Signs are pointing toward both Noah Hanifin of the Carolina Hurricanes and Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres staying in the NHL for the foreseeable future, but teams have decisions to make on other teenagers.
Noah Hanifin was a healthy scratch Tuesday night for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Detroit Red Wings and Sam Reinhart was not on the ice for practice Wednesday morning for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s enough to get a guy to thinking there’s a chance these guys might not be much longer for the NHL this season.
After all, Reinhart played in his ninth game of the season Sunday night and Hanifin had played eight before being scratched. Both are teenagers on entry-level deals and their teams must decide very soon whether it would be best to keep them in the NHL or send them to the minors so their contracts slide back a year.
This should not be confused with accrued seasons in the NHL. For the purposes of an accrued season, which has implications for unrestricted free agency, the number of games is 40, so both teams have a ways to go on that front. But should Reinhart and Hanifin appear in a 10th game this season, their teams would have to consider this as a year completed on their entry-level deals. If not, both could be sent to the minors despite being teenagers – Hanifin by virtue of the fact that he was drafted out of college hockey and not major junior and Reinhart because he has already played four full seasons of junior hockey
It would be a surprise to see either of them demoted to the minors, at least at this stage of the season. Carolina coach Bill Peters said the purpose of sitting Hanifin out against Detroit was to, “freshen him up,” and he expects the rookie defenseman to be back in the lineup by the weekend, which means he might watch again when the Hurricanes play the Islanders in Brooklyn Thursday night. The day off was a maintenance day for Reinhart, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
“Guys need to be freshened up at times,” Peters told reporters prior to the game against Detroit. “He’s going to get an opportunity to watch a game in a great building to watch a hockey game and he’s going to learn from that. Just a young guy getting freshened up, that’s all.”
It’s getting to be that time of year again, when teams have to start making decisions on whether or not they want to keep their teenagers in the lineup or send them back to junior, or in some cases, the minors. The only one who has cleared the hurdle so far is Connor McDavid, and there was never any doubt there. Nor is there any doubt when it comes to Jack Eichel of the Sabres, Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings and Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets. They’re in the NHL to stay.
There are some other interesting ones out there. Jake Virtanen was a healthy scratch for the Vancouver Canucks first three games and saw spot duty in the next five before playing 15:10 Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens and earning an assist. Teammate Jared McCann, who has played seven games so far and been a healthy scratch twice, certainly didn’t hurt his cause with a two-goal effort against the Canadiens, with just 12:13 of ice time.
Daniel Sprong of the Pittsburgh Penguins has played six games, but played less than 10 minutes in the Penguins last game, an overtime win over Nashville over the weekend. If the Penguins decide he’s not ready, they can return him to the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec League.
Another interesting case is that of Robby Fabbri, who made the St. Louis Blues out of training camp before suffering a concussion in the second game of the season that knocked him out of the next six games. Fabbri returned to the Blues lineup Tuesday night for his third game of the season and, barring an injury or healthy scratch, is not due to play his ninth game of the season until Nov. 10.
Should Fabbri be returned to junior it would be to the Guelph Storm, which has a 1-10-1 record and is by far the worst team in junior hockey. But there would be some benefit to him returning. He’d be able to play a major role on the Canadian team at the World Junior Championship after missing the tournament last year with an injury and he’d likely be dealt to a contending Ontario League team before long.
The Blues will take that time to look at Fabbri to see if he’s ready for full-time employment. The team also took out some insurance against a rash of injuries at forward when they signed veterans Danius Zubrus and Martin Havlat to 10-day tryouts.
“That has nothing to do with our younger guys, it has to do with some or our older guys and whether they can sustain their health,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told thn.com. “With Robby, he’s played two full games for us and in those games, we were really happy with him. But the sample size is way too small right now.”