The best NHL player at every age: 18 to 23

Is Nathan MacKinnon, left, the best 21-year-old in the NHL, or is it Leon Draisaitl, right? Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Players hit their peak at different ages.

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

To answer this question much as we did in 2013-14 and 2014-15, we're going to use a variety of statistics to establish each player's offensive, defensive and goaltending performance and place them into context so that they can be compared.

Even with all of these numbers floating around, there is still a fair deal of interpretation to pack into a single paragraph, so ultimately these choices can be considered a single perspective -- and wide open to other viewpoints.

We'll start with ages 18 through 23 in this story, continue with ages 24 through 29 next week, and those aged 30 and up in the final piece.