It may still be a few years before anyone can determine just how deep the 2013 NHL Draft was, but the early returns are matching the hype that accompanied this year's class.
Seven of the top 10 picks survived the final round of training-camp cuts to make the opening-night roster of their respective teams. Six will definitely be in the lineup, with an injury potentially postponing the debut of Carolina Hurricanes forward Elias Lindholm.
It's the most top-10 picks to make opening-night rosters since seven members of the 2008 NHL Draft survived the final cuts in their first training camp. That year's rookie class included Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Mikkel Boedker and Josh Bailey, who started the season on injured reserve and didn't make his debut for the New York Islanders until November.
This year the survivors are Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers), Seth Jones (Nashville Predators), Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes), Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames), Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres) and Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas Stars).
"Seven is a lot, but I guess that's a testament to how people felt about the draft," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told NHL.com. "They felt it was a pretty good draft, a pretty deep draft and it looks like it's holding."
It's not surprising that MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick, and Jones, the No. 4 pick, made their respective opening-night rosters. They were expected to be there.
Similarly, Sean Monahan made it in Calgary partly on merit because he was impressive in training camp and in part because there was an opening on the roster with Michael Cammalleri (hand) on injured reserve to start the season.
It wasn't as clear-cut for Barkov, Lindholm, Ristolainen and Nichushkin. They all played professionally in Europe last season and were going to have to adjust to the North American rink, style, culture and systems. However, their respective general managers all said the same thing; that because they played professionally in Europe last season they had an advantage most 18-year-olds do not have and it likely led to them being ready to play in the NHL this season.
Barkov and Ristolainen played the past two seasons in Finland's SM-Liiga. Lindholm played 60 games over the past two seasons in the Swedish Elite League and Nichushkin played last season in the KHL.
"That's a big bonus," Stars general manager Jim Nill told NHL.com when talking about Nichushkin.
The advantage all seven rookies can claim is size.
MacKinnon, who is arguably the most skilled of the bunch, is the smallest at 6-foot, 182 pounds. Jones, Ristolainen and Nichushkin are 6-foot-4. Jones checks in at 205 pounds, Ristolainen at 219 and Nichushkin at 205, though Nill said he's really 215.
Barkov is 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Monahan is 6-2, 185 pounds and Lindholm is 6-1, 192 pounds.
"Size and physicality won't be an issue for [Nichushkin]," Nill said. "He's going to get tired here and there, but I know when he steps into a game he's not going to get outworked physically because he's a young player in a man's body and that helps. He's not overwhelmed at all."
At least not yet.
Like any rookie, these seven will be watched closely early in the season and there's a chance not all of them make it through a full season. MacKinnon, Jones and Monahan could go back to their respective junior teams while the four European rookies can go to the American Hockey League or return to their home countries.
But they're here now and there's reason to believe they're here to stay, which means there's a reason to believe in the hype that accompanied the 2013 draft class.
Fehr starts in an unfamiliar spot
Fehr opened the season Tuesday night as the Capitals' third-line center, a position he had never played before in the NHL. The Capitals opened the position for him by trading Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
"The last couple of years I really focused on being better in the 'D' zone, and that helped me be in this position now where they're confident in putting me down low and letting me play center," Fehr told NHL.com. "It's been a lot of work, but it's been fun to learn a new position. Being a center, being able to play both ends of the ice, is so valuable these days. It adds another element to your game."
Oates said Fehr's versatility was a key factor in his decision to make him a center for the start of this season. He also tried veteran wing Martin Erat at center, but Fehr had a stronger camp and was better in the position than Erat, who could see time in the middle down the road.
Fehr's most significant adjustment has been in the faceoff circle. He played in 306 career NHL games as a right wing and took only 22 faceoffs, winning just four of them. He won six of 10 against the Chicago Blackhawks in Washington's season-opening 6-4 loss.
"I worked a lot on draws [in training camp]," Fehr said. "That was the biggest concern for me coming in. I never took draws in the past. I've been working with the centermen a lot and they've been teaching me the tricks."
Nill continues to praise Nichushkin, other Dallas rookies
Nill said he and Dallas coach Lindy Ruff expected Nichushkin to push for a roster spot after watching him play in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament early last month, but a major reason why Nichushkin made it is because of how consistent his work ethic and focus has been since draft day.
"We forget these guys are 18 years old sometimes, but he's lived [in Dallas] all summer, he's committed to getting stronger and he's committed to being a good two-way player," Nill said. "Lindy Ruff sat down with him and one thing Valeri said was, 'I know I have to be a good two-way player, what do I have to do?' He's bought into the program, and at that age that's important."
Nichushkin isn't alone among Dallas' rookies who may have a big impact this season. Alex Chiasson, who turned 23 on Tuesday, will start the season as a top-six forward. Defenseman Kevin Connauton should be in the top six on the blue line.
"Lindy and I were talking the other night before an exhibition game, it was toward the end [of the preseason] and we said we needed to put our most experienced team on the ice," Nill said. "We put it together, looked at it and kind of laughed because they were all basically 24 or younger other than four or five guys. That's why Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, [Ray] Whitney, [Trevor] Daley and [Stephane] Robidas are so important to the team. We've got high energy, good speed, but it's important to have these veterans around who are teaching the young kids how to do it."
Need work, contact Dale Tallon
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon put out the help wanted sign before training camp opened last month and two NHL veterans, Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert, knocked on his door hoping for a chance to find work for the 2013-14 season. Tim Thomas came with his resume in hand a few days after camp opened and Ryan Whitney, after playing the entire preseason on a pro tryout agreement with the St. Louis Blues, came knocking last week.
It was just as important to Tallon that Thomas, Boyes, Gilbert and Whitney make the team as it was to the players themselves. They want to be in the NHL on guaranteed contracts and Tallon needs them to avoid throwing his top prospects into the NHL fire before they're ready.
"We want to make sure our young guys don't get destroyed, that they're ready when they're ready and we don't force them into the lineup," Tallon told NHL.com. "We still have to keep an eye on the present while not destroying our future."
Kruger can do more
Marcus Kruger may be in a fourth-line, penalty-killing role with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Swedish center wants to deliver more on the offensive end this season. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't be surprised if Kruger forced his hand and pushed his way higher up in the lineup soon.
One of the main reasons why Kruger hasn't been given a chance to be the second-line center is because of his PK prowess. Quenneville prefers it when his top penalty-killing forwards have smaller even-strength roles. However, Kruger is definitely an option to be the second-line center if Michal Handzus gets hurt or struggles early in the season.
"I know that we think of him having a real nice fit on that line, but he has that versatility where he can play with any of our top lines, our top guys," Quenneville said. "He sees plays offensively, can make plays and has good patience with the puck. He might not be playing with guys that score a lot of goals, but we're very confident those minutes when he's out there are big minutes for our team."
Kruger has 39 points in 125 career NHL games, including 13 points in 47 games last season. He was never a big-time scorer when he played in the Swedish Elite League, but he was a two-way threat and had 70 points in 105 career games with Djurgarden.
This and that
Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, can use this season with the Halifax Mooseheads to get stronger in all phases so when he comes to training camp next year his power will match his speed, vision and hockey sense. He now knows what NHL hockey looks like and he should be able to use that to his advantage.
He has nothing left to prove in the QMJHL, not after he scored 140 points in 66 games last season, but with another year of development he should be able to step right in next season and be an impact player. Yzerman didn't think he would have a major impact this season and he didn't want to stunt his growth. It's a shrewd move that could pay major dividends down the road.
Pominville, who was the Sabres captain until he was traded to the Minnesota Wild last season, said "it feels a little weird" when Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune asked him about Buffalo's captain situation on Tuesday.
Maybe down the road Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle will be wearing the "C" in Edmonton, but Ference can wear it for at least the next three seasons to help usher the Oilers into the next phase of their development. He's a personable, team guy, a proven winner and a community leader.
It makes perfect sense.
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"The camp was really just an extension of the end of the season. We had a good second half. Guys came to camp knowing what we were going to do, so we didn't have talk too much about it. The best part for me is we had three weeks for everybody to get in shape. Last year we had so many different levels of conditioning because some guys played games, some guys didn't. This year we're all on the same page."
"He's been everything and more than we could ask for. He wants to show the world that hey, whatever was out there was unjustified, that this is who he is as a player. He's been one of the best players on the ice for us since Day 1. He and Jamie Benn are really almost connected at the hip on and off the ice. They have a strong friendship going and they've been dynamic on the ice."
What's a bigger concern for the Blues, lack of goal scorers or goaltending? Are they a real contender? -- Daniel Berk (@DSBerk)
Goal scoring. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott should have good seasons because they're in contract years and Ken Hitchcock's system makes life a bit easier on goaltenders. However, St. Louis need more from David Backes, who had six goals last season. Derek Roy has to produce. Magnus Paajarvi can be better than he was in Edmonton. The Blues averaged 2.58 goals-per-game last season, slightly below average in the NHL. If they push that number up even just to 2.65 or 2.70, which would have put them closer to the top-10 last season, their goaltending will be good enough to make them a legitimate Cup contender with an improved offense.
What do you think the Oilers chances are of finally ending their playoff drought this season? -- Ryan Wales @ryan_wales9
They made quality moves in the offseason bringing in Andrew Ference, David Perron and Boyd Gordon. The problem is the Oilers are starting the season thin at center because of injuries. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out for the first month and Sam Gagner may not return until late November. If they can tread water without them the Oilers should be in position to make a run that could take them into the postseason. It's still too soon to tell.
Sean Couturier looked very good this preseason. Is this his breakout year? -- Kyle Pineda (@KylePineda2)
This could happen, and the Philadelphia Flyers would love it if it did. Couturier has done a bit of everything in his first two seasons. He's played in an offensive role and a defensive role. He's been on the power play and the penalty kill. He's good enough to put it all together this season. You still may want temper your expectations because despite being in his third season, Couturier is still 20 years old. However, he's a player who could have a big impact on the Flyers potentially getting back into the playoffs if coach Peter Laviolette trusts him in a prominent role.
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