The common refrain from players and team executives at the NHL Entry Draft is that getting drafted, while wonderful, memorable and exciting, is just the first step toward becoming an NHL player.
For a handful of the 30 players picked in the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft, that first step is close to becoming a direct leap from dream to reality.
When the final rosters were submitted Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, six players picked in the 2009 Entry Draft remained on their respective team's roster.
Not surprisingly, the first four picks of the draft still are with their teams -- the New York Islanders
' John Tavares
, the Tampa Bay Lightning
's Victor Hedman
, Matt Duchene
of the Colorado Avalanche
and Evander Kane
of the Atlanta Thrashers
. Also making it was defenseman Dmitry Kulikov
, taken No. 14 by the Florida Panthers
The big surprise, however, was Ryan O'Reilly
, the Colorado Avalanche
's second-round pick (No. 33). The 6-foot, 200-pound center was scoreless in five preseason games but still made an impression on coach Joe Sacco.
"Right now, I see Ryan as a good penalty killer," Sacco told the Avs' Web site. "Throughout the preseason he's been one of our top penalty-killing forwards, which is pretty impressive for an 18-year old. He has good instincts."
Going into the draft, O'Reilly was lauded for his defensive smarts as well as an offensive game that saw him score 66 points in 68 games for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.
"He's very responsible defensively," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He backchecks hard and he's very good at identifying his check in his own end. That's probably something that he's had to do because (Erie) struggled for a couple years. … He's very good at the defensive end of the game, smarts-wise, at identifying people to pick up in his own end."
"He's a special player," Erie GM Sherry Bassin told NHL.com. "He's nowhere near the level he's going to be. He really accepts the challenge of getting better. He really believes in the team winning, not himself. I haven't had a kid that's so focused on preparation and just working on getting better. He's got such a work ethic you almost have to pull him away. We always talk about the will to prepare -- well, he's got a phenomenal will to prepare. His ability with the puck and his vision … his skating will get so much better because he'll find a way to get better. In drills he forces himself to do things just to get an advantage.
"The people that pass him up in the draft at the appropriate spot will regret they passed him up. We've just seen the tip of the iceberg on this guy."
Avalanche GM Greg Sherman wasn't intimately involved with O'Reilly's selection in June -- he had been hired only a couple of weeks earlier -- but he's been duly impressed.
"Ryan came to our development camp and rookie camp and made an impression," Sherman told NHL.com. "At this point we're excited he's going to start with us."
Last season, 10 players taken in the first round in 2008 were on opening-night rosters, 11 first-round picks (plus Ottawa third-round pick Zack Smith
) played at least one NHL game and six -- Steven Stamkos
(No. 1, Lightning), Drew Doughty
(No. 2, Kings), Zach Bogosian
(No. 3, Thrashers), Luke Schenn
(No. 5, Maple Leafs), Mikkel Boedker
(No. 8, Coyotes), and Josh Bailey
(No. 9, Islanders) lasted all season in the NHL.
While that impressive feat won't be repeated, those that made it as 18-year-olds have accomplished a lot.
"All are very deserving," Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "Based on the trend toward keeping players, whether that trend is a little bit stronger because they're more of a bargain then the free agents that remain out there, more and more players are making the NHL these days as 18-year-olds."
Last season, five 18-year-old defensemen were on opening-night NHL rosters -- Doughty, Bogosian, the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo
(No. 4 pick), Schenn and the Flyers' Luca Sbisa
(No. 19) -- a shocking number considering that in the previous 15 years, only nine 18-year-old blueliners had played in the NHL.
This season, Hedman and Kulikov have duplicated their feat.
Calvin de Haan
, taken No. 12 by the New York Islanders
, and John Moore, taken No. 21 by the Columbus Blue Jackets
, almost made that group four. Both lasted until the final week of the preseason before being returned to their respective junior teams.
"I don't know if I'm surprised," Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told NHL.com regarding Moore's performance in camp. "I'm more surprised he's played so well. I expected we would get him some experience this year, get him in two or three games, and he's more than held his own."
Still, Howson decided Monday that Moore's development was better served in the junior ranks with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Moore had 4 assists in five preseason games and was a plus-2. He averaged about 15 minutes per game, topped by the 17:21 he played last Thursday against Pittsburgh. Howson said he and the rest of his staff were most impressed by Moore's skating, poise and confidence with the puck.
"He's not sliding back at all as the competition gets higher, as the exhibition games go on," Howson said. "He seems to be getting better."
The Isles felt the same about de Haan, who scored a goal in his first preseason game.
"To watch him move around on the ice, the way he moves the puck, the way he plays, he's going to be a good defenseman," Islanders coach Scott Gordon
said. "He hasn't done anything that said, right now, that he can't play for us. … He looks comfortable out there, and he's definitely going to be a dynamic offensive player. He's very comfortable out there playing his game."
Still, the club saw fit to return de Haan to the Oshawa Generals for another season of development.
A player with junior eligibility remaining can play nine NHL games before a team has to decide on keeping him for the season or returning him to junior and not losing a year of his entry-level contract.
That was the dilemma facing Los Angeles Kings
GM Dean Lombardi regarding Brayden Schenn
, the fifth pick in this year's draft. But packed with young players, the Kings had the liberty of returning the talented center to the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, which they did Monday.
"I think the world of him," Lombardi said. "I think his game is someday going to translate into a playoff-type game. … He's going to a good team in Brandon, where he should be captain. He'll play in the world juniors and he should wear a (captain or alternate captain's) letter and they're going to have the Memorial Cup there.
"I'm sad to see him go but it's the right thing to do."
The Kings are one of more than a few teams that don't have the room to allow an 18-year-old player to develop if it's obvious they need more development time. Other clubs, however, are keeping an open mind and subscribe to Howson's theory of keeping the 22 or 23 best players.
"We're going to keep anybody and everybody who can help us win," Howson said. "If we think John can help us win beyond nine games and over 80 games, that's something we'd look at.
"Whether he's 19 or 39, it's if he can help us win."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.