It’s almost a month since the 2016/17 NHL season got underway and it’s definitely been an exciting start, decisions are coming for NHL GM’s as they have to decide if they’re going to burn a year of some of this year’s rookie’s entry level deals or send them back down to junior.
One of the players who before the season began I thought I’d be writing about being on the cusp of staying in the league or going back down to the OHL, Mitch Marner is not going to be spoken about in this article past this paragraph (he probably will, I’m a hypocrite). Marner has been on fire for the Toronto Maple Leafs and he has nothing to worry about and will be with the Leafs all the way to the end of the season.
The Montreal Canadiens have already sent 18-year old defenceman Mikhail Sergachev back to the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League, he only played three games after the Canadiens decided to give him a shot at cracking the lineup and was averaging just north of 10 minutes a game in those outings. With defensemen, it’s always a little harder to crack the NHL as a teenager, the very nature of the position means it is very easy to be caught out if you’re not quite at the NHL level yet. Unfortunately for Sergachev that was the case this year, but the Habs have a pretty solid blueliner of the future when he is ready.
Over in Philadelphia, the Flyers gave spots to teenagers Travis Konecny who they selected 24th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and Ivan Provorov who was the seventh overall pick in 2015.
The consensus for these two players coming into the season was that they will stay for the full 82-game stint, and now they have both played 10 games in the NHL this season so they’ve already burnt a year of their entry level deal. That doesn’t mean they won’t be sent back down to the OHL (Konecny) and WHL (Provorov) but with them not looking out of place in the big leagues, it’s probably true that they’re here for the year.
Arizona has one of the best prospect pools in the entire league and this year they have three young guys to decide on. Jakob Chychrun looks the most likely out of their three rookies to stay in the league this season, the 18-year old defenceman has three-points and is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time. The Coyotes still have a little longer to decide on Chychrun’s fate as he’s made 7 appearances so far.
The other two players the Coyotes must decide on his Dylan Strome and Lawson Crouse. So far, Crouse probably looks likely to be heading down to the OHL, he’s big and strong enough to stay in the league but he needs to refine his skills to become an NHLer and I think he’ll probably go back down. Strome on the other hand, he was in a similar situation to Mitch Marner at the start of the season (told you I’d be a hypocrite). He’s not quite ready for the NHL but he’s wasted and it would probably do more harm than good to send him back to the OHL and the Erie Otters. I personally think that Chychrun and Strome will stay in the NHL this year but Crouse will be back in junior hockey before the middle of November.
One player that interests me is Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils. The 19-year old Czech forward made one appearance for the Devils last season, getting two assists in his debut. This year he’s made 8 appearances for three points and personally I think he’s set to stay in the NHL for a little while longer. The Devils may do what the Oilers did with Leon Draisaitl back in 2014-15. After 37 games the Oilers sent the German back to the WHL, burning a year of his contract and I think the Devils will likely give Zacha a little more time before fully committing to keeping him or sending him back for the rest of the year.
Two players that I am fully expecting to be sent down to the WHL and QMJHL respectively are Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders and Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators.
Barzal has only played twice this year and is yet to put up his first points in the NHL, and given the Islanders centre depth he’s facing a struggle to get regular minutes so another stint with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds is probably waiting for him, whereas Chabot has made just the one appearance so far, so it’s highly unlikely that he’ll stay in the Canadian capital for long.
While Barzal has struggled for the Islanders, one player who is likely to be given more time by the team is 19-year old Anthony Beauvillier who is currently 10th in rookie scoring so far with 5 points in 8 games.
The former Shawinigan Cataractes captain has been one of the better rookies so far and is probably going to get a full 82 game stint, and if he carries on he could potential compete for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
One guy that I’ve saved for the last is Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames as I don’t even think that the Flames know where he’s going to be in the next few weeks.
In 8 games, he’s scored once and assisted three for four points, he’s not a bad player and he’s doing good as a rookie, it’s likely the son of Keith Tkachuk will get past the 9-game threshold and may, like I said with Pavel Zacha, he may get sent down later in the season.
Some teams are in a more fortunate position with their rookies, the Edmonton Oilers for example, Jesse Puljujarvi is doing pretty good but if they want to give him some more conditioning they can send him to the AHL, same with the Jets and Patrik Laine (they won’t be they can).
This year has got some very exciting rookies to watch, and the next few days will be huge for the players themselves. Either way, it’s way too early in the season to say whether sending a rookie back to junior can help a team win the cup, but it’s fun to speculate.
**Side note – As pointed out by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid is still young enough to be sent back to the OHL’s Erie Otters**