Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Decisions on Teens Tough on Gms in Short Season

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Decisions on Teens Tough on Gms in Short Season

Article excerpt

When Edmonton rookie Nail Yakupov, 19, batted in the tying goal Thursday night against Los Angeles with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, his celebratory slide through the neutral zone made a memorable moment in the Oilers' 2-1 overtime win. He also might have rejoiced because the goal could have clinched a roster spot for the rest of the season.

This year, 18- and 19-year-old rookies can play up to five NHL games before clubs must decide whether to return them to their junior clubs or to keep them on the roster. If they stay longer, it counts as the first season on their entry-level contract and moves them a year closer to salary-arbitration rights.

In the usual, 82-game schedule, the limit is nine games. But this season was shortened to 48 games by the lockout, and most NHL clubs will play their fifth game this weekend.

For several marquee 2011 and 2012 draft picks who made NHL rosters after abbreviated training camps, the auditions end soon. That group includes Yakupov, whose team plays its fifth game Monday; Boston's Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey's Stefan Matteau, Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk, Minnesota's Matt Dumba, Buffalo's Mikhail Grigorenko and Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau.

The larger question is whether keeping these young players will help or hurt their development.

"Eighteen- or 19-year-olds have to be physically mature -- most of them are not," said Michael Santos, the Panthers' assistant general manager. "They have to be emotionally mature -- most of them are not. And almost all of them are not both."

The Sabres have not kept any 18-year-old players in general manager Darcy Regier's 16-year tenure, but Grigorenko may become the first.

"We're going to continue to monitor," Regier said. "When we get to five games, we'll sit down and make a decision."

The shortened season can skew player assessments because the teenagers were playing junior hockey while many veterans were idle. Those veterans still are rounding into shape. But each game has greater significance, requires experience, and that works against the teenagers.

Grigorenko and Galchenyuk have averaged about 12 minutes a game - - likely not enough for skilled forwards who need to play to improve. …

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