Did NHL GM's Make the Right Call on Nail Yakupov and 9 Other Junior Age Players?
One of the most interesting early-season story lines in every NHL year is the "will he stay, will he go" dance that teams take with their young, Junior Eligible prospects.
It's these choices that really bring to light not only the approaches that general managers and coaches are taking with their teams early in the year but also moving forward. The lockout didn't stunt the impact and newsworthiness of these developmental choices.
When the Ottawa Senators decided to prevent prospect Mika Zibanejad from playing in the recent World Junior Championships, the Swedes were livid.
Such is the nature of developing prospects.
Much goes into the decision to keep a player or send him back to Juniors.
Will he be able to play top-end minutes in the NHL if we keep him? Does he have anything left to learn in Juniors? Does the coaching staff of his Junior team develop players appropriately?
And so on.
Here's a look at 10 tough choices that teams have made with their young players.
Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers
Rich Lam/Getty Images
When Nail Yakupov isn't busy making Don Cherry look like a xenophobic "idiot", he is settling in nicely with the Edmonton Oilers and their rather ridiculous gathering of young talent.
After looking passive and lost in his first outing or two, the Russian phenom has since found his groove. He has three goals through five games played, and while his 27.3 percent shooting percentage is sure to come to earth a bit, there is no question that Yakupov is an electric presence on the ice.
His enthusiasm is evident in nearly every shift, and not since Alex Ovechkin have we seen a player that loves to score this much.
Edmonton appears set on keeping Yakupov in their lineup for the duration of the season, and this is without a doubt the right choice. A player of this caliber has nothing to learn from his counterparts in Junior.
Instead of heading back to the Sarnia Sting, he'll be challenging one of the best rookie classes in recent memory for the Calder Trophy, and at the very least, pushing for increased minutes with Edmonton.
Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Jonathan Huberdeau could have made the jump to the NHL last season, but the Florida Panthers wanted to give the youngster a little more time to mature and put on a little battle-weight.
The year appears to have done the kid a world of good as he's off to a solid start on an otherwise abysmal Panthers team.
He's posted one goal and added two helpers, and has developed some nice chemistry with Alexei Kovalev. Could the duo be this year's version of Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr?
That might be asking a bit much of Huberdeau, but there is no doubt that Florida made the correct call in keeping him with the Panthers for this lockout shortened season.
Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
I believe that by the end of this season Alex Galchenyuk will have outscored his former Sting teammate Nail Yakupov by a decent margin.
He has proven thus far to be a more well-rounded offensive threat, posting four assists to go along with his loan goal. Yakupov has also scored an empty netter, while Galchenyuk has found a niche early on a Montreal Canadiens team that doesn't have the same number of weapons up front that the Edmonton Oilers boast.
They'll need Galchenyuk to be good throughout the entire season, and so far he hasn't disappointed.
The Habs made the right call in keeping the third overall selection from the 2012 draft on the squad. Both player and team will be better because of it.
Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
With the emergence of Dougie Hamilton for the Boston Bruins, we can finally lay to rest the tired, old "who won the Phil Kessel trade" argument.
There isn't a case to be made anymore, despite Hamilton's limited sampling thus far. This is the exact kind of hockey the towering man-child has played all the way through Juniors, and he is already imposing his will on grown NHL players.
The 19-year-old has been downright impressive through six games with the Bruins, so it's no surprise that Boston has decided to keep him.
Now the debate will be "did eight teams really screw up by passing on Hamilton," who fell to the B's with the ninth overall selection in 2011.
Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Erik Cotton wrote, the Buffalo Sabres did themselves a favor in keeping Mikhail Grigorenko with the big squad through 2013.
The team has played below expectations so far, but that isn't to be pinned on the young Russian pivot. While he may only have one point through six games, he is still adjusting to the speed and style of the NHL.
The difference between the first few guys on this list and Grigorenko is that he hasn't be relied upon from the first game out to provide offense in a top-six role with his team.
However, if Buffalo continues to struggle down the stretch, coach Lindy Ruff may have no other choice than to turn to Grigorenko. At least having that option is a plus for both the team and the player, so moving on with him in the lineup is a positive all around.
Stefan Matteau of the New Jersey Devils
Andy Marlin/Getty Images
The choice to keep a top-five or top-ten draft selection may be a bit easier than deciding what to do with guys that went a bit later on down the line.
That's where the New Jersey Devils are with the 29th overall pick, Stefan Matteau. As of publication, no decision has been made about the 18-year old.
He's played less than 10 minutes more often than not for the Devils, and while he hasn't been awful, he hasn't been great either. He's young and could handle a little more seasoning in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
If New Jersey hasn't learned from the Adam Larsson debacle, then I don't know what Lou Lamoriello is thinking.
Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets
Marianne Helm/Getty Images
Mark Scheifele may have had more "should he stay or should he go" press over the last year or so than the rest of the players on this list combined.
After an impressive training camp last year, the Winnipeg Jets decided to send Scheifele back to his Junior team for another year of experience and growth. Is he much better off now at 19 than he was at 18?
He's been scratched twice by Winnipeg as they buy a little more time before needing to make the tough call on the center. The team is winning games without him being a part of it. Does that bode well for the youngster?
One could argue that they'd be a more dangerous team with him skating, but he hasn't exactly blown anyone away during the time that he has had. Claude Noel has yet to develop a trusting relationship with this young player, and as such perhaps it would be best for Scheifele to spend one more year fine tuning his game in Juniors.
Rickard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks
Harry How/Getty Images
Rickard Rakell has done little to pressure the management team of the Anaheim Ducks into keeping him around for the 2013 season.
While he may never be known for his scoring, Rakell has posted zero points and a negative plus/minus rating through four games for the Ducks. The two-way forward seems to have a little more that he could learn while playing in the OHL.
Don't be surprised if Anaheim sends him back within the next few days. He was a solid scorer for the Plymouth Whalers, and the Ducks will likely look for him to kick it up another notch as he heads into his third training camp with the team next year.
Scott Laughton of the Philadelphia Flyers
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
After the success that the Philadelphia Flyers had with Sean Couturier last season as a rock solid, two-way forward, one might be surprised that the team decided to send Scott Laughton back to his Junior team for another year.
If anything, this shows the patience that the banged up Flyers are willing to have with their young players. Laughton is a guy that showed flashes of outstanding play while in the NHL, but Philly felt that, at the end of the day, he would be able to learn more playing top-end minutes with the Oshawa Generals.
They'll be looking for him to dominate the Junior leagues after playing a handful of games against NHL-caliber talent. It's tough to say if this was the right thing to do for this squad, and I was honestly surprised when I read that he'd been shipped back to the J.
Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Unlike the rest of the players on this list, Mathew Dumba wasn't even given a chance to suit up for a single game with the Minnesota Wild.
This may appear surprising at first, as the seventh overall selection is a slick, tough blueliner (something all NHL teams crave, regardless of the age of the player) that brings an awful lot of compete level and offensive acumen to the table.
Still, the Wild are in the hunt for their first Stanley Cup as a franchise, and felt that Dumba would be better suited playing at least one more season in Junior, instead of fighting for ice time on a talented Minnesota team.
While I like Dumba as a player, it's tough to argue against the rational used here.