Young Stars Having a Hard Time Adjusting to NHL-Level Play
The Buffalo Sabres have returned Mikhail Grigorenko to his major junior team to make room for the returning Ville Leino and Patrick Kaleta. The Sabres more or less forfeited the first year of Grigorenko's entry-level contract after he failed to make any sort of dent on games at the NHL level.
The young center isn't alone in his struggles. The NHL's past and present is littered with players who just couldn't figure out a way to make it work in the best professional hockey league in the world.
Every year we witness kids struggling to translate the artistry of their junior games to the rough and tumble Wild West that is the NHL, and 2013 is no different. There are several players from around the league who are highly touted but are having some issues thus far in their careers.
For most of these guys, the issues will be temporary setbacks. The learning curve of the NHL can be steep. Here are a few players who have failed to meet expectations in 2013.
Outside of Brad Richards and his lack of production, the struggles of Chris Kreider is one of the main storylines for the New York Rangers so far in 2013. He had a rough start to this shortened season when coach John Tortorella made it clear that his spot on the big club was not guaranteed despite a strong showing in the playoffs.
This came after he drew negative press over his outright lack of production at the AHL level during the lockout. Kreider only scored five goals and added seven assists through 33 games for the Connecticut Whale—solid for a role player but not good enough for a guy most were looking to dominate.
He didn't find his scoring touch after making the Rangers, either. Kreider had 11 games to prove that he belonged but did little to cement his roster spot after only scoring once and adding one assist.
The talent is there for him to become a good NHL player, but so far Kreider has failed to live up to the hype he earned by scoring five goals for New York in the 2012 playoffs.
Sven Baertschi has been a scoring machine for every team he's ever played for. Even through a short showing last season as an emergency call-up for the Calgary Flames, he produced at a great clip.
Sadly, that was only a five-game sample size. Despite that, some considered him to be a dark horse for the Calder Trophy. Baertschi posted excellent numbers for the Portland Winterhawks in back-to-back seasons (85 points in his first year, 94 in his second) and seemed to translate that production to the AHL throughout the lockout.
He has 18 points in 24 games with the Abbotsford Heat. That sentence is not in the past tense because he was recently demoted back to the AHL after failing to score a single goal in ten games. It's been tough for him to find consistency during his first NHL season.
The lockout ruined the rhythm and flow of all players, but I imagine it had a greater impact on the newcomers. Toss in a head injury in November and a hip flexor that kept him on the shelf for a month, and you have a solid reason for a disheveled season.
More was expected from Baertschi, especially considering how badly the Flames and their faithful would like to see one of their youngsters finally take off.
If the St. Louis Blues were a garbage hockey team, there would be a much brighter spotlight on the struggles of Jaden Schwartz so far in 2013. Luckily for him, the team he plays for doesn't need him to have a Calder-worthy season to be successful.
Schwartz still has the talent to possibly be a solid producer for a team that takes the offense-by-committee approach. The 20-year-old is averaging just over one shot per game, and he's managed six points through 24 games so far. Not too shabby, but those familiar with his game know that he's capable of much, much more.
Perhaps I am being too hard on Mika Zibanejad when I include him on this list. Under normal circumstances, I would consider nine points through 21 games for a rookie to be respectable. Even in this case, it still is.
So why include the projected power forward at all?
Mostly because of the opportunity that Zibanejad had when both the engine and the transmission of the Ottawa Senators dropped in the opening weeks of 2013. With Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson down for the year with nasty injuries, there was a chance for a player to step up in a big way.
My money was on Zibanejad, and perhaps my expectations were too high. I just feel like this kid should be outperforming Chris Phillips and Erik Condra.
Mikael Granlund was near the top of nearly every preseason Calder Trophy predictions piece leading up to the 2013 season. While most of the other guys on this list aren't certifiable rock stars in their home countries, this guy is already famous in his native Finland for his dominant play and high skill level.
If Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (not Ryan Sutter) hadn't signed matching katrillion-dollar, long-term deals as free agents over the summer, all of the spotlight would have been on Granlund. He would have been the only high-impact addition to the Minnesota Wild, and much would have been expected.
With the addition of that pair, however, the spotlight wasn't on Granlund, and not much was made of it when he only posted one goal and five assists through 19 games. It was still shocking to see the team make the choice to send him back to the AHL, though.
When you first glance at Nail Yakupov's stat line, he doesn't seem to be underperforming in any capacity. For a teenager trying to adjust to life in the NHL, 13 points (including six goals) in 26 games isn't too bad.
Even if that teenager is the first overall selection from the most recent draft.
Stat lines never tell the whole story, however, and it doesn't tell you much in this instance. Four of Yakupov's six goals came through his first seven games in the NHL. Since the month of January, he has cooled off almost entirely.
The same can be said for the Edmonton Oilers as a whole, as the team can't seem to put all of its ridiculously talented pieces together quite yet. Still, Yakupov just can't be as quiet as he has been over the last two months.
Since scoring three points in his first three games in February, he's only tallied five points total over his last 16 games played. For a guy who was expected to be a finalist for the Calder, this recent stretch has been forgettable for Yakupov and the Oilers.
Just 10 days ago, fans of the Florida Panthers were hungry to see youngster Jacob Markstrom in the net at the NHL level. Scott Clemmensen had struggled (real bad) in relief of Jose Theodore, who hadn't been that great either and who was now injured.
The time seemed to be now for a Panthers team that just couldn't find the magic of the 2011-2012 season.
Markstrom was called up and handed the reins by Florida. Not even the best goalie prospect around could save the ill-fated season of the Panthers, however, as he's been shelled more often than not by an opposition that isn't seeing a whole lot of resistance.
Through seven games, the future franchise goalie has only won one start while allowing 3.29 goals per game, including the stinker against the Washington Capitals where he managed to have a .000 save percentage while facing two shots in about three minutes.
This is another case of a team bringing a young player down to its level. Markstrom was supposed to be a shot in the arm for the hapless Panthers. So far he's been anything but.
More was expected of Mikhail Grigorenko when the Buffalo Sabres decided to keep him around for the shortened 2013 season. Instead of helping lead the charge back to respectability for this franchise, Grigorenko has arguably become the poster boy for a team that just can't seem to do much right.
Buffalo scorched a year off of his entry-level deal, only to return him to his junior team when Patrick Kaleta and Ville Leino returned. In the case of Leino, making room makes sense. I don't care what any GM says, money plays.
But losing your roster spot to a hired goon like Kaleta is embarrassing and unacceptable for a guy who has a pedigree like Grigorenko.
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