Remember when you were 18-years-old and were ready to go out on your own? You probably felt like you had learned all that you needed to learn and were ready to take the next step to adulthood. Everyone thinks they’re ready. But parents—they’re not always in agreement. They know that sometimes kids are ready to spread their wings and sometimes they’re not quiet there yet. They know that there will be ups and downs, but no matter how confident their child is—they’re going to be in for some rough times in the beginning. That doesn’t make them bad kids. And when the parents watch them leave to “grow up,” it doesn’t mean they are bad parents. All a parent can do is what they think is in their child’s best interests, even when they disagree.
In hockey, we get to watch organizations struggle every year with the same dilemma:keeping their 18-year-old hot-shot prospects in the NHL or sending them back to juniors to continue their development. In just about every situation, the player wants to (and thinks they should) stay because they’re ready. But just like those kids who leave home, sometimes it’s best for someone with a little more experience to make the decision and look out for their well-being.
We know that any 18-year-old earning the right to stay with their NHL team is going to go through some growing pains. Look no further than last year’s #2 overall pick, Victor Hedman. All signs point to Hedman being a fantastic defenseman who could have a very long career—but last season was filled with ups and downs. That’s how it is with youth. They’re learning and it’s going to happen. The NHL team just had to decide if they want their prized young talent to make his mistakes at the NHL level or go back to juniors to work on his game. It’s always been a tough decision, but with the current CBA mapping out entry-level deals and free agency it’s even tougher. Do you want to watch a prized prospect struggle to find himself in the NHL at 18 or 19 while he’s burning a year off of his entry-level deal? Or send him back when all signs tell you he could hang in the NHL if you really wanted him to? Questions like these make general managers earn their money.
With that in mind, here’s a snapshot of the top 12 players drafted in the 2010 NHL Draft. (No one drafted out of the top 12 made their team out of training camp). 6 of the 12 started the season at the NHL level and their GMs have 9 games to decide if they’ll stay there for the duration. Each team and player has a different set of circumstances, so we figured it would be a good time to break down each situation.
1. Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers
There’s a ton of debate in the Oilosphere about whether or not it’s best for Edmonton to send the #1 overall pick down to Windsor for the rest of the year. Should the Oilers save a year on Hall’s entry-level deal since this season is presumably a lost cause? Should they move him from the top line to the 3rd line to help his long-term growth? Whether Edmonton is going to be successful this year or not, it will be a hell of a sell for management to ship off the player who is promoting their hope.
2. Tyler Seguin – Boston Bruins
The Bruins say they want to take things slow with Seguin. But taking things slow and sending him back to Plymouth are two completely different things. With Marc Savard still feeling his way through post-concussion syndrome (for at least another month), Boston’s log-jam at center temporary opened up and gave Seguin a chance to show his stuff. As it stands now, it seems like everyone around the Bruins’ organization is impressed with his hockey IQ and they’d like to see him continue to learn at the highest level.
“He’ll be learning from now until his final game, whether it’s regular season or playoffs… The beautiful thing about him is his [brain.] He’s got good hockey IQ. He’s picking up things right away.” –Andy Brickley (via Big Bad Blog)
3. Eric Gudbranson – Florida Panthers
Sent back to juniors before season. Management unable to agree on bonus framework to sign the defenseman to an entry-level contract. But if his preseason told us anything, it’s that he’ll be on the team next year.
4. Ryan Johansen – Columbus Blue Jackets
Sent back to juniors (Portland) before the season. The plan from the beginning for the high-rising Johansen was another year in juniors to continue his rapid growth as a top-flight pivot. Remember, just two seasons ago he was a kid unable to produce in Junior B. Another year of seasoning isn’t the worst thing in the world.
5. Nino Niederreiter – New York Islanders
El Nino looks like could be one of the toughest decisions out there. The guy who impressed in the World Junior Championships is smack in the middle of a controversy. Some people within the organization think his growing pains this season are worth the trouble because it gets them out of the way a year earlier. Others argue that one of the biggest problems with the Islanders organization recently has been their insistence to rush 1st rounders to the NHL before they’re ready.
“Is Niederreiter ‘initiating,’ being ‘more involved all over,’ and being bigger, stronger and a better skater than Bailey and John Tavares were in their first months enough? The Islanders are over the moon about the third-year result of the Bailey experiment. It would seem to reason, especially since they consider Niederreiter a more polished player at 18, the Islanders would learn toward keeping the big forward along for the ride.” –Chris Botta (islanderspointblank.com)
Honestly, on another team Niederreiter is sent back to the Portland Winterhawks to keep improving as a prospect. He’s shown flashes of the talent that made him the #5 overall pick, but more often than not he’s shown that he’s still 18. I’ve heard of bringing up a prospect too fast—but never heard of a team showing too much patience. Even though he should be on his way back to the WHL, I expect that the Islanders will keep him around for the rest of the year. Hopefully they’ll prove me wrong.
6. Brett Connolly – Tampa Bay Lightning
Sent back to juniors (Prince George) before the season. Connolly only played in 16 games last season due to hip injuries, so it’s not surprising Yzerman and Co. want him to gain another year of seasoning. He’s a goal scorer who already has 11 goals in 11 games this season. If they wanted him to gain confidence, then mission accomplished.
7. Jeff Skinner – Carolina Hurricanes
The most impressive 2010 draftee through the first two weeks of the season, Skinner looks like he’s here to stay. Even though it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that he’d make the team out of training camp, he was the most impressive player for the Canes in the preseason. On Opening Night in Helsinki he potted the game-winner in the shootout and has been consistently around the puck in every game he’s played. Kitchener’s loss is Carolina’s gain.
8. Alexander Burmistrov – Atlanta Thrashers
Burmistrov is an interesting case study because of the type of game he’s played. If you look at his boxcar numbers (or lack thereof), you’d say it’s a sure bet he’ll be sent back to Barrie. But if you actually watch the work he’s put in on the 4th line and penalty kill, the decision becomes a little more difficult. Before the draft, he was touted as a guy who could play a great two-way game in the Pavel Datsyuk mold. Through the first six games of his career, he’s already showing signs that he’ll have the defensive side of that comparison covered.
“Like Kane last year, Burmistrov has also won some points playing well on the PK unit, averaging 2:18 TOI while the team is shorthanded. Plus he has the ability/willingness to back-check very well.
The young rookie may still get out-muscled on some occasions, but he injects a great deal of speed and craftiness in this offense. He’s taken only one minor penalty, (interference), but has drawn multiple.” -Ice Man Blog, AJC.com
Fans want him to stay, and when push comes to shove I’m inclined to agree. Craig Ramsay has shown confidence in him and it’s never a bad thing to have the head coach as a fan. But with Patrice Cormier coming back to the line-up, the Thrashers are going to have to make room for him on the roster.
9. Mikael Granlund – Minnesota Wild
Granlund isn’t getting near the hype as some of the other rookies, but that’s mostly because the Wild decided early on he would continue his development in Finland. But don’t think just because he isn’t getting the national hype that he isn’t on the Wild’s radar.
“He can fly up the ice, handles the puck smoothly and almost casually creates offense. He wants the puck, he wants to hang onto it and he can anticipate what to do with it.” –Michael Russo (Star Tribune)
Through 12 games he has 3 goals and 8 assists for his Finnish Elite Club IFK. Not too bad when you factor in that it’s considered the 2nd best league in Europe. Right now the plan is for him to play the rest of the season in Europe, sign him sometime this year, and bring him over next year. If he continues on this path, he’ll have no problem making the Wild’s opening night roster next season.
10. Dylan McIlrath – New York Rangers
Sent back to juniors (Moose Jaw) before the season. The 6’5” defenseman is probably still a couple of years away from the NHL. He projects to be one of those mean, in-your-face defensemen that plays a rock-solid, dependable game and keeps the puck out of his own net. That takes time to develop.
11. Jack Campbell – Dallas Stars
Sent back to juniors (Windsor) before the season. Campbell is the goaltender of the future for the Stars—and they will bring him along carefully. Getting shelled in the OHL is a little more acceptable when grooming a goaltender than rushing him to the NHL and watching him get rocked.
12. Cam Fowler – Anaheim Ducks
There’s no question the surprise of the draft was Fowler’s free-fall out of the top 5. In the beginning of the season, it looks like he’s doing is best to shove that rather large chip on his shoulder down the throats of every team that passed on him. He’s already one of the best point men on Anaheim’s power play. His first goal of the season showed he has the skill to produce at this level, and his end to end rush in the same game showed that he is gaining confidence everyday. However, on the end of that rush, Shane Doan broke his nose and gave him TWO black eyes. Just a subtle reminder that he still has a few things to learn.
Fowler is a likely bet to stick for the rest of the season, partly due to his talent and partly due to the Ducks’ lack of depth on the blue line. When the Ducks put Brendan Mikkelson on waivers (and he was claimed by Calgary), it made Fowler’s promotion even more likely.