Is There A Formula For Young Players?

How does one know the right time to hang on to young talent and when to give it more time to blossom? That is the question GM's across the league will start to answer after the 10 game mark of the season; as young, first year entry level contract players are either told they'll be staying with their NHL clubs or going back to junior to further develop.

As TSN points out in an interesting article, there are six players selected in the June draft still playing for NHL teams: John Tavares in Long Island, Viktor Hedman in Tampa, Evander Kane in Atlanta, Dmitry Kulikov in Florida and Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly in Colorado.

That means at least five teams will have what could be franchise impacting decisions to make. A scenario not completely unfamiliar to the Edmonton Oilers.

Sam Gagner was a big decision for Edmonton two years ago. After a strong training camp and strong enough start to the regular season, he was kept in the NHL. That decision was as much due to the needs of the Oilers, who at that time lacked offensive skill, as it was about Sam Gagner who was just too good not to keep.

Jordan Eberle was this years question mark. Likely a much less difficult decision, Eberle still impressed. Most of the management and coaching staff were ready for Eberle to play at a high level and considered him a future star for the franchise, but few people expected him to be so good, so fast.

Still, the Oilers chose to go a different route. With an influx of small forwards and more than enough young offensive skill, Eberle was simply on the right team at the wrong time to stay in the NHL.

So which decision makes more sense?

Does Sam Gagner, who has been in the NHL from the moment he was drafted and been a decent NHL'er show us that keeping a player works? At the ripe old age of 20 (he's 19 now), Gagner will become an RFA much earlier than he likely should have. With 49 and 41 points in his first two seasons, it's not like Gagner can be compared to the elite draft picks such as Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane, who were immediate superstars in the NHL.

Perhaps your take suggests sending Eberle down was the best option. Did you know he is dominating the WHL with 16 points in 7 games? He's virtually showing everyone he's just too good to be there and while he's becoming the type of player that makes his team better, he may not be developing his game at a less challenging level, which means his progress may be stalling for a year until the Oilers have room for him.

I don't suggest to know the answer. I assume that neither do many of the GM's that need to make these decisions. History shows, that for as many Crosby's that come out of the draft and dominate at the NHL level, there are dozens and dozens of prospects who start strong and fade by the time season gets further in, sometimes eventually killing their careers.

Every team has it's format. The Detroit Red Wings have been known for keeping players -- even ones that may be ready for the jump -- in the minors for years. The Red Wing philosophy is to guarantee each players readiness before calling him a pro. They believe it takes the full length of entry level eligibility to do so.

With players like Zetterberg, Franzen and Datsyuk, all of who spent years in the minors, who's to second guess that way of thinking?

The Phoenix Coyotes took a different approach. They intentionally drafted a trained players in the NHL over the past two seasons on purpose. Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Viktor Tikhonov and Mikkel Boedker have all spent significant time with his Phoenix Coyotes prior to celebrating their 20th birthday and until the recent moves by the Coyotes, had kept all players in the pros despite their contributions to the team.

For the record, since sending Turris, Tikhonov and Boedker back to the American Hockey League with San Antonio, the Coytoes are 5-2-0.

What do GM's in cities like Colorado do? With their team off to an unbelievable start, do they risk losing that momentum by taking to date, two of their top players out of the lineup? Duchene and O'Reilly have no track record to show they can keep this pace, and most experts tend to believe the Avs can't either, but it doesn't make that decision any less simple.

Had the Oilers had it to do again, would they have kept Sam Gagner in the NHL? They'd have less contractual complications, they didn't make the playoffs with him on the team and they'll be handing out money to a kid who perhaps won't have earned the contract he's about to receive. At the very least its a tough question to answer.

If there were formula and the answers came easier, you have to wonder how many GM's would stick to it.


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