If you have been following the Stanley Cup play-offs this year it has been very exciting for the most part. Quick, high tempo games that have involved many upsets. With that said, it is amazing to see the skill level of many if not most of the players. The game has changed so much in the past 10-15 years. Gone are the days when you would have the old wily vets on the 3rd and 4th lines who would clutch, grab, hook, hold, etc. Sure there are still role players who do there small part for the team....but the difference is they can all skate!! In order to play on the first or the fourth line in this day and age you need to be able to skate. Go down the rosters of these two teams in the Cup and they are great skating teams. Even a role playing tough guy like Daniel Carcillo can move!! The young guys such as Duncan Keith, Jonathon Toews, Jeff Carter, Patrick Kane, Ville Leino, etc are all exceptional skaters. What I am getting at is...if you aren't a strong skater you dont have much of a chance.
If you get a moment try to catch some of the Classic Hockey games from the past. I was watching a gold medal game between Canada and Russia from the 1991 World Juniors fairly recently. It was in the same era when I was with the London Knights of the OHL. Man was it an eye opener!! Canada had Eric Lindros, Steven Rice, Scott Neidermayer, Adam Foote among many others...while the Russians were led by Pavel Bure, Slava Kozlov, Sergei Berezhin, Oleg Petrov, etc. The Russians were, in that game, more skilled (in my opinion) but Canada basically mauled them. The Canadians were determined and hungry.....but what stood out was the clutching, grabbing, hooking and holding. It was unbelievable. Many guys could get away with that back then.....but that is clearly unacceptable nowadays. You must be able to skate!!
This gets me back to the point of the young highly skilled players of today. Why are Crosby, Toews and Richards (all approx 22 years of age) vying for the Cup over the last 2 years as team captains?? Why are Doughty and Keith 2 of the Top Defensemen in the World?? Why is Stamkos one of the Top Goal Scorers in NHL?? These are all very young players that are tremendously talented and all fantastic skaters!! They are not old grizzled vets that are super experienced. They are the new breed of player that is coming to the forefront (Think Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin and Tyler Myers and John Tavares, etc, etc). The skill development of these players at a young age is the foundation to their success. The on-ice training is a lot different and much more advanced then when I was a kid. There are specialized classes, small groups, video, etc. The off-ice training is also much more advanced!! The guys are quicker, stronger, faster, more agile and have better hands and shots then like aged players of the past. All of that coupled with aspects such as nutrition, overall knowledge (and maturity) of the game make the young players mentioned above prepared to step in at a very early age and contribute at an Elite World Class level!!