The New York Islanders hadn't kept a 19-year-old on their roster for an entire season since 2011, but Anthony Beauvillier forced their hand in October.
The 2015 first-rounder played his way onto the roster out of training camp and held his own in his rookie year, scoring 24 points (9G, 15A) in 66 games, validating the decision to let him learn in the NHL.
"You always hesitate to play those guys at this age even in this league where it's a young league," Islanders Head Coach and Assistant GM Doug Weight said. "We made the right decision. He's matured and proved he can play in the league and he's going to get nothing but stronger."
Beauvillier's versatility was a key to staying in the lineup throughout the season. He was a utility piece for the coaches, switching between center and the wing and helping fill holes in the lineup. His played up and down the lineup, able to take on a checking or a top-six role, flashing his skill when he had opportunities. Beauvillier's goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in November was a snapshot of his season, being a pesky checker to force a turnover on the offensive blue line before roofing a backhand deke on Matt Murray.
Video: PIT@NYI: Beauvillier scores beautiful breakaway goal
The rookie said he gained confidence in his game as the season wore on, becoming an everyday player - save for three missed games - in the second half.
"I felt better on the ice, felt better in the locker room and felt more a part of this team," Beauvillier said. "When you play, it's way better, you just feel way better about yourself. Lots of ups and downs, but great first season, a lot of great people in this room. It's been great."
The 2015 first-rounder got some unprompted praise from John Tavares during clean out day. Beauvillier's stall was next to Tavares' in the Islanders locker room at Northwell Health Ice Center and for brief stints, Beauvillier played alongside the captain.
"Just to see the growth he had from the beginning of the year to the end and the confidence he was playing with. You could just see his growth in his game and as a person," Tavares said. "He's going to be a real cornerstone of this team for a long time."
Beauvillier scored a handful of highlight-reel goals in his first season, but his favorite moment was scoring in his triumphant return home to Montreal. For a kid from the Montreal suburbs, lighting the lamp at the Bell Centre is a dream come true.
Video: NYI@MTL: Beauvillier beats Price to make dad tear up
"It was so special. Having my parents, my family, my friends, old coaches, teammates, it was probably one of the best memories I've ever had in my life," Beauvillier said. "It was great. My first game as well at MSG was special as well. I flew down my brother and my parents were there. These are great moments and I'll never forget about it."
The rookie won't forget the learning curve in the NHL either. Missing the playoffs by one point emphasizes the importance of every game and Beauvillier saw first-hand the physical toll of an NHL season. Plus, going from top-dog in junior to the bottom of the NHL totem poll reinforces getting to the league is only part of the journey and he'll have to continue to raise his game if he wants to be great.
"It's hard to win in this league. I know I had a good taste of what it takes now and I'll be more ready next year," Beauvillier said. "It'll be a big summer for me and I know what it takes, so it's going to be, I wouldn't say easier, but better for me next year.