While several junior-eligible NHLers have already learned their fates — Aaron Ekblad, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart among them — there remain a few who don’t know if they’ll play out the season in the bigs, or go back to riding the buses.
Here’s a look at a few of the ongoing situations around the league:
Curtis Lazar, Ottawa
Lazar’s played in eight games so far and will likely hit the magical No. 9 this week (Ottawa plays Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). The 19-year-old, taken 17th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has looked solid in a limited role thus far, playing mostly in a checking/energy role while averaging around 13 minutes a night — but the Sens are holding cards tight with regards to their plans.
“[Lazar’s] been very consistent and he hasn’t done anything for us not to keep him, but we have to make the decision what’s based best not only for our team, but also for him,” head coach Paul MacLean said, per the Globe and Mail. “He’s still a young man and we have to make sure he’s in the proper environment to grown into the player that we all see him potentially being.”
If we had to guess, Lazar will stick. Sens GM Bryan Murray has been effusive in his praise of the kid and MacLean has used Lazar is some pretty important situations already this year, most notably on the penalty kill.
Nikita Zadorov, Buffalo
The Sabres have already sent one of their prospects, Reinhart, back to WHL Kootenay — a move that GM Tim Murray said would allow for the organization to start “thinking more” about what to do with Zadorov.
Zadorov, 19, has appeared in just two games for the Sabres, which included 12:42 TOI and a plus-1 rating in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit. But there are a couple of issues with the Russian rearguard: 1) it’s tough to say if he’s ready for full-time NHL work, and 2) it’s not clear what would happen if Buffalo were to send him back to his junior team, the OHL’s London Knights.
From the Buffalo News:
Zadorov’s agent, Rolland Hedges, would like his client to play at home in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where St. Petersburg possesses his rights. The NHL, however, says Zadorov can play only for the Sabres or in the Canadian Hockey League. The defenseman and his KHL team may not sign off on a transfer to juniors.
“Is that part of the reason he’s here? Yes,” Murray said on his radio show on WGR-AM 550. “The only option if we don’t want him here is to send him to London. If we do that, does it become a long, drawn-out affair or is it a cut-and-dry thing? We’re not sure about that.
“If he decides not to go or the transfer agreement is not signed by the KHL team and him, I’m sure that the CHL will say, ‘He’s our property,’ and then there’s going to have to be some type of agreement come to between the KHL and the CHL. I’m sure that the CHL will involve the International Ice Hockey Federation in that.”
Murray has expressed frustration about Zadorov’s situation and Buffalo’s lack of control over it. So, the situation is as murky as ever.
Bo Horvat, Vancouver
Horvat (shoulder) recently rejoined the Canucks after a conditioning stint in AHL Utica, and should make his NHL debut in the not-too-distant future (Tom Sestito, who filled in for the suspended Alex Burrows at forward, was injured Sunday against Nashville.) The ninth overall pick in ’13 is projected to be with the Canucks for the year, but that plan could change if he doesn’t show well in his nine-game cameo.
The Canucks could continue to drag things out by keeping Horvat around, then loaning him to Team Canada for the World Juniors. There’s also this to consider, from TSN’s Bob McKenzie:
Some NHL clubs and player agents have duly noted that if a team keeps an underager past the 9/10 game threshold but sends him back to junior before 39/40, there may actually be a financial benefit to the club to do so.
If a player goes back to junior in a burned first year of an entry-level deal, it’s difficult to earn the bonuses available to him. It also makes it more difficult for a player with a lesser body of entry-level work (two years instead of three) to hit a home run in the player’s second NHL contract, much more likely to have to take a lower-value bridge deal than a long-term, big dollar pact.
Anthony Duclair, New York
Duclair, the preseason sensation that made the Rangers out of training camp, is in a little bit of a different situation than those listed above because he’s not tied to the nine-game junior rule. From NHL.com:
[Duclair] did not sign his first contract until Jan. 6, 2014; six days after the deadline of Dec. 31, 2013. As a result, he has just two years remaining on his entry-level contract after this season, and is eligible for restricted free agency in 2017 no matter if the Rangers keep him on their roster or return him to the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL.
As such, the Rangers are already in the first year of Duclair’s entry-level contract and could essentially return him to Quebec whenever they see fit. That could happen once forward Derek Stepan (fractured fibula) comes off long-term injured reserve on Nov. 3.
Duclair was a healthy scratch for a couple of games in mid-October but has looked good as of late, with three points in his last five games. What’s more, the Rangers recently put veteran forward Ryan Malone on waivers.