Despite the fact more 18- and 19-year-olds are ready for NHL duty than ever before, an NHL kid’s confidence can still be ruined these days by rushing him for no good reason.
There are always the exceptions. John Tavares is looking quite capable, as are Drew Doughty and Steven Stamkos; Victor Hedman is acquitting himself well, along with Tyler Myers, Evander Kane and the surprisingly efficient Michael Del Zotto.
But there are also examples this year of how things can head in the other direction. In Florida, the lowly Panthers have kept defenseman Dmitry Kulikov around. The Cats are 13th in the East and Kulikov is playing less than 17 minutes a game and is minus-9. Who knows, maybe there was an ‘I’m playing in the NHL or going back to Russia’ ultimatum, but I doubt it; this kid was in the Quebec League last year.
Kulikov has a ton of skill, but is just fifth among Florida blueliners in average ice time, suggesting he’s not desperately needed to fill a spot. So what’s the point of keeping him around when he could be playing 30 minutes and dominating in junior?
Matt Duchene is another. The Colorado center is good – scary good. The third overall pick last June began the year like a bat out of hell, but has slowed considerably and it seems it’s beginning to affect his confidence. Just look at these recent Duchene quotes from the Denver Post:
• “Maybe I'm a little frustrated at times, like the game at Chicago where I hit three goalposts and it doesn't end up in the back of the net.”
• “I'm just going to keep plugging away. I'm getting some nice chances and creating some nice plays, and they'll start going in.”
• “I had six points in my first nine games, and since then I've been a little snakebit.”
I have faith Duchene will be fine in the long run, but he has just two goals and seven points in 20 games, he’s a minus-7 and hasn’t scored a point since Oct. 30.
At some point Avalanche coach Joe Sacco and the Colorado braintrust have to consider what to do with Duchene, but the options are limited. Really there’s just one: Eat the year of his contract and send him back to junior.
Duchene is one of the better forwards on his team, but his overall development and confidence are what must be considered, not the 2009-10 fortunes of a middling team that got off to a hot start.
The most egregious example of how rushing a kid to the pros can cause long-lasting problems is Columbus 19-year-old Nikita Filatov. The sixth pick in 2008 is electric, but it seems he is physically unable to handle the NHL and play in coach Ken Hitchcock’s system.
Filatov was averaging just more than eight minutes of ice time this season, was a healthy scratch five times and was seeing regular fourth-line duty, exactly where he was projected not to play in the pre-season. Filatov is a skill guy who needs to play with skill guys to be successful.
Now he will head back to Russia rather than stay with the Jackets in a limited role. Clearly not good news for GM Scott Howson, who drafted Filatov. The GM has something invested in the kid’s development. Hitchcock has something invested in his team winning, with or without Filatov on the ice.
With Filatov heading home, he may never return. That would be disastrous for Howson and the Blue Jackets. But it would be because he was rushed into the American League as an 18-year-old and into the NHL a year later, proving once again patience is a virtue with NHL teenagers.
BLUE JACKET WEDDING
On a completely unrelated note, check out this ridiculous story by Aaron Portzline about Anton Stralman’s forced marriage. You’d think there’d be a way for players – and anyone in a similar situation – to get around such a mess.
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