Inevitably – and usually immediately after – a prospect chosen in the first round of the draft will be visualized on the ice with a cast of current players. It’s projected where he’ll fit in, what impact he will have right away and how Calder-worthy he is. In the long-term, though, the draft pays off best when its assets are gradually promoted through the ranks to the NHL.
For the most part, that’s how good teams are built and dynasties sustain themselves.
The most popular example of how virtuous patience can be is a team in a city rebuilding itself. The Red Wings have been a juggernaut for years and are able to keep that pace up with good drafting, a strong farm system and a steadfast philosophy that puts a governor on graduation.
When you talk to Brendan Smith, Detroit’s 2007 first-rounder, for example, you quickly learn he’s not at all discouraged by the fact he’s one of the last defensemen from his class to get a taste of the NHL or that former Wisconsin teammates such as Derek Stepan, Jamie McBain and Kyle Turris have become regulars.
“I know the Red Wings like to make sure you’re ready,” Smith said. “They’ll put you in Grand Rapids to learn the route, learn the systems and then you’ll be ready. It’s kind of exciting that they’re not making it easy for you.”
Of course, the Red Wings are the exception to the rule. Some teams are used to picking a prospect from the top of the pile and still have a difficult time stringing successful seasons together.
After pushing along Turris and Mikkel Boedker and then pulling back, the Coyotes, who have a penchant to rush their picks, took a more conservative approach with 2010 first-rounder Brandon Gormley. The 6-foot-2 Prince Edward Island native took part in camp last season and went back to Moncton of the Quebec League with a pro perspective.
“I had a chance to live with Ed Jovanovski at training camp last year and he kind of put me under his wing and it was great,” Gormley said. “I learned a lot from him: how he lives, how he eats and takes care of himself away from the rink.”
It’s rare a prospect is clearly ready for the NHL. Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin. Others may not be obvious, but quickly prove that’s the league for them. Jeff Skinner, for example.
More often than not, the safe and smart route is a return to junior or at least an educational trial run in the American League before making the biggest step of a hockey career. Rushing too many prospects too many times can hinder more than help and seems like a nonsense approach when you have plenty of development leagues that have proven the scenic route is a smoother ride.
Which brings us to the Florida Panthers who absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, bring Jonathan Huberdeau to the NHL this season.
Now, this is not a knock against the third overall pick from 2011. Huberdeau has proven to be a terrific junior scorer and an exciting future NHLer, but Florida is not the place for him at this stage of both his and the team’s development.
Huberdeau has an opportunity to be a big player on Team Canada’s world junior squad, which has recently proven to be a sign of good things to come. Not to mention he already is the leader of the defending QMJHL and Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs, who still possess a strong roster and will have another go in 2012.
Who would want to take him away from that to put on a scraggly Florida roster constructed in Frankenstein fashion just to reach the league’s minimum payroll requirement?
“If I don’t make the team and come back to junior I won’t be mad,” Huberdeau said. “I just have to work harder and have another good season.”
If anything, letting a player marinate only gives him experience points and provides a source of motivation. And if you’re a team like the Panthers, who have time and again put players above their heads to lay the groundwork for a record 10-season playoff drought, a quick promotion is not the move for you.
GM Dale Tallon has loaded the roster with proven NHLers and has, by all accounts, put the lollygagging Panthers franchise back on track. To continue this new trend and prevent falling into old habits that have contributed to a run of such putrid persistence, it’s these decisions on the future that are the most important to the Panthers.
It’s best to let Huberdeau remain a Dog before coming to the Cats.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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