Nearly one-third of first-rounders still with teams
As the start of the regular season is just 10 days away, eight of the 30 players selected in the first round this past June remain with their teams, and all have legitimate shots at making their teams' opening-night roster. Among those remaining are the first five players picked in Los Angeles.
The first pick, Edmonton forward Taylor Hall, is no surprise. The centerpiece of the Oilers' hope to climb out of 30th in the standings, Hall made his Edmonton debut at left wing on the team's top line Thursday, scoring an unassisted goal in the third period and skating alongside center Sam Gagner and right wing Ales Hemsky. He had a pair of assists Sunday, playing with Shawn Horcoff and fellow rookie Jordan Eberle.
"I was actually a lot less nervous than I thought I was going to be," Hall said after Thursday's game. "For the first five minutes, it took me a little while to settle in, but then I got going from there."
While it was just a preseason game, his teammates have been impressed.
"It's not easy to get adjusted, but he's a good player," Hemsky said. "He's fast. He's powerful. I don't think he's going to have a problem with anything. There's so much pressure on him, off the ice and on the ice, but he's handled it really well. He's a good kid, and really confident, too."
The same could be said for the second pick, Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin. He had an assist in his preseason debut, and earned at least one admirer in coach Claude Julien.
"You can see there's a lot of potential and a lot of skill," Julien said.
Seguin has played wing and center in camp, but with Marc Savard's continued absence, Julien said Seguin will play center through the remainder of the preseason, and likely into the season if he makes the team.
"We are going to play him at center and we're going to play him on the wing and I think when it's all said and done, we will figure out the puzzle here," Julien said. "But we are trying him at both positions, and we'll see where we go."
Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson, 2010's third choice, had the flashiest debut of any of the draft picks, scoring just 3:45 into Tuesday's preseason opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, assisting on another goal in the 4-1 victory, and finishing with a plus-2 rating in 21:31 of ice time.
"Great debut for him … he scored and was named first star," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "I really liked how he played. He played with authority. He's a hard guy to play against. He makes you pay a price when you're on the ice and he's a good player. … He's a hard-nosed guy and we need some of that in our defense."
"I think after he got the nerves out the first couple of shifts, he was a lot better," Nash said. "He has great hands, good skill."
The Islanders don't open their preseason schedule for another few days, but the reviews have been equally as positive for their top pick, Nino Niederreiter.
"Everybody's really pleased with him," defenseman and fellow Switzerland native Mark Streit said. "I thought for the first practice he looked really good. He's a big kid and he's a physical guy. He has a great attitude and a great personality. He's the whole package. I think he has a chance of making the team. He's young, but he wants to learn. He works hard and he has a great attitude."
The Islanders capped their annual media day by announcing the fifth pick of the draft had signed his entry-level contract, but that doesn't mean he is locked into an NHL roster spot.
"We're just going to play out training camp here," Islanders GM Garth Snow said. "Obviously, he'll be here for the remainder of the training camp and we'll make that decision when the time comes. All he's got to focus on is playing his game."
Jeff Skinner, the seventh pick by the Carolina Hurricanes, also has signed his first contract. He had a fabulous season in the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10, capped by scoring 20 goals in 20 playoff games for the Kitchener Rangers, but he really opened eyes at the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, where he tied for the scoring lead with 7 points, and scored the overtime goal that helped Carolina clinch third place.
"Jeff Skinner may actually be a little more physically advanced (than Eric Staal in his rookie year)," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "This guy is pretty powerful and has such a great skating stride."
In Atlanta, Alexander Burmistrov has opened eyes in training camp, despite going scoreless in his lone preseason game.
"Alex Burmistrov I think has a real chance (to make the team)," Thrashers GM Rick Dudley said of the eighth pick. "There's a special chance there. … I think Burmistrov has been incredible. The skills and the skating -- the package is there."
Defenseman Cam Fowler -- NHL Central Scouting's fifth-ranked skater -- fell to Anaheim at No. 12, but it doesn't seem to have hurt his NHL hopes. In fact, with the Ducks' lack of depth on defense, Anaheim might have been the perfect place for a player with his skill set -- he has an assist in each of his first two preseason games, and had 55 points in 55 games with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
"Obviously, with the turnover and changes that we've made, defense is an area that we need some young kids to step to the forefront," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "If Cam Fowler can continue to do the things he does best, which is skating and moving the puck, he'll make it difficult on us, and that is what you look for a player to do."
Three other defensemen -- Brandon Gormley, taken No. 13 by the Coyotes; Jarred Tinordi, the 22nd pick by the Canadiens; and Mark Pysyk, the No. 23 pick by the Sabres -- all lasted with their teams until Monday, when they were returned to their respective junior clubs.
Last season, six players from the 2009 draft stuck with their current teams. While it's still unknown how many from the 2010 class will make it, just to last this long is an impressive feat.
"All are very deserving," Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "Based on the trend toward keeping players, whether that trend is a little bit stronger because they're more of a bargain than the free agents that remain out there, more and more players are making the NHL these days as 18-year-olds."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com