Former Sarnia Sting Alex Galchenyuk celebrates his first NHL goal (Getty)One of the key differences in the way entry-level contracts work in the shortened 2013 National Hockey League season versus other years is the maximum number of games a junior-aged player can play before a year off of his deal is "burned". In most years, once a player hits ten games playing in the National Hockey League a year is taken off his three-year minimum first contract. Those years are valuable in a salary-capped league, oftentimes because rookies are a good way to get NHL-level talent for minor-league pay. The Philadelphia Flyers understood that after they brought in Sean Couturier right out of the QMJHL last season to play heavy defensive minutes for them in the 2011-12 season. This season, they've sent down Scott Laughton to the Oshawa Generals.
The previous limit was nine, but the current limit for this season is five. Laughton was cut by the Philadelphia Flyers after five games, no goals and no points, an "even" +/- and 11:31 of ice-time per game, mostly at even strength on a line with Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild cut defenceman Mathew Dumba after he was a healthy scratch for four games. That's likely all the best for Dumba, who has struggled for Red Deer this season and as a result didn't make Canada's World Junior squad after being selected No. 7 overall. Minnesota has a fairly young defensive corps so it could still be a tough lineup in the coming years. Red Deer have gone 2-4 in the absence of Dumba, but their playoff position is fairly secure at third place in the WHL's Central Division, hardly within striking distance of No. 1 Edmonton and No. 2 Calgary. Even shaky, they'll welcome Dumba's two-way physical play back to the lineup.
So which junior players are still left in the National Hockey League? Mark Scheifele, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Rickard Rakell, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dougie Hamilton, Alex Galchenyuk, Stefan Matteau and Mikhail Grigorenko.
UPDATE: The Canadiens say they're keeping Galchenyuk.
Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien notified Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk this morning that they will remain with the team.— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) January 28, 2013
It's safe to say that Nugent-Hopkins sticks with the Edmonton Oilers and Grigorenko with the Buffalo Sabres. Grigorenko played in his fifth game with the Buffalo Sabres Sunday afternoon, but after playing 17 minutes of ice-time, he doesn't fit the bill of a player who is destined to go back to his junior squad. Grigrenko was advertised as one of the most NHL-ready players out of the 2012 so he will surely stick.
The same goes for Dougie Hamilton, who has been seeing big minutes on a Boston Bruins' squad that's has a weak defensive corps. I wouldn't expect Niagara IceDog fans to see him back at The Jack anytime soon. Jonathan Huberdeau has also been seeing some big minutes for Florida on their first line with Peter Mueller and Alex Kovalev.
The bubble players are Rickard Rakell, Stefan Matteau, and Mark Scheifele. Rakell is a minus-2 and plays limited minutes on Anaheim, so there's a chance that the Plymouth Whalers could see a big boost to their lineup. Rakell has only played three of Anaheim's four games, so they have another few days to make a decision here, but they're not a team in any reasonable contention yet so I'd expect him to go back down. Matteau and Schiefele are in similar situations, playing depth minutes on their pro clubs.
Montreal, however strikes me as a club that needs to show off some young talent, and in the wake of Max Pacioretty's injury, could stick around and fill a hole for the Canadiens' desperate needs for offence in their top six. That could be a job for Alex Galchenyuk, who stood without a hint of irony holding a torch aloft at centre ice at Montreal's home opener during the team's opening festivities. In Sarnia meanwhile, Galchenyuk's absence thanks to the World Juniors and the NHL has seen the emergence of Nikolay Goldobin, while Galchenyuk's experience will be missed, the Sting are still a dangerous team with lots of offence.