The youngest players in NHL History

January 10th, 2022

What do you picture when you think of pro hockey? If you're anything like most fans it's likely grown men flying around an ice pad, grizzled and toughened by years of banging and crashing into one another in a fight for a round piece of vulcanized rubber. You see beards, facial scars, missing teeth and hear profanity-laced "chirping" of opposing players.

What you don’t imagine are baby-faced players amongst all those experienced, skating warriors. Well, you can imagine it now, because we've compiled a list of the 10 youngest players ever to lace 'em up in the NHL.

We went into the "way back" machine for most of these players, since the NHL changed the draft eligibility rules in 1979. Starting that year, players had to be 18 or older to play in the big show.

10. Jamie Drysdale

Position: Defense
Age in first NHL game: 18 (Born 04/08/2002)
Team: Anaheim Ducks

This NHL season, Drysdale is the second youngest player in the league (behind No. 9 on this list below). He broke into the league in the 2020-21 season, after being selected as the sixth pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. In just 38 games this season, Drysdale already has a respectable 16 points (three goals and 13 assists). Not bad for a sophomore D.

9. Cole Sillinger

Position: Center
Age in first game: 18 (Born 05/16/2003)
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

One of two modern day era players on this list, Cole is a chip off the old block. His dad, Mike, played for 12 seasons in the NHL, including two with the Blue Jackets. And, in real "circle of life" fashion, Cole was born in Columbus, Ohio, the last year Mike played for the Jackets. Oh, and if you want to get real karmic about it, Cole was selected by his hometown Blue Jackets with the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft – and daddy Mike played for a total of 12 NHL teams in his career. Think about it.

8. Grant Mulvey

Position: Right Wing
Age in first game: 18 (Born: 09/17/1956)
Team: Chicago Blackhawks

At 6’4”, 210-pounds, Mulvey was one big, young guy on skates. Though he only ended up playing 12 games for the Blackhawks due to injuries, his career might have been really something. In one of those 12 games, he set a franchise record by getting seven points (five goals and two assists) against the St. Louis Blues. Ah, what might have been...

7. Jack Schmidt

Position: Left Wing
Age in first game: 18 (Born 11/11/1924)
Team: Boston Bruins

Hailing from Saskatchewan, Canada, the diminutive Schmidt – he stood just 5’10 and was 156 pounds soaking wet – made his debut for the Bruins in 1942 and plied his icy trade with the club for another 14 years before hanging up his skates in 1956.

6. Ted Kennedy

Position: Center
Age in first game: 17 (Born 12/12/1925)
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

No, not that Ted Kennedy. This Kennedy, nicknamed "Teeder", was a legendary player for the Leafs. Though he started his career a fresh-faced boy, he’d end up a Hall of Famer, captaining the team eight times during his 15-year tenure from 1942 to 1957. He was also the first player in league history to achieve the feat of winning five Stanley Cups in his career.

5. Jackie Hamilton

Position: Center
Age in first game: 17 (Born 06/02/1925)
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Another young’un on the Maple Leafs’ family tree, Hamilton managed to play for three seasons in the big league, racking up 102 games in the NHL. However, his overall career in hockey lasted 17 seasons, from 1941 until 1958, due to his journeyman work in various other leagues.

4. Don Gallinger

Position: Center
Age in first game: 17 (Born 04/16/1925)
Team: Boston Bruins

Gallinger played 222 games as a Bruin from 1942 to 1948. And, he also was a good friend of Ted Kennedy (listed above), as the two played together in the junior leagues before coming up to the NHL. Interesting fact about Gallinger: he was an incredible athlete, with pro skills that spanned two different sports. During his NHL career, both the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies came calling to see if they could pry him away from hockey, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t be swayed.

3. Ross Johnstone

Position: Defense
Age in first game: 17 (Born 04/07/1926)
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Johnstone’s career at the NHL level didn’t last long. He played just 42 games with the Leafs before settling in as a career minor leaguer. However, the 42 games he played for the Leafs were enough officially be part of the 1945 Leafs’ Championship team. As such, the youngster managed to get his name forever etched in history on the Stanley Cup.

2. Don Raleigh

Position: Center
Age in first game: 17 (Born 06/27/1926)
Team: New York Rangers

Another small fry, Raleigh entered the league in 1943 with a 5’11", 150-pound frame. He was so thin, he was given the nickname "Bones". Young and petite as he was, Raleigh still managed to carve out a successful career in the bigs, playing 553 games at the pro level. He was also the first New York Ranger ever to score four goals in a game.

1. Bep Guidolin

Position: Left Wing
Age in first game: 16 (Born 12/09/1925)
Teams: Boston Bruins

Yep, you read that right. Bep was just 16 when he first put blade to ice for the Bruins in 1942, making him the youngest NHL player in league history. But he wasn’t just thrown into a man’s game willy-nilly. His use by the Bruins was out of desperation and necessity. Boston's roster was thinned out by many players serving in World War II, leaving the team depleted. And so, a 16-year-old got his shot.

Bonus! Wayne Gretzky

Position: Center
Age in first game: 17 (Born 01/26/1961)
Teams: Indianapolis Racers, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers

Yes, "The Great One" began his storied career at the tender age of 17, though it did not begin in the pro league you might think. His NHL career commenced at age 18, when he joined the Edmonton Oilers. However, in 1978 while still 17, Gretzky was drafted out of the juniors and signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA). Gretzky only ended up playing eight games for the Racers, as the WHA soon folded, unable to compete with the more established NHL. Still, a pro game is a pro game, and Gretzky’s true hockey career began before he was even old enough to vote.