In order to delay the start of their entry level contract, NHL teams must decide within 10 games as to the immediate futures of their 2011 NHL Draft Picks. This is a gamble in many ways, depending on whether or not a team is assured that their particular player of choice is ready for primetime.
This season, there were five players from the 2011 draft that were playing in the big league: Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ottawa’s Mike Zibanejad, Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, New Jersey’s Adam Larson, and Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier.
For these players, the time ahead is crucial.
For Zibanejad, however, the time has come and gone. The Senators elected to send the sixth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft back to Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League. Indeed, Zibanejad disappointed in his nine games in the NHL, landing only an assist and finishing -3 after an average of 12:54 of ice time per game.
“We think, for the long-term development of him, to give him the opportunity to become what we believe he has a chance to become, and that is a quality NHL player, that this is the right step for him at this moment,” Senators General Manager Bryan Murray said.
Philly’s Couturier is taking it one day at a time. “They’ll tell me when they tell me,” he said. “It’s really just one day at a time. I’m just enjoying myself.”
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren does seem to have made his mind up about his player, though. “He’s still playing a role on the hockey team,” Holmgren said. “He’s getting adequate minutes in my opinion. He’s getting to practice at a pace he wouldn’t get if he got sent back to junior. I think … the longer he stays, the better it is for him and for us. If he clearly looked like he wasn’t ready and couldn’t handle either the physical nature of the game up here, the speed of the game, or whatever, then we’d have to sit down and make a decision. Right now it looks like he’s handing a lot of the aspects of the game and doing OK.”
Larson, who is the only defenceman in the group of five 2011 picks, has the most time left until reaching that pivotal game ten. He’s been eating a lot of ice time in New Jersey and his calmness on the ice is making waves, but his point production could use some work.
Then there’s Nugent-Hopkins, the top pick in the draft. The Oiler leads all rookies with seven points in seven games, including five goals. He had a hat trick in his third game. Nugent-Hopkins’ presence on the Oilers isn’t a sure thing just yet, however, and nobody has told the kid if he’s staying.
“He’s a point-a-game player,” linemate Taylor Hall told the Associated Press. “He’s got five goals. It’s pretty hard to say that’s not NHL-calibre. He was brought in to produce offence, and he’s done that in spades. That’s what he wanted to do. I’ve said all along that if he came in and did what he did best, and he’s even done more than that, he’d be a capable NHL player this year.”
Finally, Landeskog knows that he’ll be staying with the Avalanche. “He’s going to be with us,” GM Greg Sherman said. “He’s going to stay.”
Landeskog is currently second on the Avs with four goals. He’s leading all rookie forwards in ice time, too, and is doing all the little things right thus far.
“His play dictated (him staying),” Sherman said. “You have to weigh a lot of variables with an 18-year-old player, and I drew on the past with Matt (Duchene) and Ryan (O’Reilly) handling the rigors of an NHL season (as 18-year-olds) … we think that with Gabriel so far, things are all very positive. It’s a good situation.”