The Crop of 1980
Depending on how you look at it, the youngest player in the NHL is either Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers or Tim Connolly of the New York Islanders. Regardless of how you look at it, the two rookies are among the leaders of a leaguewide youth movement.
Gagne was born Feb. 29, 1980, a leap year. If you figure his birthdate rolls around only once every four years, Gagne celebrated his fifth birthday recently. But if you aren’t going for that leap-year stuff, Connolly, who was born in Syracuse, N.Y., on May, 7, 1981, is the youngest player in the NHL.
These kids are young, and they can play the game. Gagne, drafted out of juniors by the Flyers in the first round of the 1998 draft, put up 12 goals, including 6 on the power play, and 20 assists before his 20th birthday. And at just 18, Connolly, the fifth pick overall in the 1999 entry draft, lit the lamp 10 times and picked up 13 assists in 60 games.
Gagne and Connolly are just two of several NHL players born in 1980-81. (For the record, Scott Gomez, the New Jersey Devils’ Rookie-of-the-Year prospect, was born Dec. 23, 1979; and Boston’s Joe Thornton is positively an old-timer, born way back in July, 1979.)
Keep your eye on these other members of the Crop of 1980. They are going to around for a while.
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4, 205,(F). In his second season with the Bolts, Lecavalier continues to electrify the league. In 59 games this year, he has put up 18 goals (6 on the PP) and 28 assists for 46 points, surpassing his rookie-year totals of 13/15/28. Lecavalier was the first overall pick in the 1998 entry draft.
David Legwand, Nashville Predators 6-2, 180 (F). A native of Hockeytown, Legwand represented the United States during the 1999 World Junior Championships, notching one goal and three assists for four points in six contests. He signed with the Predators on April 16, 1999, and appeared in the Predators final regular season game the next day vs. New Jersey. Legwand has 11 goals (3 PP) and 12 assists in 50 games this season.
Mathieu Biron, New York Islanders, 6-6, 212 (D). The Isles’ other teen idol, Biron can bring it from the point on the power play. Half of his four goals this year have come with the Islanders on the advantage.
Patrik Stefan, Atlanta Thrashers, 6-1, 205 (F). He beat the Dominator for his first NHL goal, then to prove it was no fluke, added another goal and an assist for his career-high 3-point night against Buffalo last Oct. 9. Stefan represented the Czech Republic in the 1998 World Juniors Championships and was named to the 1999 team, but missed the tournament due to injury. In 56 games with the Thrashers this year, Stefan has 5 goals and 24 assists.
Mike Fisher, Ottawa Senators, 6-0, 180 (F). Fisher has 4 goals, 5 assists, and 9 points in 32 games for the Sens.
Manny Malhotra, New York Rangers, 6-1, 210 (F). In his second season with the Rangers, Malhotra has suffered a sophomore jinx. In 27 games, he has put up no points, compared to 8 goals and 8 assists last season. Malhotra and Lacavalier were teammates on the Canadian Junior National Team in the 1998 World Junior Championships in Finland.
Vitali Vishnevski, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 6-2, 190 (D). Born in Kharkov, Russia, Vishnevski was taken by Anaheim in the first round (5th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft after being named the tournament’s best defenseman at the World Junior Championships, where he was the youngest player on the Russian team.
Nik Antropov, Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-5, 219 (F). Born in Vost, Kazakhstan, Antropov was Toronto’s first-round selection (10th overall) in the 1998 Entry Draft, Antropov played for Team Kazakhstan at the 1999 World Junior Championships (3 goals, 5 assists in 6 games).