The first and third picks in the 2012 NHL Draft, Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers and Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens, respectively, both scored their first NHL goals Tuesday.
Junior teammates with the Sarnia Sting, the teenagers are among the more celebrated rookies coming into the league, but they're also among the youngest.
There are three others from last summer's draft to have suited up in the NHL this season. Buffalo's Mikhail Grigorenko (drafted 12th overall), Philadelphia's Scott Laughton (20th overall) and New Jersey's Stefan Matteau (29th overall).
Last week, Gord Miller commented on Twitter about general teen prospect readiness, so I linked to this from www.hockey-reference.com, looking at the production of 18 and 19-year-old rookies since 1990-1991. There was no smoking gun (nor will there be here), but what was apparent is that more information can be gleaned about whether it's okay for teams to play top teenagers in the NHL.
That led to this little bit of narrowing the focus. Setting my sights on 2005-2006 through 2011-2012, in part because using the more recent sample should take rule enforcement -- specifically as it pertains to obstruction infractions -- into account. One of the primary concerns for an 18-year-old making the jump to the NHL is dealing with the strength of older players so, in theory at least, the more open style of play in the NHL in recent seasons could allow younger players to make the jump more easily without hindering their development.
Using the data at www.hockey-reference.com, and taking any skater that played at least 10 games in the NHL season immediately following their first NHL Draft eligible season, produced a list of 53 players.
From that initial list of 53 rookies, aged 18 and 19 (Hockey Reference sets February 1 to determine a player's age and I wanted to include all who had been drafted the previous summer), to play at least 10 games in a season between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012, exclude Jonathan Toews, Peter Mueller, Anze Kopitar, Guillaume Latendresse, Magnus Paajarvi, Tyler Myers, Jiri Tlusty, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Johansen, Jakub Voracek, Justin Faulk, Milan Lucic, Devante Smith-Pelly, Erik Johnson, Erik Karlsson, Brett Connolly, Nick Leddy, James Sheppard, Jacob Josefson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Colton Gillies, James Wright, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kyle Palmieri and Brandon Sutter, all of whom played another season outside the NHL, either in Europe, the CHL or NCAA before embarking on their NHL careers.
That left 28 players that played as rookies in the season immediately following their selection in the NHL Draft. Here is the rookie season production of those players (sorted by goals):
A player's readiness for the NHL isn't the only consideration when it comes to making this decision, as future contract status (hitting free agency benchmarks earlier) can outweigh any short-term gain established by keeping an 18-year-old in the NHL.
While there are some players on that list that may have had their development hampered by immediately playing in the NHL -- Josh Bailey comes to mind -- it's hard to argue that elite level players shouldn't be given the opportunity because, based on recent evidence, it doesn't appear to have significantly slowed their development. More detailed analysis can take place on this subject, but this seems like a reasonably fair representation of recent results.
There isn't such debate about the immediate future of No. 1 overall pick Yakupov, who seems assured of a place with the Oilers.
With this data in mind, however, the Montreal Canadiens shouldn't feel unduly pressured to return Galchenyuk to the Ontario Hockey League, where he had scored 61 points in 33 games, effectively proving everything he had left to prove at that level following a 2011-2012 season in which he missed all but two regular season (and six playoff) games due to a knee injury.
It's an important decision. The Canadiens were bad enough last season to draw the third pick in the draft, so the priority should be on the long-term benefit to Galchenyuk, a player with the kind of talent to be a cornerstone piece for Montreal as they rebuild.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.