At some point prior to Tuesday’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Tampa Bay Lightning made the decision that Mikhail Sergachev had earned the right to stick around beyond the ever-important 10-game mark.
Maybe it was during the pre-season, when Sergachev shone as a third-pairing option. Or maybe it was when he picked up an assist on opening night. It could've been during his two-goal outing against the Columbus Blue Jackets last week, or maybe he solidified his spot when he notched another tally two nights later against the Pittsburgh Penguins. No matter when it was that the Lightning decided to keep Sergachev for his 10th game of the season, thus burning the first year of his entry-level contract, the 19-year-old blueliner rewarded Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman’s decision on Tuesday with his fourth goal in three games. That’s one way to assure the team's management that they made the right choice.
Sergachev isn’t the only rookie whose performance has allowed him to stick around for a 10th game, however. As he was suiting up in Carolina, Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat was all the way across the country stepping into the lineup against the Vegas Golden Knights for his 10th outing of the campaign.
From a pure numbers perspective, his offensive performance hasn’t been quite as impressive Sergachev’s — DeBrincat has one goal and four points to the Lightning rearguard’s four goals and nine points — but the diminutive scorer has shown promise with his poise and puck control in Chicago. He’s had moments where he looks like a future power play triggerman, too. And that’s why the Blackhawks, looking to inject youth into an aging lineup, have kept DeBrincat in town, burning the first year of his contract in hopes he can become an offensive weapon as the season rolls along.
Not every rookie has been so lucky, however, as a few freshmen who started the season in the NHL have been sent packing before that first year has come off their entry-level deal. For instance, the Carolina Hurricanes saw enough out of Martin Necas after one game to decide he could use more seasoning. Likewise, Alex Formenton got into one outing as an Ottawa Senator before being sent back to the OHL’s London Knights. Meanwhile, Filip Chytil has been demoted to the AHL by the New York Rangers and is plying his trade in the minors after two games with the big club, while Logan Brown got a four-game look with the Senators before Tuesday’s announcement that he’ll be returning to the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
But there are several rookies remaining on NHL rosters who have yet to hit the 10-game mark. So, where do those freshmen stand?
Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
The first overall pick in June’s draft, Hischier was forced into a bigger role than many expected due to Travis Zajac’s off-season injury. He’s proven to be more than equal to the task, though. In eight games, Hischier has two goals and seven points while centering the Devils’ second line. He’s a fixture on the first power play unit and is a major part of the new-look New Jersey offense that has surprised by keeping pace with the league’s best through the first three weeks of the campaign. You can rest assured that Hischier’s not going anywhere.
Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers
Patrick, who had long been the consensus top prospect for the 2017 NHL draft, fell into the Flyers’ lap at second overall and he’s been as advertised through the first nine games of the season: a defensively responsible center who can contribute with some offensive creativity. His numbers don’t stack up all that well against the top of the freshman class — he’s tied for 23rd in rookie scoring with three points in nine games — but Patrick has acquitted himself well in limited ice time. The expectation is that he’ll only improve as the season goes along, and you can expect the Flyers will give him the chance to do it.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets
Dubois’ stat line isn’t quite where the Blue Jackets would've hoped. Through eight games, he has one goal and hasn’t been able to earn coach John Tortorella’s trust, thus he’s skating fourth-line minutes. There’s nothing wrong with starting a rookie down the lineup, sure, but Columbus was likely looking for more out of Dubois after sending the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft back to junior last season. That said, there’s not much to gain by having him play anywhere else. Dubois is best served learning at the NHL level and it makes the most sense for the Blue Jackets to keep him around.
Owen Tippett, Florida Panthers
Tippett, the 10th overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft, surprised in training camp and made the big-league roster well before many expected him to, but he hasn’t seen much game action. He was a healthy scratch for the Panthers’ first four games of the season before finally earning a two-game look in mid-October, and has since been in and out of the lineup. So, there’s been little in the way of consistency for Tippett and it’s not as if he’s taking on a big role, averaging less than 12 minutes in the contests he has seen. The best bet for Tippett might be a return to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. He stands to grow more playing and dominating against his peers than he does watching from the press box.
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers
It hasn’t taken long for Yamamoto to work his way up the lineup. He was barely used on opening night, scratched in the next game out and then skated fourth-line minutes in the Oilers’ third outing of the season. Since then, though, Yamamoto has consistently been among the most utilized wingers in Edmonton. That bodes well for his chances of staying, as does the fact he was producing when given that chance. All three of his assists came when he was seeing top-six minutes and he has managed 17 shots on goal across his past five outings. The Oilers are struggling and can use Yamamoto to get them out of their funk.
Janne Kuokkanen, Carolina Hurricanes
Kuokkanen wasn’t projected to make the lineup, but he turned heads in training camp and fought his way into a spot for opening night. Unfortunately, it seems he’s been played out of his fourth-line role through the early part of the season. After averaging 11 minutes through Carolina's first three games, Kuokkanen has been on the sidelines for the past five outings and, barring an injury, doesn’t appear as though he’ll get back into the lineup consistently. He could be heading down to the AHL to avoid burning the first year of his deal.
Samuel Girard, Nashville Predators
Ryan Ellis’ unfortunate injury opened up a spot on the Predators’ blueline and Girard has made the most of the opportunity. Starting with the pre-season, Girard’s offensive upside impressed the Predators and earned him a spot on the roster through training camp. And though he was scratched for the first two games of the season, Girard made the most of his debut with a helper in nearly 19 minutes of play, followed by his first goal and first two-point night in his second career game. Girard hasn’t dressed since Oct. 14, however, and, if he’s not going to play, Nashville would be best served sending him back to the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes.
Victor Mete, Montreal Canadiens
It usually takes a while for defensemen to develop and that’s especially true for those who are drafted outside the first couple of rounds. That said, Mete’s skating ability intrigued the Canadiens and his offensive output made up Montreal’s mind. Mete has played no small role on the blueline, either. He’s averaging 19:41 through his nine outings, the second-most of any rookie skater and fourth-most of all Canadiens defenders. Mete would be eligible to be sent back to the OHL's London Knights if Montreal wished, but don’t expect that to happen.
Jesper Brett, New Jersey Devils
Without a doubt, Bratt has been the most surprising rookie of this year’s class to this point. With six points, including three goals, he was tied for seventh place among rookie scorers, and he’s become a fixture in the middle of the lineup, consistently skating in the 15-minute range throughout the Devils’ first eight games. Even though all of Bratt’s production came in his first three games of the season, he has still managed to create some opportunities. He's not likely to remain at the head of the rookie class, but there’s little doubt he’s going to stick around in New Jersey.
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