The 11th hour is approaching for several notable NHL rookies who are at — or nearing — the nine-game limit that forces teams to decide whether or not they want to keep them for the remainder of the season and lose a year off their entry-level contract. It’s called the Slide Rule, and it will come into play over the course of the next few days.
Every season, whether it’s out of financial necessity or roster limitations, you can always count on several dozen neophytes on ELCs to make opening night rosters out of training camp, or soon thereafter. This season, 15 of the 19 teenagers who played at least one NHL game are eligible for a contract slide and remain on their respective rosters. The question is for how much longer?
The Slide Rule affords NHL general managers the opportunity to see their notable prospects between the ages of 18 and 19 in an NHL uniform for up to nine games without burning a year off of the player’s entry-level contract (ELC), which can be no more than three years and $925,000 per season.
Keeping younger players on ELCs on an active NHL roster is an enticing alternative for a GM for a variety of reasons. For starters, they give coaches the flexibility to replace an injured or slumping veteran with a quicker, more exuberant option. Additionally, kids on entry-level deals who contribute on the ice put the onus on older, more expensive roster players to earn their own ice time and justify their richer contract. The most important advantage of an ELC, however, is the ability of a GM to return that player to junior hockey or send them to the minor leagues without losing a full year off the contract as long as said player has not played in more than nine NHL games. It also is possible for a GM to slide a teenager’s contract before 10 games in consecutive seasons as long as the player doesn’t turn 20 before January 1st.
Below is a breakdown of current NHL rookies who will force their team to decide whether or not to keep them beyond the nine-game limit (stick tap to CapFriendly.com and NaturalStatTrick.com for the data):
Comtois has earned the right to stay and then some. With seven even-strength points (2g, 5a) in nine games, Comtois has proven to hold considerable value to a Ducks team that began the season with injuries up and down their lineup. He’s proven to be a reliable two-way player and has been able to produce during five-on-five play without the benefit of favorable offensive zone starts.
The most hyped defenseman to come out of the draft in over 40 years, Dahlin’s poise and confidence helped stabilize a Buffalo defense corps that’s been below average for quite some time. The Sabres won five of their first nine games for the first time in seven seasons, and this young Swede is a big reason why. He’s recorded three points (1g, 2a) in his last six games.
Carolina has one of the league’s most potent attacks in this early season, and part of that is because they are getting dominant play from their depth lines. Svechnikov (2g, 2a) may be only 34th in rookie TOI (13:08 per game), but he’s tied for third with 7.54 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength.
|Brady Tkachuk (INJ)||RW||18||OTT||1st/2018||4|
Tkachuk roared into his first NHL season with six points (3g, 3a) in his first four games before being sidelined with a torn ligament in his leg, so any official decision regarding his future has been placed on hold. There’s no doubt the Senators view him as a critical piece to their rebuild, and the excitement he generated in such a short period of time should mean a full remainder of the season with the big club.
The Rangers clearly are in rebuild mode, so it makes sense to keep Chytil (0g, 2a), who not only plays a variety of roles, but also is tied for the best Goals For % relative to his teammates (+24.29) among forwards.
Jokiharju cooled off after a hot start that saw him register five assists – all at even strength — in his first three games. But he still plays over 21 minutes a night for a Blackhawks squad that relies on his speed and puck moving from the back end.
Valimaki (1g, 0a) is a dependable bottom-pairing defender, and his advanced numbers relative to his teammates put him more in the middle than towards the bottom. He likes to shoot the puck, but needs to find a way to get more looks — especially when almost 80 percent of his zone starts are in the offensive zone.
The Stars have struggled since a 3-1-0 start, so it’s expected that a rookie defenseman playing almost 21 minutes a night is going to feel it in the stat sheet. Heiskanen, who has two assists in seven games, was an elite top-pairing defender playing against grown men in Finland each of the last two seasons, so it’s doubtful the AHL will do anything for his development.
The resurgent Canadiens use Kotkaniemi in all situations, and his experience playing against men last year seems to have made his transition to the NHL a seamless one. He’s recorded a respectable three assists in seven games, and most of his advanced numbers lean towards the positive at even strength.
Edmonton’s power play thus far (27.8%) rebounded in a big way after being 31st a season ago, but this future quarterback has had little to do with it. Yes, Bouchard can move the puck and owns a cannon for a shot, but for now he seems comfortable as a bottom-pairing defender. He’s already played three full OHL seasons and isn’t old enough to go to the AHL, so it makes sense to groom Bouchard in the NHL over anywhere else. He leads all Edmonton blueliners with 2.95 individual scoring chances per 60 minutes.
PACK YOUR BAGS
Rasmussen’s strong training camp has yet to translate to the NHL, where he’s recorded one assist in five games and isn’t generating any offense for himself or his linemates. The game appears to be too quick for the towering two-way center, and it’s odd the Red Wings didn’t attempt to use him on the penalty kill.
The rash of injuries to the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Adam Henrique opened the door for this two-way Swedish forward to make an immediate impression only months after being drafted in the first round. Did Lundestrom (0g, 1a) do enough to prove he can hang with the big boys? Absolutely. But the numbers game likely puts him on a plane back to Sweden or straight to the AHL.
Yamamoto (1g, 0a) is a dynamic player whom the Oilers are using in all situations, including spending some time with both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Unlike most teenage forwards, Yamamoto spent the majority of his time starting in the defensive end, which impacts his ability to get his lethal shot to bear. He has a few more games to find a way to create more offense, but a trip to the minor leagues wouldn’t be the worst thing for his development.
Thomas (0g, 1a) barely plays in a lineup built to not only return to the playoffs, but challenge for a Stanley Cup. He has one assist in five games, and the 8:57 a game he averages is 67th among the 75 rookies who have played this season. You could make a case to keep him only if he was able to generate offense, even during limited time.