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Top 25 under 25: Ranking the NHL's best young players

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Kakko, Makar highlight potential breakout stars (1:12)

Emily Kaplan picks Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko as a breakout star this season, while Greg Wyshynski likes Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. (1:12)

The continued youth takeover of the NHL shows no signs of slowing. Each season brings a new crop of high-end rookies who take the league up a notch, and several of these young talents could be considered among the best players in the game, regardless of age.

Every year, this list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 becomes more difficult to compile, as I attempt to combine the subjective and the objective. This year, I made a short list that included 43 of the top players 24 and younger in the NHL before narrowing it to 25 names, using points per game, relative Corsi percentage, average time on ice and a host of other measures when I thought the margins were especially thin between players. Current body of work is the biggest factor in the decision process, but I also looked a bit at expectations and projections.

Notes: All players must be 24 years old or younger as of Jan. 1, 2020. Players with Calder Trophy eligibility, such as Cale Makar or Jack Hughes, are not eligible to be included on the list. There isn't enough of a body of work. Statistics referenced in this article are from Hockey Reference unless otherwise noted.

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 22 | Last year: 1

It isn't exactly a hard sell on this front. McDavid has grown into the game's best and most productive player. He is a singular talent with a mix of speed and skill, and his 1.30 career points-per-game average already puts him among the all-time greats of the game.


2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

Age: 24 | Last year: 4

It's amazing to compare where MacKinnon was just three years ago to where he is now. He was essentially a midrange guy. Over the past two seasons, however, he has become a legitimate threat to win the Hart Trophy. It isn't a coincidence that MacKinnon's surge coincides with his being paired with Mikko Rantanen, but based on MacKinnon's explosiveness, his hands and his tenacity in all areas of the ice, he's taking his rightful place among the league's elites.


3. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 22 | Last year: 2