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Young Guns

by Scott Rintoul / Vancouver Canucks
In today’s “Salary Cap Era” of the NHL, there are numerous theories about what a team needs if it is to win a Stanley Cup.

Some say you need to sink your big dollars into a goaltender. Others say you should pay for goal production. And then there are those that contend you can’t spend really big money on more than one player. But one thing is becoming apparent; given the financial reality of the current NHL, youth is a necessity for a Stanley Cup winner.

And that means training camp might be more important than ever.

Young players bring speed and determination to the table and are motivated by the fear of a demotion to the minors. But more importantly, young players don’t cost much money.

Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. Sidney Crosby will be one of the highest paid players in the game after this season. Dustin Penner turns 25 later this month, and he’s not exactly looking under sofa cushions for spare change.

But if you look at the past two Cup champs, both had significant contributions from kids barely old enough to order a beer, and it allowed each team to shell out big bucks for some of the game’s elite.

In Carolina, the Hurricanes were led by the likes of then 21 year-old Eric Staal and his 24 year-old teammate Justin Williams. Twenty-two year-old Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward backstopped the ‘Canes to the Cup. In fact, Carolina received key minutes from five players under the age of 24 en route to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup.

All of them made less than $1 million at the time, which allowed GM Jim Rutherford the financial flexibility to trade for Doug Weight, who was making more than those five players combined.

And while it’s worth noting that four of those five players were 1st round draft picks, Anaheim proved last year that you don’t need to find all of your youngsters on the day one of the draft.

While 1st rounders Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were the poster boys for the Ducks young guns, it was 5th rounder Travis Moen who scored more game-winning goals than either of them during the playoffs. Dustin Penner and Ryan Shannon both went undrafted in 2001, but both now boast Stanley Cup rings for their efforts in bringing a championship to Orange County.

Again, five players under the age of 24, none of them making more than $1 million. Think that had anything to do with Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger playing on the same blueline? Those two defensemen accounted for more than 30% of the Ducks payroll last season.

So how does this all relate to the Canucks?

Well, it suggests that the pre-season is much more than an opportunity to get back on the ice, it’s an opportunity to identify the four or five young players that will need to fill key roles this season if the Canucks subscribe to this formula.

Ryan Kesler and Lukas Krajicek both fit the profile (other than Kesler’s “Bobby Clarke” inflated salary), and both are expected to contribute more than in the past.

Alex Edler’s just 21, but most anticipate seeing him in more than the 22 games he played last season. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

As mentioned, Ryan Shannon has a Stanley Cup on his resume to go with wicked wheels and an offensive flair.

Jannik Hansen certainly didn’t look out of place in last year’s post-season, but needs to prove he can give that same type of effort for an entire season.

And don’t discount speedy Mason Raymond or rearguard Luc Bourdon. Both are short on experience, but the Canucks foresee each of them making the jump to the NHL level in the not too distant future.

Does a handful of young players guarantee a good shot at the Cup? No way. But a decent contingent of youth affords a team the luxury of shelling out mucho dinero for the likes of Roberto Luongo.

Given the massive gap in the NHL’s pay scale, it appears that you’d better have a good blend from both ends of the Salary Spectrum if you hope to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.

In the System
Prospects Central
Training Camp 2007

43 - Canucks' players under 25 years old

1 - Stanley Cup ring on the team (Ryan Shannon)

67 - NHL games of Canucks' Prospects

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