Tampa Bay Lightning Prospect Jonathan Drouin
It's been a good year for rookies at the NHL level.
The under-20s are making an impact, playing meaningful minutes and making it tough for general managers to send them back to their junior squads.
On Wednesday, it was announced that the Calgary Flames' 2013 first-rounder Sean Monahan would be staying in the big leagues for the full season. The same is expected for other top picks Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Seth Jones.
Tomas Hertl has made the greatest early impact from the class of 2012.
For the players from the last two drafts who are spending the year in junior, NHL general managers are hoping to see the top prospects put up great numbers, contribute to the success of their teams, show leadership and, above all, stay healthy.
Here's a look at five high picks from the last two years who have not yet matched the achievements of their draft-day peers already in the NHL.
Drafted third overall in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Stats: 7 GP, 3-8-11
Jonathan Drouin was the only player from the top six selected in the 2013 NHL draft not to start his season in the big leagues. Due to Tampa Bay's depth at forward, general manager Steve Yzerman elected to return the 18-year-old center to his junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, to get him more playing time and allow another year of development.
Drouin was expected to light it up as an 18 year old, but so far, his Memorial Cup champs are not living up to expectations. Last year, the team went 58-6-3-1—dominating the QMJHL before winning the national championship. Drouin was second in the league in scoring with 105 points in 49 games.
This season, the Mooseheads have already lost more games than they did all of last year—and it's not even the end of October. They're 10-7-0-0 in 17 games, second in the Maritimes Division behind Charlottetown.
Drouin's stats so far are decent—he had a goal and two assists in the Mooseheads' last game Wednesday against the division-leading Islanders, giving him 11 points on the year. But he's not matching last year's pace, and he has already been held off the scoresheet twice—something that only happened three times during all of last season.
Drouin's former teammate, first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, has put up his first seven NHL points in nine games with the Colorado Avalanche. The Mooseheads could use his help, but he'll almost certainly remain with the big club for the rest of the year.
The soonest these two could play together again is likely at the World Junior Championship in Sweden this winter.
Drafted 12th overall in 2013 by the Phoenix Coyotes
Season Stats: 5 GP, 1-4-5
Heading into the draft, there was lots of hype surrounding Tie Domi's son Max. Though blessed with NHL bloodlines, the book on Max was that he was a very different type of player from his dad—a shifty skill forward with great puck-handling ability. He finished in the top 10 in OHL scoring in 2012-13.
Domi was selected in the first round last summer by the Phoenix Coyotes but returned to junior, where he took a page out of dad's book. In his first game on September 29, he was assessed a major penalty for checking to the head and was subsequently suspended for four games.
Click here for the supplementary discipline video of the incident.
Since returning to action, Domi has been averaging a point a game, but he'll need to step it up and keep it clean if he wants to match or exceed his 87 points in 64 games last year.
Drafted eighth overall in 2012 by the Pittsburgh Penguins
Season Stats: 8 GP, 2-11-13
Make no mistake, Derrick Pouliot is having another solid season with the Portland Winterhawks. With 13 points in 11 games, the skilled defenseman is on track to surpass his 45 points in 44 games from last year. He's also a plus-12, so he's making contributions at both ends of the rink.
Where the disappointment lies for Pouliot is the fact that, unlike many members of his draft class, he still hasn't gotten his shot in the NHL.
Pouliot and fellow 2012 first-round defenseman Olli Maatta both spent time in training camp this year with the Penguins. When the time came for Pittsburgh to make its final roster decisions, Maatta stayed up with the big club while Pouliot was sent back to Portland.
Maatta was drafted 14 places behind Pouliot—22nd overall—but has played well during his nine-game stint with the Penguins. He has three points and is averaging about 15 minutes of ice time per game.
With Kris Letang still sidelined due to injury, Maatta may get the call to stay in Pittsburgh for the full season. Meanwhile, Pouliot will have to wait another year to show the Penguins' brass what he can do.
Drafted 10th overall in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Stats: 10 GP, 3-5-8
The last two years of development for defenseman Slater Koekkoek have been hampered by injury problems.
As captain of the Peterborough Petes, Koekkoek played just 26 games in his draft year before a shoulder injury shut him down for the season. Despite his limited resume, he showed enough potential for Tampa Bay to select him in the top 10.
The following season, Koekkoek re-injured the same shoulder in January, just two games after being traded to the Windsor Spitfires. His surgery and subsequent recovery kept him out of hockey action until well into the summer.
Koekkoek did join the Lightning for its rookie camp, but management is hoping he'll play a full season of junior before they give him a real look for the big club.
So far, so good. The Spitfires are fourth in their division, but Koekkoek is playing well with eight points and a plus-6 ranking. Now he needs to stay healthy for the whole year.
Drafted 13th overall in 2012 by the Dallas Stars
Season Stats: 9 GP, 8-2-10
Nineteen-year-old Radek Faksa is the best player on a bad Kitchener Rangers team. His offensive totals are on par with his past production, but his team currently sits last in the OHL's Eastern Conference with a 4-6-0-0 record.
The drop-off has been disappointing for a Rangers team that reached the second round of the OHL playoffs last year before falling to the London Knights.
Faksa missed about six weeks with a mid-season MCL strain last year but was back in time for playoffs. During his time at training camp with the Stars this fall, coach Lindy Ruff told Mark Stepneski of the Stars' Inside Edge blog that Faksa needed a little more work on his game:
There were a couple of times he was just a step away from getting an inside edge on a defender to get a shot away. Some of that is his hands and some of that is his quickness, but I think that will come. He defends well. As a young centermen you’ve got a tough job, but he defended well.
Fellow Czech Tomas Hertl had a similar profile to Faksa coming into the 2012 draft. He was taken five spots later by the San Jose Sharks and is now proving himself to be a bona fide NHLer.
Faksa's taking steps but looking like he still has a little ways to go.
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