It’s no secret that the NHL is rapidly becoming a younger league. The best players are young, a trend that seems to only be continuing. Connor McDavid won the past two Art Ross Trophies at 20 and 21 years of age. This season, Mikko Rantanen leads the league with 52 points in 31 games as a 22-year-old. Patrik Laine, at 20, seems to get closer each season to surpassing veteran Alex Ovechkin as the league’s most lethal goal scorer.
In his book The Next Ones: How McDavid, Matthews and a Group of Young Guns Took Over the NHL, Postmedia’s Michael Traikos addresses this phenomenon. Published in Sep. 2018, he seeks to figure out what is behind the league’s young players not only bursting onto the scene, but becoming stars.
Related: Odd Man Rush: A Review
Some of the players he covers are Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Mark Scheifele, Laine, and McDavid, devoting a chapter to every player. For each, he traveled to the player’s hometown or where he played junior hockey to interview the player and his family, friends, coaches, and teammates.
Traikos’ goal was to tell the story of what makes each player successful and to best understand any trials he faced on his journey to the NHL. For Scheifele, it was slow development relative to others his age, size held Gaudreau and Marner back, and for Matthews, it was growing up in Arizona, a non-traditional hockey market.
When I first looked at the synopsis, I wasn’t overly excited to read the book. I had envisioned that it would end up reading similar to a Wikipedia article, with each player’s background and stats being discussed, and a nugget of trivial information thrown in. However, what developed was anything but a boring read. Instead, what Traikos presents are in-depth, intimate insights into the lives of some of the league’s best players, including the negativity that comes with fame at a young age. You ultimately learn that no one path provides the most-direct route to NHL stardom, other than perhaps hard work and dedication.
A few of the development stories I found most intriguing include those of Matthews, Gaudreau, and McDavid. Because Matthews grew up in the desert, his path meant little actual hockey. Instead, there was a focus on skating, particularly his edge work and balance, before he participated in tournaments that resulted in him joining the United States National Development Program and spending his draft year in a Swiss professional league.
For Gaudreau, it involved learning to skate by picking Skittles off the ice and overcoming his 5-foot-9 frame to become a Hobey Baker Award winner. Lastly, with McDavid, it meant finding creative ways to push himself to be better. These included designing obstacle courses in his parents’ garage to deke through while wearing roller blades. It set him up perfectly for the NHL, where skills coaches are prevalent.
In conclusion, I couldn’t recommend The Next Ones enough. The book’s ability to reveal great details of players’ lives in a conservative league like the NHL is a great revelation. It has a little bit of everything. It’s sad when the tragic passing of Murray’s father is brought up. It’s humorous when Laine’s personality comes through or when you learn that Nylander grew up spending time with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin because his dad was a Washington Capital at the time.
But mostly, it’s rewarding. Even if you aren’t a professional athlete, as most of us aren’t, there are things to learn and apply to your life. From Gaudreau and Marner, you learn to not let outdated standards impact your potential. From Scheifele, you learn to not give up on yourself just because you are behind the expected development curve. Finally, Laine and Nylander teach you that previous criticisms can be overcome and that your future can still be written.
The Next Ones is a win on all levels and Traikos does a masterful job at presenting each player in a fair and educated manner as opposed to the subjective direction the text could have went towards. A foreword by former young star and Hockey Hall of Fame member Eric Lindros helps to validate Traikos’ approach as well. If you are interested in learning about the lives of the NHL’s best young players, pick up a copy at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Special thanks to Harbour Publishing for providing me with a copy of the text.