With all of the glitz and glamour that surrounds the NHL Draft in the modern era, it is often tough to remember that most of the prospects being drafted take a significant amount of time to develop into NHL contributors.
Each preseason, fans get a taste of what's to come. NHL teams all insert their rookies into the lineup to give them valuable experience and get an idea of how much they have progressed.
Teams also have the luxury of playing some of these young kids for the early portion of the regular season before sending them back down to juniors or the AHL. As long as a player does not play in a certain number of games, he will still be deemed a rookie at the start of the next season.
Without further ado, here are some of the top prospects that have been given a test run in preseason or early in the 2011-2012 NHL regular season.
Gabriel Landeskog was considered by many to be the most NHL-ready forward in the 2011 NHL Draft. Thus, the Colorado Avalanche have featured him early on in his NHL career.
Landeskog is considered to be a tremendous leader and a power forward. He will not maintain his prospect status for very long, considering he will be one of the front runners for the Calder Trophy with all of the NHL action he is going to receive.
The time has come for Oliver Ekman-Larsson to become a full time player for the Phoenix Coyotes. He is now 20 years old and played in 48 games a season ago. Phoenix drafted him in the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft based on his outstanding skating ability and offensive prowess.
I would be surprised if Ekman-Larsson didn't get a full dose of the NHL this season.
The Philadelphia Flyers are expecting Sean Couturier to eventually help ease the pain of losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Couturier had an excellent preseason, earning him an extended look at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season with the Flyers.
Couturier's defensive prowess will allow him to make a quick transition to the NHL. As soon as he adjusts to the speed of the game and develops physically, Couturier will be able to utilize his outstanding vision and offensive skills to pile up points in the city of Brotherly Love.
The Florida Panthers are banking on Jonathan Huberdeau becoming a star for their franchise. So far, so good. Huberdeau played in five preseason games with the big club, collecting three goals and an assist to lead the team in points.
His skills are elite, but Huberdeau could stand to add some muscle to his lanky frame. The Panthers sent Huberdeau back to juniors on Oct. 3, 2011.
The New York Islanders gave Nino Niederreiter nine NHL games to prove his worth last season, but opted to send him back to the WHL. Nino once again dominated the league for the Portland Winterhawks.
Power forwards generally take a bit longer to develop, but based on what I have seen in preseason action, this could be the year that Niedereiter develops into a second line player on Long Island. There is plenty of development left, but he has too much skill to not contribute this season.
David Rundblad is likely done playing in the Swedish Elite League. The Senators prospect flashed his immense potential in the preseason, and the club will likely keep him with the parent club to avoid him bolting back to his native country.
Rundblad has tons of offensive ability from the point and plays very solid and heads up hockey in his own end. He may not be physically imposing, but Rundblad has as much upside as any defensive prospect in the league.
Brayden Schenn has been placed in the AHL, but that is not an indictment on his abilities or performance. Schenn has a clause in his contract that voids him from bonuses if he spends time in the AHL. Paul Holmgren and company are just trying to save some cap space by putting him in the minors for a while.
Meanwhile, Schenn is continuing to develop into one of the most promising prospects in the league. He dominated juniors last season, looked strong during his time with the Flyers in preseason and has been unstoppable during his brief AHL stint in Adirondak.
Like Couturier, Schenn is an outstanding two-way forward with elite offensive abilities. I would expect him to be in the NHL before long.
Jacob Markstrom had a disappointed season riddled with injuries in 2010-2011, but the new season gives one of the top prospects in the world new life. The Panthers did not expect Markstrom to win the backup job behind Jose Theodore, but with Scott Clemmensen battling knee issues, Markstrom has earned a shot to get some NHL reps.
The Swedish-born goaltender is an elite prospect. His size, positioning and technique give him the potential to become an elite net minder. Let's see what he makes of his opportunity.
Adam Larsson was considered by many to be the top prospect available in the 2011 NHL Draft. However, the New Jersey Devils were able to scoop him up at fourth overall.
Larsson has started off the season on the Devils' top pairing, so it appears that he may not have to be sent back to Sweden at all. The offensively gifted blue liner has held his own early on in his NHL career. It should come as no surprise, considering how poised and confident Larsson has been throughout his hockey career.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played well enough in the preseason to earn some extra time at the NHL level to start the regular season. The first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, RNH is blessed with elite offensive skills and vision. It is his size, however, that is holding him back from being an immediate full time player.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Oilers return Nugent-Hopkins to his junior team in a few weeks, but if he keeps performing like he has been, there may not be any reason to.