.