When NHL teams finalize their rosters later today, there will likely be as many as a whopping 10 underage players on them to start the season, quashing any notion that teams are hesitant to use under-20 talent in the new NHL.
The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues each have two players with junior eligibility remaining, both Americans and the first overall picks from the past two drafts. When the Blackhawks open their season Thursday, right winger Patrick Kane and center Jonathan Toews will be on their roster, while the Blues will start the season the same night with left winger David Perron and defenseman Erik Johnson.
Filling out the under-20 ranks to start the season are center James Sheppard of the Minnesota Wild, goalie Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings, center Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers, left winger Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, center Peter Mueller of the Phoenix Coyotes and left winger Jordan Staal, in his second season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
(For our purposes, under-20 players include only those with junior eligibility, not those with late birthdays who were born in 1987.)
It’s not likely all of them will stick with NHL rosters for the season, but if they do, both the U.S. and Canadian teams in the World Junior Championship will be adversely affected. Even though the U.S. would lose only three players Â– Johnson, Kane and Mueller Â– it doesn’t have the depth of talent the Canadian roster has in replacing its seven possible players. It should be noted Staal would have never been in Canada’s plans since he is already in the NHL and Sheppard was not part of the team that played in the junior Super Series in August.
The London Knights and Lewiston Maineiacs have been most dramatically affected, with the Knights losing both Kane and Gagner and Lewiston without Bernier and Perron.
It will be interesting to see which of the players get beyond the nine-game mark, since that’s the benchmark for a season on their entry-level contracts. In order to have an accrued season for the purposes of unrestricted free agency (which can kick in after seven seasons of service now), a player must play at least 40 games Â– 30 in the case of Bernier because he’s a goalie.
BLEU, BLANC AND ROUGE RIFT? It was an interesting little tete-a-tete between Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and coach Guy Carbonneau Monday over the status of goalie Carey Price.
And if things looked strained between the former teammates, that’s because they are. Both Gainey and Carbonneau are strong-willed and stubborn and, in this case, they collided. Sources say the two have had a number of other disagreements and while things aren’t at a breaking point between them, there is some tension in the relationship.
While Carbonneau wanted to keep Jaroslav Halak as a backup to Cristobal Huet, he wasn’t going to overrule the GM. Essentially, Gainey had no choice but to keep Price with the Canadiens to make a statement to the organization that he is in charge. And judging by Price’s play, Gainey made the right choice.
Price pushed Halak out of the crease last year in the American League playoffs and led the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup and there was nothing in training camp that suggested the pecking order should be changed. Price, 20, starts the season in the NHL and Halak, 22, in the AHL.