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Numerous rookies making their push to stay put

by Adam Kimelman
Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle knows the rules concerning players on their entry-level contracts and how many games they can play in the NHL before teams have to make decisions on whether those players stay or are sent back to their junior teams.

But when it comes to his player, power forward Devante Smith-Pelly, he's tossing those numbers in the trash for a more empirical look.

"We try to do an analysis," Carlyle told the Orange County Register. "Is he making a contribution to our group? He's been a steady player. He's had some ups and downs. He's been in some situations where he does excel at if he stays on the body and plays that neat and tidy game."

Devante Smith-Pelly is trying to make his case to stay with the Ducks this season. (Getty Images)
Regardless of Carlyle's opinion, the 10-game threshold is a big one, and there are consequences for both the player and team if he skates in a 10th game. Most importantly, it uses up a year on his entry-level deal. If the player is sent back prior to playing in 10 games, he can't be recalled unless it's under emergency situations prior to the end of the player's season in junior hockey.
In Smith-Pelly's case, his ninth game will be Thursday against Minnesota. The 2010 second-round pick has 1 assist and a minus-3 rating in seven games, playing right wing on the third line.

He said in his conversations with Ducks GM Bob Murray, the games-played issue never arose.

"He said that nine-game mark … he's not too worried about burning a year on the contract or whatever," Smith-Pelly said Tuesday. "He says as long as I deserve to be here, I will be. If or when that time comes, if I don't deserve to be here, I won't … whether it's seven games, 10 games or 80 games. That kind of makes me feel like I’m doing some things right and making the decision pretty hard on them."

The same could be said of Brett Bulmer in Minnesota. The Wild's 2010 second-round pick, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right wing has 3 assists in eight games, but is building a reputation as a grinding agitator -- he's tied for third on the team with 16 hits. He's averaging 11:05 per game in ice time, but has played well enough to earn a spot on the second power-play unit.

Bulmer will play his ninth game Thursday against the Ducks, with game No. 10 coming Saturday against Detroit. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said no decision has been made, but he's liked what he's seen so far.

"Every day in the NHL is an important day, so if he's continuing to develop and improve as a player and making contributions to our team, then I'm not sure why we're bringing academic arguments into the equation," Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "If he can't keep up or he's not contributing, then clearly it's in everyone's best interest to send him back. But to me, he's a much better player today than he was the first day of training camp. We'll see. Again, we have some tough games coming up. There will be lots of challenges for Brett. But he seems to be the type of kid that relishes those challenges, as opposed to getting concerned about them."


Decision time looms for '11 picks in NHL

Adam Kimelman - Staff Writer
The five members of the 2011 draft class still on NHL rosters are coming up on their ninth games, after which their entry-level contracts will kick in if they aren't returned to juniors. READ MORE ›
While Minnesota and Anaheim have a bit of time to make their decisions, the clock is running a bit faster on Tampa Bay and forward Brett Connolly, who played his ninth game Tuesday against Buffalo.

Connolly, the sixth pick of the 2010 draft, went scoreless with a plus-1 rating in 11:54 of ice time against the Sabres, but after the game Lightning GM Steve Yzermzan told the St. Petersburg Times that Connolly would be remaining with the team.

"We feel Brett's shown that he belongs in the NHL and makes our team better," he wrote in a text message. "So, we've decided to keep him."

In nine games, Connolly has 2 assists, but is tied for the team lead with a plus-5 rating and is averaging 13:54 of ice time per game.

Playing at times on a line with veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis certainly has helped his development.

"Both guys have Stanley Cups and a lot of experience, so, for me, it's nice to have a couple of guys like that I can talk to," Connolly told the Times before Tuesday's game. "I'm just trying to take as much knowledge as I can."

Connolly said earlier this week he's trying not to worry about the future, only about the next game.

"For me, it's the same mindset I've had," he told the Tribune. "I'm just trying to take things one day at a time and improve every day. I'm just looking to try to help the team win and try not to think about it too much.

"I'm looking forward to that decision and seeing what they have to say. It's been in the back of my mind, for sure, but you have to push that aside and play your game, try to do the things you can do. And at the end of the day all you can do is play your best, and then we'll see what happens.''

Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson endured the same wait-and-see attitude -- that is until the Florida Panthers informed him he will be with the team for the season after Thursday's morning skate against Ottawa.

The third pick of the 2010 draft still is looking for his first NHL point after eight games, but the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder leads the team with 24 penalty minutes while averaging 12:14 in ice time per game. He's been paired mostly with veteran Ed Jovanovski.

Ryan Johansen
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 2
Two other rookies will face the same decision in the coming weeks. Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen has played in just six of the Blue Jackets' first nine games, but the fourth pick of the 2010 draft has played in four straight games, and had his best game Tuesday, scoring his first NHL goal and adding an assist in the Blue Jackets' first win of the season.

He played 16:54 Tuesday, spread across a season-high 25 shifts, and comes one game after he played a season-high 17:14 against Ottawa on Saturday, when he had his first NHL point.

"We have nine games to make a decision," Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told the Columbus Dispatch. "We're going to use all nine."

If Johansen continues to play every game, he'll play his ninth game Sunday against Anaheim, with his 10th game Nov. 3 against Toronto.

The player picked immediately after Johansen, Nino Niederreiter of the New York Islanders, hasn't played yet this season due to a groin injury, but the team will face the same 10-game situation when he does return. However, Niederreiter impressed during a nine-game stint last season, when he had a goal and an assist, and was the youngest player to appear in a game. The hope is he can develop into a top-six forward -- during training camp, he played on a line with No. 1 center John Tavares.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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