18 year old Steven Stamkos is all but assured to play the entire season with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Keeping an 18 year old on a roster is something I've always seen as, for the most part, foolish. It is extremely rare that you can find an 18 year old who can step into the National Hockey League directly from junior and make a big impact in year one.
In well over 90% of cases players are much better off to be returned to junior where they can further develop. Most players are not physically or emotionally ready for life in the big leagues. In some cases being rushed into the league has ruined careers.
Nowadays it is advantageous for teams to return players to junior, as doing so delays that player's entry level contract by another year, and therefore his rights to unrestricted free agency another year. The question becomes do you want an 18 year old future star on your roster now, or a 26 year old star in his prime 8 years from now?
That being said, every once in a while a teenager can truly be a star in the NHL. Most recently Sidney Crosby stepped into the league as an 18 year old and scored 39 goals and 102 points. Then at age 19 he led the entire league in scoring with 120 points.
Here's a few more teenage success stories in hockey history:
Wayne Gretzky - At age 18 he scored 51 goals and tied for the NHL scoring lead with 137 points - the best season ever statistically by a teenager in the NHL.
Dale Hawerchuk - As an 18 year old the NHL stepped in and scored 103 points. He also led the Jets to a 48-point improvement in the NHL standings over the previous season.
Tom Barrasso - Who can forget Tom Barrasso debut. Straight out US high school and having never played a game in junior hockey, he stepped into the NHL, capturing both the Calder Trophy as top rookie and the Vezina Trophy as top goalie.
Teeder Kennedy - Thanks to the depletion of NHL rosters by military service in World War II, it was not uncommon for younger and younger players to appear in the NHL. Teeder Kennedy may have been the best, debuting as a 17 year old. In his first full NHL season he scored 26 goals, second best on the team. And at 19 he inspired the Leafs to a Stanley Cup championship, scoring a hat trick in game 4 of the finals.
Bep Guidolin - "Bep" Guidolin only scored 7 goals in his NHL rookie year, but he was competing as a 16 year old! He is the youngest player to ever appear in the National Hockey League.
Albert Forrest - Okay, you really got to know your hockey history to know about Albert Forrest, because he pre-dates even the NHL itself. And it's not so much a success story so much as a neat story.
In 1905 the Dawson City Klondikers, also known as the Nuggets, challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup championship. The Yukoners arrived in Ottawa absolutely exhausted after traveling 4400km by bicycle, dog sled, stage coach, boat and train.
The Yukoners were humiliated in the Cup showdown. Forrest, just 17 years of age, was the goalie. Despite surrendering 23 goals in one game, it was said that the Dawson City netminder played with spectacular flare and was named as the team's MVP.
But the disastrous trip proved to be too much for the teenager. Forrest was said to have walked the final 350km home to Dawson City.
Folks, I can assure you the woods around Dawson City today are very wild. I would not want to be walking alone up that way!
If you want to learn more about Albert Forrest, check out Brian McFarlane's book The Youngest Goalie.