INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05: Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants celebrates after the Giants defeated the Patriots by a score of 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
When people think of New York teams, what usually comes to mind are high-payrolled juggernauts (or colossal failures), filled with aging free agents and win-now components that eschew youth. But right now, all nine of the local teams are filled with a plethora of youngsters who are 23 years old or younger and starring for their respective teams. With dozens of guys to choose from, we've narrowed the list down to five. So with all due respect to Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrellson, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Williams, Carl Hagelin, Travis Hamonic, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Martin, Anders Nilsson, Casey Cizikas, Jacob Josefson, Prince Amukamara, Henry Hynoski, Linval Joseph, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, Jerrel Jernigan, Joe McKnight, Jeremy Kerley, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ruben Tejada and Michael Pineda, not to mention the guys who just missed the cut, Landry Fields, Brook Lopez, Michael Del Zotto, Artem Anisimov and Adam Henrique, here are the Top 5 local players who are 23 years old or younger.
5. Jeremy Lin: Yes, he's only started a dozen or so games so far, but he's been a real difference maker in his short time, more so than Lopez (who was the hardest to keep off this list) or Fields and some of the other guys that didn't make the Top 5. But at the same time, we can't put him higher than this either, as he still has a lot to prove. Lin has transformed the New York Knicks and turned them into a different team, possibly saving their season and his coach's job, not to mention setting numerous post-merger NBA records involving points and assists to begin a player's career as a starter. He's averaging 14.6 points a game and six assists this season (though his numbers for both are higher, of course, since he's been starting).
4. Derek Stepan: The 21-year-old New York Rangers center gets the nod over Henrique because he's slightly younger, already has an extra season under his belt and he's the top-line center on a first-place team. Stepan's playmaking abilities have meshed perfectly with Marian Gaborik, and his poise, presence and ice sense belie his young age. In his rookie year, he scored 21 goals and added 24 assists (and was a plus-8), and of course he began his career with a flourish with a hat trick in his very first game. This season, he's been even better, with 14 goals and 29 assists, and is a plus-24.
3. Ryan McDonagh: Thrust onto the top defensive pairing because of Marc Staal's absence to start the season, McDonagh, like Stepan, plays like a wily veteran. Matched against the top lines night after night, McDonagh (with Dan Girardi) rarely makes a mistake, makes intelligent decisions with the puck in his own end and is as solid as they come. And he's no slouch in the offensive end either, with six goals and 18 assists, after recording nine points in 40 games last season (and was a plus-16). He's plus-21 so far this year.
2. John Tavares: Now in his third season, the center has been getting better every year, and has become a dominating force on the ice. Only 21 years old, Tavares is the face of the franchise, and is playing like the No. 1 overall draft pick that he was. The leadership skills that he's shown at such a young age will most likely make him the next captain of the New York Islanders. After recording 54 and 67 points in his first two seasons, this year he has 63 points, with 26 goals and 37 assists.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul: The second-year player had a breakout season this year, with 16-and-a-half sacks (after five in his rookie year), which earned him an All-Pro berth. He's abnormally athletic for a defensive end, with freakishly long, Jerry Stiller-like arms, who can make plays all over the field, making sideline-to-sideline tackles, blocking field goals and sacking quarterbacks. He, of course, helped the New York Giants win a Super Bowl, which puts him at the top of this list.