Columnist image
Bob McKenzie

TSN Hockey Insider

|Archive

The kids' ears must have been burning.

No sooner had we discussed (on last night's edition of Insider Trading) the immediate NHL futures of Vancouver's Jared McCann and St. Louis's Rob Fabbri than they turned in strong efforts that bolster their hopes‎ of staying in the NHL past their respective nine-game marks.

McCann scored a pair of goals against Montreal, giving him four goals in seven games this season. He played 12:13, just 18 seconds shy of his season high for icetime. 

Fabbri didn't score last night but turned in a strong four-shot, 11:43 effort in his first game back after suffering a concussion. He has played just three games this season (one goal).

Their efforts last night would certainly lead one to believe they're likely to play 10 or more games this season, and burn the first year of their entry-level contracts, but both Vancouver and St. Louis are still expected to use all available time (nine games played by the player) before making a final decision.

In some ways, the decisions on McCann and Fabbri are not unrelated.

Fabbri has only ever shown he looks like an NHLer since being drafted by St. Louis 21st overall in 2014. Last season, he was making a strong bid to make the Blues as an 18 year old but was derailed by a shoulder separation and sent back to junior. This season, it was a concussion that interrupted an otherwise impressive start.

It's too early to say Fabbri being injured is a‎ pattern. And while Fabbri isn't the biggest guy (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), he's gritty and hockey strong for a smaller guy. But what the Blues will be looking at in the coming games is whether the fearless Fabbri can adapt to make sure he's not exposing himself in danger areas too often, that his awareness of being in harm's way becomes as finely tuned as the rest of his game.

As for McCann, it's not lost on the Canucks that an underage junior of smaller proportions such as Fabbri has already separated his shoulder and suffered a concussion in a handful of pre-season and regular-season games. They obviously don't want to see the same thing happen to their skilled but still growing centre, who was the 24th player taken in 2014.

Embedded Image
Robbi Fabbri has already separated his shoulder and suffered a concussion in a handful of pre-season and regular-season games.

McCann's shot is NHL ready – the release is incredible – and his smarts and puck/stick skills are way above average, but he is still somewhat physically immature (6-foot, 179 pounds). For all the goals he has scored, or will score, the Canucks have to decide if the 19-year-old can handle the rigors of a full NHL season‎ without physically breaking down.

McCann has had some injury history, including concussion, as a junior.

The Canucks know that Jake Virtanen, who picked up his first NHL point with an assist in a season-high 15:10 of ice time last night, is much more physically mature than McCann, able to better withstand the physical demands of playing a full season in the NHL.

But the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Virtanen hasn't made the same‎ impact on the scoresheet as McCann. Virtanen's offensive game isn't as refined as McCann's, so there's always that to consider on making a decision on the big winger who has now played six games.

McKenzie: A Habs loss was coming

The way the Canadiens played in a 5-3 versus Toronto on Saturday, Bob McKenzie says it seemed like the Canadiens' 9-0 record was in danger. Bob also discusses how much longer Bruce Boudreau has in Anaheim.

Perhaps McCann and Fabbri will score so much or, along with Virtanen, play so well in their coming games, the decision on whether to burn their first contract year will be elementary. 

That's entirely possible, given the skill sets of the players in question and the number of minutes they played last night. But they’ve got some more time before finalizing any decision, so they’ll take it.

UNDERAGE ROLL CALL

With Connor McDavid playing his 10th game last night, I guess that means the Edmonton Oilers won’t be sending him back to junior.

Duh.

Actually, they could if they wanted. Playing the 10th game only means the first year of an entry-level player’s contract is burned. The player is still eligible to returned to junior or, in some cases, assigned to the AHL or Europe.

Most of this year’s “nine-gamers” look like locks to see 10 games played and beyond.

Buffalo will be keeping Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart; Detroit is keeping Dylan Larkin; Winnipeg didn’t even consider returning Nikolaj Ehlers; Carolina’s Noah Hanifin may not play in every game for the Canes this season, but he will breeze by nine; Pittsburgh has no intention of sending Daniel Sprong back to junior before he plays 10

.

Embedded Image
It looks like Dylan Larkin will be staying this season with the Red Wings.

That leaves the focus pretty much on Fabbri, McCann and Virtanen.

By the way, the (often times) more important GP marker for these young guns is No. 39. Once a player plays 40 games in a season, that counts as a year’s service towards unrestricted free agency. Many teams have no fear of burning off an entry-level contract year but most of them are hesitant to start the metre running on UFA status, unless the player’s inclusion in the lineup this season is absolutely essential.

NO HO SANG AT WJC?

New York Islander first-round pick (28th overall in 2014) Josh Ho Sang was not named last week to either of the OHL Subway Super Series rosters against the Russians, which allows us to draw this obvious conclusion: Ho Sang is not on Hockey Canada's radar for the 2016 national junior team.

The Super Series games are a big litmus test for WJC hopefuls. Hockey Canada puts big stock in those performances and ensures any player it has designs on  is given the opportunity to show what he’s got against a usually strong Russian team.

That Ho Sang was at the national junior summer camp in Calgary but not named to face the Russians in Owen Sound on Nov. 12 or Windsor on Nov. 16 is telling.

I think it's fair to say Hockey Canada was less influenced by Ho Sang's bogey at NHL training camp -- the Islanders sent him home on Day 1 after he overslept for the first workout -- and more concerned about the player's penchant for not being able to regulate or temper his high-risk, high-skill game. Either way, he doesn’t appear to be in the HC plans.

Hockey Canada has come to love and embrace speed and skill -- last year's gold-medal team was as good as it gets in both areas -- but Ho Sang's performance at summer camp, passable as it was overall, was marred by a penchant to play high-risk hockey in specific instances (overtime, for example) where some caution or discretion was required.