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Neal: Count your lucky (young!) stars, Minnesota sports fans

Wolves guard Anthony Edwards arrived at the free-throw line Thursday and pump-faked Memphis' Xavier Tillman off his feet. That gave Edwards a good look at the rim.

He passed up that shot, though, to pass to himself.

He threw the ball off the backboard, barreled down the lane, grabbed the rebound and threw down a two-handed jam that had TNT announcer Kevin Harlan screaming like he did when he called Wolves games back in the day.

Edwards is only 22 years old, and there's no "can't" in Ant. He's the most dynamic player on one of the best teams in the NBA.

There are many veterans of international hockey taking part in the nascent Professional Women's Hockey League. The Minnesota entry rallied for a 3-2 win over Ottawa on Wednesday. Grace Zumwinkle, 24, scored her league-leading fifth goal. Taylor Heise, 23, has her picture on the league's website as one of its stars. A team with several local products entered the weekend at the top of the first-year league's standings.

Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson posted his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. He did it in just 10 games because of an injury. His 5,899 receiving yards are the most in the first four seasons of an NFL career. It's already more than any Chicago Bears receiver has amassed in a career. And the Bears have existed since 1920.

He might be the best non-quarterback in the NFL. And Jefferson is just 24.

See the pattern here?

Let's not get into the championship drought vexing most of our pro sports teams. This actually is a fun time to be a sports fan here. Every pro team in the Twin Cities has a player who not only is the best player on his or her team but also is among the best in the league and — this is the important part — 27 or younger.

Young stars with upside. They provide hope. They can be the ones to pull your favorite team out of oblivion. With so much of their careers in front of them, imagine what they can achieve once experience blends with their elite talent.

The four-time champion Minnesota Lynx seemed headed for a slide in 2022 after going 14-22 and missing the postseason. Prospects for the 2023 season were bleak. Napheesa Collier missed 2022 to pursue victory off the court — she had a baby — and returned for 2023. She averaged a career-high 21.5 points and lifted the Lynx to the postseason. Collier is hitting her prime at 27. She can lead the revival of Minnesota's most successful pro franchise.

Pitching carried the Twins all season, from staff ace Pablo López (age 27) to closer Jhoan Durán (26). The offense was putrid before Royce Lewis recovered from a knee injury and was plugged back into the lineup. In 58 games, Lewis hit .309 with 15 homers and 52 RBI.

The 24-year-old Lewis already has five career grand slams. His bat, glove and charisma could lead the Twins for years. Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton have name recognition, sure. It will be Lewis' team sooner than later.

Kirill Kaprizov, at 26, is one of the best scorers in hockey. I've determined that by watching the amount of hits he takes from opponents attempting to marginalize his influence on games. Winnipeg, Boston and St. Louis are three teams that immediately come to mind for getting licks in on our No. 97. He's missed six games this season with an upper-body injury but is still averaging nearly a point a game.

The Wild are on their second coach this season and the injuries keep coming. Kaprizov is the best reason to head to Xcel Energy Center. Now just protect the poor guy.

And here's a tip of the cap to Loons midfield maestro Emmanuel Reynoso, although at 28, he's creeping toward 30. And he didn't report to preseason camp for the second consecutive season.

There's a young star playing in a local stadium or arena every night — most not older than 27, with some still waiting to turn 25 so their car insurance rates can drop. Each one is or on the cusp of being the face of their franchise. We should feel lucky