Most teams have played a half dozen games and we're getting close to the nine game limit where teams have to decide whether to keep or cut high picks or risk having their contracts kick in. Aside from newly drafted players, there have been a few surprises both pleasant and not so pleasant.
Drop - Mark Scheifele - Winnipeg
Averaging about 12 minutes of ice time in seven games with only one goal, Scheifele hasn't kept up his torrid pre-season scoring pace. Given that the Jets are 1-4-1 and will likely continue to struggle, the best thing for Scheifele and for the Jets would be to send him back to junior for another year while the Jets mature and improve.
Keep - Adam Larsson - New Jersey
Larsson has no points in four games but it's clear he can handle NHL duties averaging 24 minutes per game. He won't be a factor in fantasy leagues this season but he's excellent defensively and is more NHL ready than any other 2011 draft pick.
Drop - Mika Zibanejad - Ottawa
Averaging about 13 minutes of ice time in seven games, Zibanejad is -3 on a team where -3 is average. He is defensively responsible and could probably contribute this season, however, the best thing for his development would be to send him back to Sweden. This Senators team is a mess and keeping him could seriously impact his confidence and attitude.
Keep - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Edmonton
Glen Healy on the FAN590 in Toronto made an interesting point that applies especially to a player of Nugent-Hopkins' caliber. He said that since teams started signing their best players to large multi-year contracts to counteract the salary cap, it makes the nine-game limit irrelevant because the best players will be signed to those long-term contracts long before their original contracts expire.
This new long-term contract strategy means a team won't lose a year of the player's service on the back end of the contract if they keep him in the NHL as an 18-year old. Nugent-Hopkins has played 17 minutes a game in six games and has four goals and five points including a hat-trick against Vancouver. Nugent-Hopkins leads the team in scoring and although only 170 pounds, has managed to perform well defensively and appears to be able to avoid heavy traffic. Yes, Edmonton won't win a lot of games this season, but unlike the pessimism in Ottawa and Winnipeg, there is a spirit of optimism in Edmonton because the team is loaded with young talent. Expect Nugent-Hopkins to stick.
Keep - Gabriel Landeskog - Colorado
Landeskog is playing 17 minutes a game and is used regularly in the top six. He has two goals and three points in seven games and appears NHL ready. He hasn't produced as prolifically as Nugent-Hopkins so far, but he has twice as many shots on goal as the next best rookie. When those pucks start going in, Landeskog is going to explode offensively.
Drop - Ryan Johansen - Columbus
Johansen has averaged eight minutes of ice time in four games and has no points. Columbus hasn't won a game in regulation in their last 21 going back to last season. Put those two facts together and it would appear the best thing for Johansen is a trip back to junior. Unfortunately for Johansen, he's in Columbus, an organization with a terrible track record of developing prospects. He should be sent back to junior but Columbus is a hard organization to figure out.
Keep - Sean Couturier - Philadelphia
Probably the biggest surprise of all the top draft picks, Couturier has gotten off to a great start. He is averaging 14 minutes of ice time, a lot of it in the top six. He leads the team in plus minus with +4 and has two goals and four points in six games. Couturier's defensive ability makes him useful to the Flyers even if he's not scoring.
Luke Adam - Buffalo
The 2010-2011 AHL Rookie of the Year has made a seamless transition to the NHL. Adam frequently plays on the first line centering Tomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. He's playing 15 minutes a game and leads all rookies in scoring with three goals and six points.
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Buffalo
Buffalo's defensive depth made it look like Gragnani was going to have to fight for ice time this season despite leading the team in playoff scoring. So far so good. Gragnani has seen time on both the first and second power play units, is second in scoring among Sabres defencemen with three points, and is a solid +3. Unlike so many rookies discussed, Gragnani's ice time seems to be increasing consistently.
Nikita Filatov - Ottawa
Filatov has 3 goals and 4 points in 3 games. Unfortunately that's with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. His start this season in Ottawa brought back memories of Columbus as Filatov averaged 13 minutes in two games before being sent to the press box and then to Binghamton. The big question here is whether or not he'll be back with the Sens before the KHL comes calling. His AHL numbers suggest he'll get another chance, however, what he does with it remains to be seen. Either way, he's no longer the elite prospect that was taken sixth overall in the 2008 draft.
Zac Dalpe - Carolina
Dalpe was a lock. He was a sure thing. No rookie was as widely praised as Dalpe going into the season. Unfortunately for Dalpe his ice time has been on a precipitous decline from 10 minutes in his first game to four minutes against Buffalo on Oct. 14th. Dalpe suffered a lower body injury in the Sabres game and will have his work cut out for him when he is healthy judging by his consistently decreasing ice time.