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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

There's a misconception out there that more and more 18-year-olds are getting fast-tracked to the big leagues because they provide a cheaper alternative in a workforce that's getting more and more expensive.

With each team's salary cap more than $56 million and rookies making not much more than $1.5 million, it makes sense to get a few of the talented performers on the roster to offset some of the overpaid veterans on long-term contracts.

Problem is, only a handful of 18-year-olds are capable of making the immediate jump from the draft to the NHL. That has been the case since the draft was reduced from 20-year-olds to 18-year-olds in 1979 through 1981 and that'll be the case again this year.

The 2008 draft was considered exceptionally strong, yet don't be surprised if only two or three first-rounders make the NHL for the duration this season.

A recent history of the past eight drafts shows this has been the case.

The 2003 draft is considered the best of the past 20 years and five players from that edition made NHL lineups right away - Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Milan Michalek, Dustin Brown and Brent Burns.

In every other draft since 2000, either one, two or three first-rounders got the fast-track treatment. Since the implementation of the salary cap in 2005 and the greater demand for players on entry level contracts, just six players in three drafts have made the immediate jump.

They include Sidney Crosby in 2005, Jordan Staal and Phil Kessel in 2006 and Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner and David Perron in 2007.

So how many 18-year-olds from the 2008 draft will make the grade for good when the NHL season opens in October? Opinions range from an obvious two of Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty to as many as seven or eight.

According to The Hockey News pool guru Murray Townsend, seven 2008 first-rounders will play extended periods in the NHL this season. In addition to Stamkos and Doughty, he has projections for Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Nikita Filatov and Mikkel Boedker.

They're all talented prospects and they'll all be major players in making 2008 one of the top few drafts since 1979, but seven fast-trackers? I don't believe it, but it certainly is possible to reach the 2003 high of five.

My prognostication is three, with Filatov in Columbus joining Tampa Bay's Stamkos and Los Angeles' Doughty as the special ones. The other four mentioned by Townsend could play a handful of NHL games before being sent back. Same goes for other blue-chippers such as Vancouver's Cody Hodgson and the Isles’ Josh Bailey.

So, no NHL teams aren't rushing teenagers to the big league. If they're ready, they make it. That has been the case before and after the salary cap era.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

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