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NHL Average Rookie Age from 1917‑18 to 2013‑14

NHL average rookie age hasn't changed much during the NHL history. Most players make their NHL debut when they are 20 years old, and threafter the probability of making it to the NHL gradually decreases.

The charts below display the age distribution of NHL players during the season they played their first NHL game. The charts are shown separately for each player position. To include the passage of time into the analysis, I've also broken down the distributions by decade. Click on the buttons above the chart to switch between views.

All Players Forwards Defense Goalies

Full History 2010s 2000s 1990s 1980s

1970s 1960s 1950s 1940s 1930s 1920s 1910s

All players who were under 18 years old during their first season made their debut before the 1960s. The youngest player to dress up for an NHL game is Chris Speyer who was only 16 years old when he played defense for the Toronto St. Patricks during the 1923‑24 season.

The honor of the oldest first timer goes to Hugh Lehman who played as a goalie for the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1926‑27 season. Despite being in his 40s he played respectable 44 games during the season, only to retire after the following season. Officially, Connie Madigan holds the record for the oldest rookie, since Hugh Lehman had a notable pro career prior to the establishment of the NHL.

The distribution shapes for forwards and defensemen are almost identical, while the distribution for goaltenders is different. It lacks a clearly defined peak, as the likelihood of NHL debut stays approximately the same between the ages of 21 and 24.


Summary Statistics on NHL Rookie Age

The tables below show summary statistics for the different player positions. The difference between the average rookie age of forwards and defense is non-existent, whereas goalies play their first game roughly one year later than skaters.

All Players
Number of Players7 086
MIN Age16.91 (Chris Speyer)
MAX Age41.20 (Jack Laviolette)
Average Age22.74
Median Age22.26
Forwards
Number of Forwards4 275
MIN Age17.06 (Ted Kennedy)
MAX Age38.11 (Jack Walker)
Average Age22.58
Median Age22.07
Defense
Number of D-Men2 106
MIN Age16.91 (Chris Speyer)
MAX Age38.45 (Jack Laviolette)
Average Age22.77
Median Age22.28
Goalies
Number of Goalies705
MIN Age17.15 (Harry Lumley)
MAX Age41.20 (Hugh Lehman)
Average Age23.59
Median Age23.18

NHL Rookie Age Percentages

Finally, the next chart pulls together rookie age information of forwards, defensemen and goaltenders. It shows the percentage of players that began their careers at any given age.


How was this calculated?

First, my definition of the term Rookie is different from the definition of the official NHL Rookie Status. I am simply looking at the age when a player played his first NHL game.

The age of each player is determined by calculating the number of days between the player's date of birth and the December 31st of the season when the player appeared in his first regular season NHL game. This difference (age of the player measured in days) is then divided by 365 to convert it into years. Summary statistics (MIN, MAX, Average and Median) have been calculated using the described methodology.

To construct the charts, player age is rounded downwards to nearest integer to place each player in their respective rookie age group. In other words, if the player's age on the December 31st of his rookie season is 22.9 years, he will appear in the 22 year group.