For any hockey fan who likes to follow prospects, this is a banner year.
As has been widely noted, an incredible number of first round picks from the 2008 draft have already suited up for their NHL teams and many of them are thriving. But with that vaunted nine-game mark rapidly approaching – the one that triggers a player’s entry-level contract and essentially means he won’t be returned to junior for the year – it’s time for some teams to make a decision.
The calculus is fairly simple: use ’em or lose ’em. If a team is going to give consistent minutes to one of these phenoms and not burden them with too much pressure, then by all means keep the kid up. But it’s far better to play major minutes in the Canadian League, represent your country at the World Junior Championship and go deep in the playoffs (and perhaps play for the Memorial Cup) than it is to ride the pine more often than not in the NHL.
So who should stay and who should go? I’m going to focus on the defensemen in question, because forwards can be shuffled around more to give them opportunities or different roles and aren’t expected to log nearly as much ice time. However, it’s obvious Steven Stamkos should be playing more than 10:41 a game in Tampa.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles – The Kings positioned themselves perfectly this season; few expectations and ice time for all. Doughty is fourth on the team in minutes (third among D-men) and playing significant power play time, plus some penalty-killing. He got his first goal the other night and the Kings are even surviving in the Pacific Division right now. Doughty stays.
Zach Bogosian, Atlanta – Considering the Thrashers made the young beast a healthy scratch the other night, it’s safe to say the team is not using him as they could. Bogosian plays the least of any regular Atlanta blueliner (13:45) and is seeing virtually no special teams time. A trip back to Peterborough in the Ontario League would be a bummer, but if USA Hockey wanted to rectify a serious mistake it made last year, Bogo would not only play on USA’s world junior team, he’d captain it.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis – This one’s a toss-up. At the beginning of the season, Pietrangelo was a lock to stay up thanks to the Erik Johnson and Jeff Woywitka injuries. Now, though, Woywitka is close to a return and Pietrangelo himself has missed time thanks to the boarding-from-behind Toronto’s Ryan Hollweg laid on him last week. In the interim, Steve Wagner has upped his game and Mike Weaver has filled in as the sixth man. Health for both Pietrangelo and his fellow blueliners will be the deciding factor here.
Luke Schenn, Toronto – With the logjam Toronto has on the blueline – the Leafs are sitting two defensemen a night and Jeff Finger’s not even back yet – Schenn seems like the perfect candidate for reassignment. Kelowna, who own Schenn’s rights, is a top junior team and he would surely represent Canada again at the world juniors. But Schenn is spoiling all that by playing in the Buds’ top four, logging important minutes and growing more confident every game. The fans have found their golden boy in what will be a long season, so don’t expect to see Ian White with the team much longer.
Luca Sbisa, Philadelphia – The Flyers are also struggling with injuries and that has given Sbisa the chance to show his stuff. He’s playing top-four minutes right now (though Kimmo Timonen cannot continue to play 27 minutes a night, but that’s another story) and getting solid power play time. With Ryan Parent and Randy Jones out until January and Derian Hatcher potentially retiring due to injury, Philly needs Sbisa for the long haul.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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