Gary Lawless recently wrote an article in the Free Press named “Youth Must be Served”. As you might infer from the title, the idea is that the Jets should put some young players in their lineup this fall, because the young guns offer more than some of the veterans who currently fill the bottom of the roster. (Ok, let’s see, young guys, lots of talent, fun to watch – sounds plausible so far). He further justifies the point by saying that the team isn’t very good anyway, so “why not bring in some youth and let them learn on the job”. (Yeah, I guess so…you gotta learn somewhere, right?) Let me tell you why I think it’s a bad idea. Actually, let me show you why I think it’s the worst idea.
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There are two types of organizations – those who rush their players, and those who don’t. Ken Holland and his group in Detroit are ‘the good guys’. Gustav Nyquist just finished his rookie season with Detroit, where he scored 28 goals in only 57 games. In fact, he was on pace for 40 goals in – let me say it again – his rookie season, had he played in all 82. Interestingly, he was already 24 years old when the season started, and was playing with the poise and maturity that one might expect from a player who had been clawing to get to the NHL for a number of years.
I’m a fervent believer in the Detroit Red Wings model of development – the one in which you actually give players time to develop, until they clearly demonstrate that they’re too good for their previous level, whether it be junior, college, Europe, or the AHL. For the Wings, that usual entails leaving them in junior till age 20 (21 if coming from College or Europe), and then a one or two year stint in the AHL. Most Red Wings don’t make the squad full-time before they’re at least 21, and the last time a teenager played a full season in Detroit was in 1991, when Keith Primeau made the team as a 19-year-old. Nick Lidstrom – almost universally recognized as one of the top-5 defencemen of all-time – didn’t play for Detroit until he was 21. Henrik Zetterberg came over from Sweden at 22, while Pavel Datsyuk didn’t leave Russia till 23. The Red Wings’ current stud defenceman – Nik Kronwall – didn’t make the roster as a full-time NHL’er till he was 24. In the past 20 years, Detroit has absolutely set the standard for player development in the NHL. No other team lets their prospects “ferment” in the minor leagues for as long as Detroit, and perhaps there’s a method to the madness. Continue reading