Deadline to decide on 10 rookies approaching quickly
Is a one-week training camp and five regular-season games enough to judge a young player's ability to handle the rigors of the NHL?
For 10 general managers, that's the question they're on the clock to answer, and time -- like everything else in the 2012-13 season -- is running out fast.
Ten players on entry-level contracts made their NHL team's rosters for the start of the 2012-13 season, and with the abbreviated timeframe, teams have five games to judge their teenage prospects' NHL worthiness. Prior to playing a sixth game, teams can return players to their junior club and shift the start of their contract by one season. However, if the team keeps the prospect past the six-game mark, the player's contract goes into effect; while teams can return that player to his junior team at any time, it would waste the first year of the deal.
Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff recently was asked by the Buffalo News about one of his players, 18-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko, but the answer brings up questions that 10 other sets of NHL executives are asking themselves:
"We'll really evaluate everything," Ruff said. "What's the best for him? What's the best to push him to the next level? Can he help us win? Can he help us win in the role he's at? All those things will go into consideration. We want to do what's the best for us to win hockey games."
NHL.com takes a look at the 10 players, how they've fared so far and the likelihood of them staying in the NHL for the rest of the season.
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Mathew Dumba, Minnesota Wild -- The seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft was the youngest player in the League to make an opening-night roster by more than two months. The defenseman earned that spot thanks to a solid training camp, as well as injuries to Tom Gilbert and American Hockey League prospects Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin.
However, Gilbert recovered from a groin strain in time to play the first three games, relegating Dumba to the press box. Now, with Brodin recovered from his broken collarbone and recalled from the AHL on Thursday, Dumba could be on his way back to his junior team, the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. UPDATE: Dumba has been sent back to Red Deer.
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens -- Entering the season there were questions whether Galchenyuk would have the same explosiveness after missing almost all of last season after reconstructive knee surgery. The third pick of the 2012 draft showed during the first half of the season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League and with the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship that he was in good shape, and the forward's strong play is what helped him earn a top-nine forward spot with the Canadiens.
Galchenyuk scored his first NHL goal in his second game, and he's tied for third on the team with seven shots on goal in three games.
The Canadiens play their fifth game Jan. 29 at home against the Winnipeg Jets, and play Game No. 6 a day later at the Ottawa Senators. Coach Michel Therrien said the decision on Galchenyuk's future will be part of a discussion he'll soon be having with GM Marc Bergevin.
"It's a decision we'll make together, but we're not there yet," Therrien said. "He's doing well. … Honestly, up until now, I love what I've seen."
Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres -- The 12th pick of the 2012 draft has been held without a point through his first three games, but the forward has won 52.6 percent of his faceoffs in each game, and has played more than 11 minutes in each.
Grigorenko said he isn't watching the calendar, counting the days until the Sabres play their fifth game, Jan. 27 at the Washington Capitals, and said he isn't concerned about where he'll be Jan. 29, when the Sabres play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their sixth game.
"I don't really think about this," he told the Buffalo News. "I just come every day to the arena and try to think about the present, just get ready for practice, get ready for next game. I don't think about what's going to happen in one week, what's going to happen next weekend or something. For now, I'm just getting ready for [the next] game."
Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins -- The ninth pick of the 2011 draft, Hamilton picked up his first NHL point on Brad Marchand's power-play goal Wednesday against the New York Rangers. The defenseman has played an average of 18:40 per game (second among rookies) and has played the point on the team's second power-play unit. He had a game-high four shots Wednesday and earned rave reviews from coach Claude Julien.
"Anybody who watched the game [Wednesday] had to see that this guy was outstanding," Claude Julien said. "He's not just good, but outstanding. He was so poised and confident. If anybody thinks that this kid can't play in this League then they need to take a look at this game."
The Bruins will play their fifth game Jan. 28 at Carolina, then return home to play the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 the next night. It would be a major surprise to see Hamilton anywhere else than on the ice with his teammates.
Center - FLA
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 1
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers -- The third pick of the 2011 draft, Huberdeau had a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, but the forward has been held off the score sheet in his last three games.
Huberdeau had an outstanding preseason with the Panthers in September 2011, but the team sent him back to Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for another season of development. With another half-season of junior hockey plus a solid turn at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, the Panthers are happy with their decision.
The Panthers will play their sixth game Jan. 29 at the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it appears that barring injury Huberdeau will be in the starting lineup that night, and for many more to come.
"With Jonathan, the difference between an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old is huge," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen told the Miami Herald. "You see a difference in maturity, and he had that extra year to develop as a person and a player. He wasn't part of that important first step of us making the playoffs, but he's going to be with us for a long, long time."
Scott Laughton, Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers started last season with an 18-year-old center on their roster in 2011 first-round pick Sean Couturier, and started 2012-13 the same way with Laughton, the 20th pick of the 2012 draft.
Laughton is the youngest player in the League to play a game this season. He's earned strong reviews despite still looking for his first point after four games. He's averaged 10:39 of ice time per game and though he's won 43.8 percent of his faceoffs, his success rate has gone up in each of his four games, topped by winning 50 percent Thursday against the New York Rangers.
"He's an impressive young player that plays the game properly in his own end and skates real well," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. "He brings an element of toughness to his game. He's really good on faceoffs. … We'll see where it goes."
Center - PHI
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 9 | +/-: 0
Helping Laughton has been injuries to three regular forwards, among them a wrist injury sustained by Danny Briere that has kept him out all season and a broken foot that will sideline Scott Hartnell 4-8 weeks. And with the Flyers' fifth and sixth games coming back-to-back Saturday and Sunday at the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flyers might not have a choice but to keep Laughton, rather than return him to his junior team, the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
Stefan Matteau, New Jersey Devils -- The 29th pick of the 2012 draft, Matteau averaged 9:01 of ice time in his first two NHL games, but managed to put six shots on net, fourth-most on the team.
The Devils aren't in a great rush to make a decision on keeping Matteau or returning him to his junior team, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL. New Jersey doesn't play its fifth game until Jan. 29 at Boston, then returns home for its sixth game Jan. 31 against the New York Islanders. Matteau brings a solid element of skill and toughness, and at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he certainly has NHL size.
The question, however, is if he'll be able to develop his full skill set playing limited minutes in a short season for a team with hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Final, or if he should go back to playing a top-line role for his junior team and return next season for a regular training camp.
"He's going to be a good NHL player for a long time," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether that's this year or down the road, those are decisions that are above me. But he's willing to learn and has good hockey sense, good size and plays the game the right way. He's eager and has done a good job."
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks -- The Swedish forward rode the momentum of a strong season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL right into a full-time job with the Ducks. Through two games, the 30th pick of the 2011 draft has three shots and a minus-1 rating while playing about nine minutes per game on the fourth line in the first two games.
"When I had Nick Backstrom I had him on the fourth line for the first 10 games just so he could get adjusted to the League and then he sort of warmed up to that," Boudreau told the Orange County Register.
With Rakell sitting out Friday's game against the Vancouver Canucks, the Ducks won't have to make a decision on Rakell until the end of the month. If he sits out one game, his sixth game will be Feb. 2 at home against the Los Angeles Kings, giving them lots of evaluation time.
"There's no sense letting him hang around and think about it," Boudreau said. "Let's throw him in the fire right away and see how he reacts to it. Might be positive. Might be negative. We're going to see how it goes."
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets -- The first draft pick of the new Jets got a taste of the NHL last season, and is back again hoping for a full-time spot. Through his first three games, the seventh pick of the 2011 draft has five shots but no points. After playing more than 11 minutes in the season opener, he was below nine minutes of ice time the next two games, and he was a healthy scratch Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Scheifele dominated in junior hockey this season, with 49 points in 30 games with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, and he shifted to right wing to star for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, finishing with five goals and eight points in six games.
He's played some center but mostly right wing with the Jets, but his opportunity to continue in the NHL is questionable. If he sits out the one game, the Jets will have to decide on keeping Scheifele or sending him back to junior before playing Jan. 31 at the Florida Panthers.
"He's been reasonably good," Jets coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Sun. "This isn't a race to five games for us. It's a time we've got to help him grow, help him feel comfortable. Our situation doesn't lend itself too great for him."
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers -- The first pick of the 2012 draft certainly has shown a flair for the dramatic, scoring a pair of goals in three games, including a dramatic game-tying goal with 4.7 seconds left in regulation Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings that saw him celebrate by sliding on his knees the length of the ice.
There was little doubt entering the season that Yakupov would become the latest addition to the Oilers' burgeoning youthful brigade of talent. So barring injury, it's likely the Oilers' sixth game, Jan. 30 at the Phoenix Coyotes, will feature Yakupov in the lineup.
Teammates certainly would like him to stay.
"It's unbelievable the passion he plays with," Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "He gets his teammates going and his fans going."