There are few things more exciting for a sports fan than watching and following the progress of a new prospect on their favourite team. I prefer to watch the young players in the league and follow their progress, or lack thereof in some instances.
One of the ways the NHL won me back as a fan after the lockout was by accident, really. When the NHL imposed a salary cap it forced many teams, if not all, to look deeper into their organizations and promote prospects; sometimes earlier than expected. Witnessing this influx of young talent made me curious to get back in front of my television.
One of the storylines early in the 2008-09 season was that five defensemen drafted in the 2008 entry draft would make their NHL debuts at 18 years old. More shocking is the fact that all five defensemen have made it past the ten game window whereby they are now on the payroll, and thus not likely to be returned to their respective junior clubs.
In all, ten players drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft made their respective NHL teams out of training camp. As of Nov. 5, eight of them are everyday players in the NHL.
Some say that players are ready now more than ever to play in the NHL at 18 years old because of workout and dietary programs, as well as the media coverage they garner at such a young age. I can’t disagree with these suggestions.
Although I agree with these reasons as attributing factors, I firmly believe the salary cap is the main driver for why teams gamble that an 18-year-old will not only have a positive impact on the team’s immediate success, but also not have his personal development impacted negatively by making the direct jump from junior hockey to the pros.
Teams that live under the salary cap (a la Philadelphia and New York Rangers) require a couple of "cheap" solutions to fill out roster spots. Teams that struggle to make a profit at year’s end see an entry level contract as a low cost of operating option.
Some teams get lucky and the teenager performs admirably; and for the most part these kids can play. Let’s take a look at the statistical proof through the first month to try and figures out if the decision was hockey or business related.
Drew Doughty (drafted second overall) 11 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, plus-5 (Kings 3-6-2, 15th in the West)
Zach Bogosian (drafted third overall) 8 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, minus-2 (Thrashers 3-7-2, 15th in the East)
*Note: Bogosian has broken leg.*
Alex Pietrangelo (drafted fourth overall) 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, minus-2 (Blues 5-5-0, 10th in the West)
Luke Schenn (drafted fifth overall) 13 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P, minus-3 (Maple Leafs 5-4-4, eighth in the East)
Luca Sbisa (drafted 19th overall) 11 GP, 0 G, 6 A, 6 P, minus-2 (Flyers 4-4-3, 12th in the east)
Now I’m not trying to lay the blame of the poor performances of these teams on these young kids. As a matter of fact, for many of these teams these kids have been their only bright spot. But that is probably more to do with the fact that these teams didn’t have any bright spots to start with.
When you look at each individual’s stats no one really jumps out at you. There is not one player whose stats speak for the reason he is still in the NHL and at the very least earning a pro contract for the remainder of the season.
An 18-year-old defenseman: A better business decision than hockey decision.