Nine-game try­outs cre­ate un­cer­tainty for young play­ers

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Stephen Whyno

Dy­lan Strome is liv­ing his NHL dream play­ing for the Ari­zona Coy­otes, stay­ing in a ho­tel and avoid­ing the harsh Penn­syl­va­nia win­ter he en­dured the past three years play­ing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Ot­ters.

He just doesn’t know how long it will last.

Strome was the No. 3 over­all pick in 2015 and he is in hockey’s ver­sion of pur­ga­tory: At 19, he is el­i­gi­ble to be sent back to the ju­niors with­out burn­ing a year of his con­tract as long as he doesn’t play 10 games.

In the NFL and NBA, when you’re drafted, you’re in, and Ma­jor League Base­ball prospects al­most al­ways start in the mi­nors.

NHL teams, how­ever, get the chance to test-run some of their top young prospects be­fore com­mit­ting to them for a full sea­son.

“No one feels bad for you,” Strome said. “It’s not re­ally up to me. Ob­vi­ously I want to be in the NHL.”

In the same un­cer­tain spot are Coy­otes team­mates Jakob Chy­chrun and Law­son Crouse and others around the league, from the New York Is­landers’ An­thony Beauvil­lier and Mathew Barzal to the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk.

De­spite mak­ing their teams’ open­ing-night ros­ter, the play­ers face a nerver­ack­ing nine-game try­out — and de­ci­sion time is near for many of them.

“It’s nor­mal to have that kind of try­out be­cause you never know what can hap­pen,” said Beauvil­lier, whose con­tract will count for this year if he plays his 10th game Thurs­day. “I don’t con­trol that.

“I just con­trol what I do on the ice.”

The NHL’s trans­fer agree­ment with the Canadian Hockey League pre­vents ma­jor-ju­nior play­ers un­der 20 from go­ing to the Amer­i­can Hockey League for some pro­fes­sional sea­son­ing.

So even though Strome had 111 points, Tkachuk 107 points and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner 116 points in ju­niors last sea­son, they must re­main in the NHL or go back to ju­niors in­stead of spend­ing time in the mi­nors.

Once con­sid­ered a top player in the 2016 draft class, Chy­chrun slipped to 16th and pon­dered the rule of­ten dur­ing camp. But he has played well enough to get into seven games and give him­self peace of mind.

“Now that I’ve got­ten a taste of the level here and just seen that I can play here, I think I’m just try­ing to re­ally just act like a pro,” Chy­chrun said. “You can’t play when you’re stressed. You’ve just got to act like you’re stick­ing here, and if you do that you’ll have a bet­ter chance of show­ing them why.”

Eas­ier said than done for Barzal and Strome, who have been out of the lineup more than in it.

Coach Jack Ca­puano im­plied that a ros­ter crunch could pre­vent the Is­landers from keep­ing Beauvil­lier and Barzal all sea­son, but Ari­zona could let Strome and Crouse prac­tice, learn and wait rather than mak­ing them es­sen­tially re­peat a grade level they al­ready aced.

The Coy­otes sent Max Domi back to ju­niors two years ago and watched him dom­i­nate and blos­som as a re­sult, so coach Dave Tip­pett un­der­stands the ninegame bar­rier but doesn’t dwell on it.

“We’re more in tune of mak­ing sure that we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to make it so they can play here so the nine games doesn’t mat­ter,” Tip­pett said. “We have to give them every op­por­tu­nity, whether through ex­tra coach­ing, ex­tra work­outs, cri­tiquing their play — ev­ery­thing you do to try to make sure it gives them the best chance to be suc­cess­ful.”

The Philadel­phia Fly­ers’ ap­proach was to take the nine games out of the equa­tion en­tirely with 19-yearold de­fense­man Ivan Provorov and for­ward Travis Konecny, telling the 2015 first-round picks be­fore open­ing night that they’d be around for the en­tire sea­son. Gen­eral man­ager Ron Hex­tall told them point­edly, “This is not a nine-game try­out,” so nei­ther had to worry about that.

“It def­i­nitely gives me a lit­tle con­fi­dence, it al­lows me to play my game and be com­fort­able,” said Konecny, who has a goal and six as­sists in 10 games and is in the NHL to stay. He wasn’t “go­ing to bed every night stressed out (about whether) I’m go­ing to get that phone call.”

That phone call came Mon­day for 2016 No. 9 pick Mikhail Ser­gachev as the Montreal Cana­di­ens sent him back to the OHL’s Wind­sor Spit­fires af­ter just three NHL games. Along with Provorov and Konecny, Marner and Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils are up for good and Chy­chrun is all but as­sured to stick.

Mean­while, Barzal, Strome, Crouse, Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors must wait.

“You just kind of have to put in the back of your mind,” Crouse said. “It’s go­ing to be there, but you kind of just have to store it in a spot where you’re not think­ing about it day in and day out and just re­ally go out there and show them that you de­serve to be in this league.”


Is­landers’ An­thony Beauvil­lier cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing his first ca­reer goal last week.

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