When NHL training camps open, a significant number of the players in attendance will have gone as long as nine months without playing a competitive game.
In theory, players who have been playing in high-intensity games could have an advantage in the race to win roster spots. A number of those players could come from the junior ranks, where those players have been going full bore since their training camps started in September and by now are in midseason form.
Here are a few of the players, listed in alphabetical order, who could jump from junior hockey directly into the NHL for the 2012-13 season:
Alex Galchenyuk: This could be one of the Montreal Canadiens' toughest decisions when camp starts. Taken with the third pick of the 2012 draft despite playing just two regular-season games for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League last season due to a serious knee injury, Galchenyuk has spent this season proving he is 100 percent healthy. When he left to play for the United States at the World Junior Championship he was tied for the OHL lead with 27 goals in 33 games. He helped the Americans win gold at the tournament with two goals and six assists in seven games and was a threat on almost every shift. A natural center, he's been playing on the wing this season and hasn't missed a beat. The Canadiens have to decide if the limited high-level experience Galchenyuk has makes him NHL-ready, or if he needs another full season to develop.
Mikhail Grigorenko: The Buffalo Sabres need centers, and Grigorenko has shown outstanding skill in the middle this season with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He's fifth in the league with 29 goals and has 50 points in 30 games. He also had six points in seven games to help Russia win bronze at the WJC. Grigorenko's coach in Quebec, Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, thinks the 12th pick of the 2012 draft is NHL-ready; the question is whether the Sabres agree.
Dougie Hamilton: The Bruins selected the 6-foot-5, 199-pound defenseman with the ninth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft and have watched as his game has gotten better and better. Playing this season for the Niagara IceDogs, he leads all Ontario Hockey League defensemen with 33 assists and 41 points despite missing a month to play for Canada at the World Junior Championship. The Bruins will enter camp with a spot open for a defenseman, and it would be a surprise if the 19-year-old didn't grab it.
Jonathan Huberdeau: There isn't much left to accomplish in junior hockey for Huberdeau, the third pick of the 2011 draft. After helping the Saint John Sea Dogs win back-to-back Quebec Major Junior Hockey League titles and consecutive appearances in the Memorial Cup, Huberdeau is leading a struggling Saint John team this season with 16 goals and 45 points in 30 games. He also had nine points in six games for Canada at the WJC. The Panthers saw what Huberdeau could do last season when he had four points in five preseason games; now he's a year older, bigger and stronger, and looks like the ideal candidate to center the Panthers' second line.
Boone Jenner: The Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect has 27 goals in 32 games this season with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, more than the 22 he had in 43 games last season. The offense is nice, but the 2011 second-round pick has a well-rounded game that includes hefty helpings of grit, toughness and leadership. Jenner is an idea candidate to start the season as a checking-line center in Columbus.
Griffin Reinhart: Selected by the New York Islanders with the fourth pick of the 2012 draft, Reinhart is a big, nasty defenseman who is skilled at both ends of the ice. Reinhart has 14 points in 31 Western Hockey League games with the Edmonton Oil Kings this season and also played for Canada at the WJC. At 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds, Reinhart already has NHL size, and his hockey sense is one of the reasons he was selected so high. A spot on the second or third defense pairing could be available for him.
Morgan Rielly: Taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the fifth pick of the 2012 draft despite missing most of last season with a knee injury, the Moose Jaw Warriors' defenseman is 10th among Western Hockey League blueliners with 28 points in 33 games, and had a goal and two assists for Canada at the WJC. Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke generally is averse to 19-year-olds playing in the NHL, but with the departure of Luke Schenn and the injury to Jake Gardiner, Rielly could earn a roster spot with a solid training camp.
Mark Scheifele: The seventh pick in the 2011 draft got seven games with the Winnipeg Jets last season. Expect to see him for far longer with the team this time. The 6-foot-2, 184-pound center, in his third season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, leads the team in goals (21) and points (48). He also showed his versatility by sliding to right wing and leading Canada with five goals at the WJC. The Jets were 12th in the League in goals last season; having a player with Scheifele's ability centering one of their top two lines this season could raise that total.
Ryan Strome: The Islanders used the fifth pick of the 2011 draft on the 6-foot, 190-pound center and can't be disappointed with his progress. In his fourth season with the Niagara IceDogs, he's third in the OHL with 40 assists and 62 points. He also anchored the second line for Canada at the WJC and was second on the team with four goals. The 19-year-old should get a chance to earn the second-line center job in training camp.
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