McKenzie: Underage players proving their worth around NHL

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Bob McKenzie
1/28/2013 6:35:37 PM
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The Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers have told underage juniors Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Huberdeau they're staying in the NHL this season, and now the Boston Bruins have provided the same assurance to defenceman Dougie Hamilton as he played his fifth NHL game on Monday against Carolina.

Hamilton was a no-brainer to stay. He's played solid minutes and contributing and the only way he was going to end up back with Niagara of the OHL was if he played his way out of the NHL and that did not happen.

If an underage junior plays six NHL games this season, it burns the first year of his entry-level contract. These players can be returned to junior any time up to the April 3rd NHL trade deadline and roster freeze, but most teams like to make their decision just prior to the sixth game and not burn that first contract year unless they know they're going to get the full benefit of it.

Buffalo's Mikhail Grigorenko may play his sixth NHL game against Toronto on Tuesday and since he's coming off a 17-minute effort in Washington, the thinking is he's more likely to stay than go back to the Quebec Remparts but no final decision has been made. Teams can always delay that sixth game if they choose.

The Winnipeg Jets, for example, have played five games but underager Mark Scheifele has suited up in only three of them so far. The Jets aren't going to be rushed into a decision in such a small window and while they may ultimately err on the side of caution and return Scheifele to the Barrie Colts, they'll take as much time as possible to see Scheifele's work in practice and a couple of more games.

Meanwhile, in Anaheim, the Ducks know playing Rickard Rakell as a fourth-liner may not be the best long-term situation but the Plymouth Whaler underager has been effective and versatile in that role for three games, same as Stefan Matteau in four games in New Jersey.

Of course, Minnesota and Philadelphia returned Matt Dumba and Scott Laughton to Red Deer and Oshawa respectively on Sunday, so we'll just have to wait and see what the immediate future holds for Grigorenko, Scheifele, Rakell and Matteau.

Dougie Hamilton (Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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