That ticking you hear is the clock counting down to the point where NHL teams must make a decision on players in their lineup who still have major junior eligibility. If a player participates in 10 games, one year of his mandatory three-year entry-level contract is burned. (Remember, though, that in order to accrue a season that counts toward becoming an unrestricted free agent, a player must play 40 games).
With the deadline fast approaching, it’s worth a quick look around the league to see who’s likely to stick, and who will be riding the bus soon.
Seth Jones, D, Nashville Predators; Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche; Tom Wilson, RW, Washington Capitals
There’s a better chance these first two guys will have their jerseys retired this year than play another game in junior. MacKinnon has been a point-per-game player for the surprising Avalanche, while anchoring the third line. Jones, meanwhile, is playing almost 24 minutes a night for the Predators, more than everyone on the team except superstar Shea Weber. The Capitals reportedly told Wilson Friday that he won’t be going back to the Plymouth Whalers. He’s a big boy who’s playing a grinding role on Washington’s fourth line.
Sean Monahan, C, Calgary Flames; Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets; Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is why the general managers get paid the big bucks. Monahan has been terrific for the rebuilding Flames and, because he’s a late birthday, has already played three seasons of junior even though he was only drafted last June. Still, do the Flames want to do anything to possibly impede the development of their system’s crown jewel?
Rielly has four helpers in six games for the Leafs and it’s hard to imagine he’ll benefit much from playing another season in Moose Jaw. Although the new, improved Toronto way is to be patient with prospects, it looks like Rielly will remain with the big club.
Murray, the second overall pick in 2012, isn’t going to wow anyone, but he’s a calm player who might have made the jump last year if it wasn’t for a shoulder injury. Murray will almost certainly stick, but it will surprise no one if all three of these players are full-time NHLers this year.
Mathew Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild; Olli Maata, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Maata might be the tougher call because he’s played in every game for the Penguins this season and managed himself quite well. Still, defencemen really need that development time, and with Kris Letang poised to return in the not too distant future, it makes sense to send Maata back to a powerhouse London Knights team that’s hosting this year’s Memorial Cup. Dumba has netted a goal, but also been a healthy scratch three times.