Jumping straight from the draft to the NHL is an amazing accomplishment, even if the feat is fleeting for some prospects. After all, once the rookie has played nine games, the decision must be made as to whether he will be returned to junior (or Europe, in some cases) so that his entry-level contract won’t be activated for another year. There are benefits to sending a player back for more seasoning, but some are just too tantalizing to sit on. Here’s a look at the kids who made opening night and whether or not they’ll stick for a full season.
Bit of a coronation here. ‘The Nuge’ was tremendous for the Oilers in the pre-season and the fact Edmonton can trot him out with fellow phenoms Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle is just too tempting to pass up. Nugent-Hopkins proved he was physically capable of handling the NHL in exhibition play, carrying on the skinny legacy of Alexander Burmistrov last year. He’ll stick.
Landeskog’s junior team was so convinced he was headed straight for the NHL that they gave up the Swedish import’s rights in order to bring in another European, since the Canadian League max is two. Landy’s solid frame was never a question and his ability to play in all situations in Kitchener means Colorado can play him on the third line and not worry about squandering his talents early on. He’ll stay.
Not only will Larsson stay up with the Devils, but it’s kind of hard to picture them surviving without him right now. The big Swede brings puck-moving abilities and coolness to the New Jersey back end and is even slotted for power play minutes, skills the team sorely lacked last season. The fact he played against men in Sweden for several years surely helped his evolution.
Predicting what the Isles will do used to be a mug’s game, but last year’s nine-game tryout for Nino Niederreiter seemed to indicate a return to Planet Earth. With Niederreiter on the shelf to start this season, Strome will get a chance to make his case, but it will be difficult. As a pivot, he’s buried behind John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Marty Reasoner and though he did play some wing in camp, it’s not his natural position. Look for Strome to be sent back to Niagara, where he will play for one of the best teams in the Ontario League this year.
A fast-riser as the 2011 draft class came together, Zibanejad entered a perfect situation in Ottawa – the Sens were rail-thin down the middle, but still had talent on the wings. That means Z-Bad gets to kick off his NHL career with fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson by his side and there isn’t a better mentor I can think of. He’ll stick.
So much good will floating around Winnipeg right now. The Jets surprised by taking Scheifele seventh overall, but he blew the doors off at rookie camp and the main tryout. Without much high-end skill in the lineup, the Jets could easily keep him, but this is a tough one: The team won’t make the playoffs this year and Scheifele has a chance to dominate with both OHL Barrie and Canada’s world junior team. That route might be more worthwhile in the long run.
A gift to the Flyers at the No. 8 slot, Couturier can fill out a bit, but already has great NHL size at 6-foot-3, 197 pounds. He looked solid in the pre-season and with cap space an issue, his $1.375 million hit is much more digestible than Brayden Schenn’s $3.1 million. For that reason alone, he’s a good candidate to stick.
Murphy is in a similar situation to Scheifele in that he certainly earned his spot on the Canes roster. He could be a terror at the world juniors and Kitchener would be an even better team with him in the lineup. The difference is that Carolina has the depth to let him go back to the OHL, particularly since rookie Justin Faulk also made the team.
The only rookie luckier than Zibanejad is Saad, who used the motivation of dropping to the second round of the draft (43rd overall) to bull his way onto Chicago’s top line alongside Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. There’s a lot of moving parts on the Hawks right now with Patrick Kane playing center and Viktor Stalberg and Ben Smith injured, so Saad will have to continue his impressive play in order to stick.