Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman didn’t project a regular role for elite prospect Jonathan Drouin, so he sent the 18-year-old winger back to junior hockey. That move surprised many NHL observers.
“Mostly, we want him playing,” Yzerman told the Tampa Tribune at the time. “And if he's not going to play regular (in the NHL), I want him playing. I don't really have a timetable on it because we do have the luxury . . . to stagger their games and delay it for as long as you really want. So, it's not like we are under a time crunch or anything.”
Meanwhile other teams elected to keep talented teenagers at the NHL level this season. Here is a look at how they are doing:
Sean Monahan, C, Flames: Calgary somehow managed to avoid drafting and developing good players for last decade or so. Monahan, the sixth overall pick in the most recent draft changed all that. He scored nine points in his first 10 games. He just turned 19 earlier this month, but GM Jay Feaster made the easy decision to keep him beyond the nine-game afforded junior-eligible players. “We feel good about him,” Feaster said Wednesday. “We feel good about the decision we've made.”
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche: Defenseman Seth Jones seemed like the logical first overall pick for Colorado in the most recent draft. Jones is an elite puck-rushing defenseman, something the Avalanche needs. Jones grew up in the Denver area as a fan of the team. But hockey czar Joe Sakic passed on Jones to draft MacKinnon. So far, the payoff has been impressive: MacKinnon, 18, had seven points and a plus-3 rating in his first 10 NHL games.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Panthers: He excelled as a 17-year-old last season in Finland’s top league. So Florida GM Dale Tallon drafted him second overall this summer with the expectation he would play right away. He certainly has -- and not just because he is man-sized at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds. He scored three goals and added four assists in his first 11 NHL games. Tallon is opting to clear out some veteran forwards and let Barkov lead the charge.
Seth Jones, D, Predators: Nashville already had plenty of good young offensive defensemen, but GM David Poile gladly added Jones with the fourth overall pick in the most recent draft. He just turned 19, but he is logging more than 24 minutes per game. His early offensive production (two goals and three assists in 11 games) offered just a glimpse of his potential.
Tomas Hertl, C/W, Sharks: He turns 20 next month, so he is the old-timer of this group. Hertl, the 17th overall pick of the 2012 draft, caused a stir earlier this season with a four-goal game against the Rangers. He also gained notoriety for connecting on a between-the-legs trick shot, a move that some veterans regarded as disrespect for the game. Hey, if you don't like it, check him.
Morgan Rielly, D, Maple Leafs: Coach Randy Carlyle decided to keep Rielly, 19, past his nine-game trial. And why not? Rielly scored four points in the first nine games and the Mark Fraser injury created a need. Rielly's playing time has increased over the course of the season and he is seeing time on the power play. Veteran Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul offered this endorsement to the Toronto Star: “He’s a really mature young guy, physically and the way he acts off the ice. Physically you can see it in the battles for pucks. Where a young player would be outmatched by older, stronger players, he’s done a pretty good job at that. Then just how he handles himself. He comes to work every day. I know I certainly wasn’t that professional when I was 19 or 20.”
Olli Maatta, D, Penguins: Coach Dan Bylsma opted to keep Maatta past his nine-game trial after some deliberation. With top defenseman Kris Letang getting healthy, Pittsburgh will become stronger on the blue line. But Maatta, 19, made a strong impression by playing more than 15 minutes per night while contributing a goal and two assists in nine games.