Seven games into his NHL career, Taylor Hall had just 1 point and sparked heated talk about whether the first pick of the 2010 Entry Draft was ready to play in the League.
Two games later, Hall has put an affirmative end to the debate.
The Edmonton Oilers left wing scored his first NHL goal and added an assist Thursday in Columbus, and repeated the feat a night later in Chicago.
Hall's performance has earned him a full-time NHL spot, and four players from his draft class will join him as 18-year-olds in the NHL this season.
Bruins center Tyler Seguin (No. 2 pick), Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner (No. 7) and Thrashers center Alexander Burmistrov (No. 8) all have been told to find permanent housing. Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler (No. 12) is recovering from a broken nose and sore neck suffered Oct. 17, but likely did enough in his six games to earn a permanent spot.
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Teams have nine games to evaluate a draft pick with junior eligibility. The Islanders used all nine games to decide right wing Nino Niederreiter, the fifth pick, wasn't ready for the NHL and sent him back to his junior team. Had they kept him past nine games, it would have started his entry-level contract.
Last season, seven players from the 2009 Entry Draft made their teams' opening-night rosters, and six of them played in the NHL all season.
There's a lot that goes into keeping a teenager in the NHL, ranging from their physical and emotional ability to handle an 82-game season at the highest level of hockey, to them getting enough ice time to develop to their fullest potential, to contractual and salary-cap issues.
"I think anytime you're in the evaluation process, especially with an 18-year-old, you're looking at can they keep pace with established NHL players," Colorado Avalanche General Manager Greg Sherman told NHL.com. "These are difficult decisions and you want to do what's right for the franchise and you also want to do what's right for the player. You don't want to put a player, especially an 18-year-old player, in a position where he's not able to perform at that level."
While each club makes its decision for different reasons, some of them were quite easy. In Edmonton, GM Steve Tambellini never had a doubt Hall would be in the NHL all season.
"Taylor has accomplished everything he can accomplish (in junior hockey)," Tambellini told NHL.com. "He's won two Memorial Cups, won two Memorial Cup MVPs, played in the World Junior Championship. He's been that person for the last three years. He's so ready to play at the pro level. This is the right place for Taylor."
And the last two games have proven Tambellini right. With 4 points in two games to end the month, Hall has 2 goals and 5 points in nine games, and he's averaging 16:36 of ice time per game.
"He's doing really well," Tambellini said. "He's playing in important situations, he's playing power play, he's killed some penalties. He's getting to see all different situations, which is exactly what we want.
"For me, he's progressing so well, just with gaining the confidence of our coaching staff. I know when we're a good team that he's going to be a great player in this organization."
The Bruins feel the same way with Seguin, which is why he'll be staying in Boston this season, despite a potential logjam at center and salary-cap issues when Marc Savard eventually returns from his concussion problems.
Like Hall, Seguin ended the month with goals in two straight games, giving him 3 goals and 5 points in eight October games. And like Tambellini, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said deciding to keep Seguin was an easy call. Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien informed Seguin of their decision following Thursday's win against the Maple Leafs.
"It wasn't a very hard decision," Chiarelli said in a TV interview with NESN. "We had hinted at Tyler and had some good discussions before (Thursday). He had a real good idea he'd be staying. We just wanted to make sure he'd continue to work on things we had been talking about."
One of those things is picking up the defensive responsibilities that come with playing center.
"A centerman's responsibility defensively is he's one of the layers that helps out down-low battles," Chiarelli said. "(Thursday) you saw him get on the puck while a battle is going on. He does that but now he's doing it more frequently."
The Bruins waited until Seguin's eighth game to decide he would stay. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford didn't need nearly that long to decide Skinner -- the youngest current player in the League -- would be sticking around for the long haul.
Center - CAR
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7 SOG: 27 | +/-: 1
"I've never even considered the nine-game rule when we're looking at Jeff," Rutherford told NHL.com. "We watched him through rookie camp and the main camp. If there was something we saw that he need more work on (he'd be sent back), but we've never considered it."
After scoring a pair of goals an adding an assist Friday against the Rangers, Skinner has 3 goals and 7 points after 10 games.
"There are things players haven't picked up years into their careers, but he's already doing them," Rutherford told the Carolina website.
Thrashers GM Rick Dudley feels just as strongly about Burmistrov, who celebrated his 10th game by scoring his first NHL goal, Friday against the Sabres. Even before that, though, Dudley had decided the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder would remain in Atlanta all season. Burmistrov has just a goal and an assist in 11 games, but has shined in a defensive role, including 1:50 per game shorthanded.
"We know he's going to get points, we're not the least bit worried about that," Dudley told NHL.com. "What we hoped to see was his capacity to think the game at this level and he's shown an ability far above his years. Last year we thought he was the smartest player in the draft, and we still think that."
Dudley said the best example of Burmistrov's value to the Thrashers came in the final moments of a recent game at the Ducks.
"In Anaheim we were tied late in the game and there was about a minute left, defensive-zone faceoff, against (Ryan) Getzlaf and who's out there? Burmistrov," Dudley said. "On the surface that looks like a mismatch, but the puck goes into our corner, Burmistrov gets there first and Getzlaf gets there and hits him, but he's got such good position, all the hit did was propel him where he wanted to go. I remember thinking, that's pretty good composure for a kid that age. He's all the things we've hoped for."
Cam Fowler (Getty Images)
The Ducks haven't made a full commitment to Fowler yet, but if ice time is the best way to define what a coach thinks of a player, than one look at how much Fowler plays -- at least 21 minutes in five of six games -- tells you just what Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle thinks of his 18-year-old blueliner.
"For a young player he's made a huge impression," Carlyle said. "You're correct in the statement that when coaches like players, it's based upon they trust players, and when you trust people they get more ice time."
Fowler has 1 goal-- he was hurt moments after he scored -- and 2 assists, but the full breadth of his skill was seen moments after he scored. He went end-to-end against the Coyotes in spectacular fashion to create another chance, only to lose an edge as he went behind the net and as he fell, collide with Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who knocked him face-first into boards.
Carlyle won't come right out and demand GM Bob Murray keep Fowler with the big club, but there's no mistaking which way he'll vote when the time comes.
"You have to shake your head to remember he's only 18," Carlyle said. "That's what separates him from the rest of the players in his age group. He's able to do things at a very high level. His compete level is right up there, his execution level is very, very high. You don't recognize him as an 18-year-old at all."
It's hard to see any of the five members of the 2010 draft class still playing in the NHL as teenagers -- right now they're just full-fledged NHL players.