Teams are beginning to face tough roster decisions regarding the future of key young players.
A player on an entry-level contract can skate in nine games before teams must decide whether to send him to the American Hockey League or junior hockey and delay the start of their contract to the following season. Teams still can send a player down after his 10th game, but it would use up the first season of his contract regardless of how many more NHL games he played.
For some, the decisions will be easy. The New Jersey Devils have reached the top of the Metropolitan Division standings in part because of the play of two rookie forwards Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.
Hischier, 18, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, has seven points (two goals, five assists) in eight games and centers the Devils' top line, between Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford. Bratt, 19, is tied for the Devils lead with three goals.
Barring injury or major lineup changes, they'll be with New Jersey well beyond their 10th game, against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 28.
Other teams won't have such easy decisions. Here is a look at a few players and their likelihood of remaining in the NHL past their ninth game:
Alex DeBrincat, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
So far: DeBrincat, 19, has four points (one goal, three assists) in nine games, mostly on a line with center Artem Anisimov and Patrick Sharp, and is averaging 14:36 of ice time. He's scheduled to play his 10th game at the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
Staying or going: Staying. DeBrincat adds energy and offensive skill. And after three straight 50-goal seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, there's little left for him to prove as a junior player.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
So far: Dubois, 19, has one goal in eight games and is averaging 12:31 of ice time per game. The Blue Jackets selected Dubois with the third pick of the 2016 NHL Draft with the hope he could develop into a franchise center, but he's been playing mostly left wing in a bottom-six role. His 10th game would be against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
Staying or going: Going. Dubois would be better served playing in a top-line role on the wing with Blainville-Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League if that's the position the Blue Jackets believe he'll eventually play in the NHL, rather than playing a bottom-six role with the Blue Jackets.
Clayton Keller, C, Arizona Coyotes
So far: Keller, 19, has eight points (six goals, two assists) in eight games. He leads all rookies in goals and is tied for second in points, one fewer than Butcher. He leads the Coyotes in goals and points and is second among Coyotes forwards with an average ice time of 19:46 per game. Keller is scheduled to play his 10th game at the New York Rangers on Oct. 26.
Staying or going: Staying, which general manager John Chayka confirmed Monday. "He's definitely staying," he said. "He's been good. … The hardest thing to do in the game is score and contribute offensively and he does it at a high level. And he also does it in a way where he's not giving up much on the other side of the puck. He's still a 19-year-old offensive player. It's not like he's completely developed in that sense but we still think he plays a pretty strong 200-foot game and contributes in a lot of different areas besides scoring."
Video: CHI@ARI: Keller pots backhand to tie game at 2
Victor Mete, D, Montreal Canadiens
So far: Mete, 19, was a surprise standout during training camp and has emerged as a solid complement to Shea Weber on the top defense pair. In eight games he has two assists, and he's averaging 19:57 of ice time per game, second among NHL rookie defensemen, six seconds fewer a game than McAvoy. He's set to play his 10th game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
Staying or going: Staying. Mete has looked fine playing top minutes, and his skating and puck-moving ability only will get better the longer he's in the NHL.
Nolan Patrick, C, Philadelphia Flyers
So far: Patrick, 19, has three points (one goal, two assists) in eight games. He's played mostly on the third line, with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. While he hasn't had a big offensive impact, the Flyers have been happy, according to general manager Ron Hextall. Patrick, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, is set to play his 10th game at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Staying or going: Staying. Hextall has said in the past he's not a believer in the nine-game rule, and if a young player makes a team out of training camp, it's because he's capable of helping the team. The Flyers believe Patrick helps them be better.
Video: PHI@NSH: Patrick one-times his first career goal
Mikhail Sergachev, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
So far: Sergachev, 19, has eight points (three goals, five assists) in nine games. He leads rookie defensemen in goals and is second in points, with one fewer than Butcher, despite averaging 12:36 of ice time. Sergachev is scheduled to play his 10th game at the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
Staying or going: Staying. Coach Jon Cooper said Sergachev would play in his 10th game on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes and would stay in lineup. "He's had a positive impact on our team. And he's part of our team. So, that's how it's going to be moving forward," Cooper said.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Edmonton Oilers
So far: Yamamoto, 19, has three assists in six games. He's found a spot at right wing on the Oilers' top line, joining center Connor McDavid, and has seen his ice time rise steadily. After playing less than 12 minutes in his first two games, he's played at least 17:53 in the past four, and more than 20 minutes twice. He's scheduled to play his 10th game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 1.
Staying or going: Likely staying. Yamamoto has dispelled any fears of his size (5-foot-8, 154 pounds) being an issue. Getting to play on the top line takes a measure of trust from the coach, and Yamamoto clearly has McLellan's. "For a young player he's playing big minutes against some really good players right now," McLellan said. "He's been tested and he's passing the test."