Luca Sbisa: NHL Rookie or Junior Hockey Star in 2009?

Nelson SantosCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2008

When the Philadelphia Flyers face the New York Islanders on Thursday, October 30, it will mark the 10th game of the season.


Most seasons, the 10th game would be nothing more than a game in late October. Decisions about starting rosters wouldn’t be on the difficult side, normally. However, there is a very difficult decision for Flyers management to make. His name is Luca Sbisa. If Sbisa laces up the skates and plays one shift on Thursday night it will make his rookie season official as far as remaining on the Flyers' 2008-09 payroll.


Has Sbisa given the Flyers reason to believe he could make the jump to the NHL at 18 years old? Sure. However, the issue with playing an 18-year-old defenseman full time in the NHL is that sometimes you only realize it was a bad developmental move when the player is not the player you expected him to be at 24 years old.


Sbisa earned a long look throughout training camp with solid performance and maybe started the season with the big club because of the injuries to both Nathan Parent and Randy Jones. Let’s give credit to the youngster for taking advantage of the opportunity and making the decision very difficult on Paul Holmgren.


Parent and Jones will both miss quite a stretch of games, which would guarantee Sbisa a lengthy period of time whereby he would not be in any real danger of being stricken to the press box as a healthy scratch.


The major concern teams have with playing an 18-year-old, especially a defenseman, is that they fear the player will be unable to bear the toll of an 82-game schedule, both mentally and physically. This is a legitimate concern for sure.


What makes the decision unique for the Flyers is that it’s not so much the development as it is contract space, not cap space. The Flyers would have 50 NHL contracts even if they shipped Sbisa back to Lethbridge of the WHL later on in the season, and that would tie the hands of the Flyers in case of injuries as the season progressed.


I believe Sbisa should remain with the big club for a few reasons. Firstly, the skill set he brings as far as skating and puck moving is exactly what the Flyers need. Also, he provides a depth option in case Timonen or Coburn goes down with injury.


Now, of course I would not expect him to put up the same type of numbers in either points or minutes played as those two, but it would not be as big a leap for Sbisa to be responsible for some offense from the back-end as it would be to expect Vaananen or Eminger to provide offense, as examples.


Also I’m a believer that a young player can develop watching a few games from the press box, as long as the player is fully aware of the reason(s) he has been summoned to the eagle’s nest of NHL arenas.


Here's something to ponder. How many options would open up for the Flyers if, by the NHL trade deadline, Sbisa proved not only capable of playing regularly in the NHL, but was excelling? Could that mean the Flyers could clear cap space by parting with one of their veteran defensemen?


Would the Flyers go from a team with two very good defensemen in Timonen and Coburn, as well as a decent No. 3 in Randy Jones to a team with a quality top four group?