THN.com Blog: Young talent fast-tracked more than ever

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

A growing trend in the NHL’s salary cap era is the fast-tracking of talented youngsters into prominent roles strictly for financial reasons.

That’s not really breaking news, but we’re sure noticing it with more regularity each season, especially when putting together our list of top 50 prospects for Future Watch 2008.

We were more than a little shocked to realize the top seven prospects from Future Watch 2007 made the quick jump to the NHL this season. Erik Johnson, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Jack Johnson, Carey Price, Marc Staal and Peter Mueller are all now making an impact.

In the old NHL, you might have seen three or four of those seven still in college, junior or the minors. That’s not to suggest rushing them to the NHL will hurt their development. They’re all blue-chippers and should grow with the experience.

But when NHL GMs are formulating their lineups while trying to stay within the salary cap, it makes sense that they’ll need a couple of bargain players to play on the top two lines.

Let’s face it, proven first-liners command $4 to $8 million apiece. Productive second-liners surely want in the $3 million neighborhood. So those six players alone command more than half the $50.3 million team cap.

Add another $15 million for a solid starting goalie and two stud defensemen. That leaves just a few million for the other 14 players on the roster and the team suffers in the backend of the lineup.

So developing teams are slotting a couple of young prospects on entry-level contracts to play among the top six forwards. It’s better paying them at an entry-level rate than trying to sign or acquire a proven player who will want five times that amount.

The savings can then be used to beef up the stock on the third line or the second and third defense pairing.

In a way, this might help boost the salaries of the middle class. The top players are always going to get top dollar, the fourth-liners and rookies are always going to be the bottom-feeders. So more bargain rookies translates into more dollars for the nine through 13 players on the roster. Demand will then shift to the prominent role players.

We’ll see it happen again next October. More and more teams will pencil promising rookies into the lineups.

Check out our list of top 50 prospects in Future Watch 2008. Names such as Kyle Turris, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Patrik Berglund, Derick Brassard, Kyle Okposo, Shawn Matthias, Bryan Little and more will be fast-tracked to the top two lines.

They may be young, but they have the talent to play prominent roles. And it makes economic sense in today’s NHL.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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