Clock ticks for junior-aged prospects on NHL rosters –

The clock could strike midnight for several top junior-aged prospects this week when general managers around the NHL are forced to make franchise-defining decisions on the immediate future of those young stars.

Will Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, chosen No. 1 in the 2014 NHL Draft, take the next step in his career? Can Jonathan Drouin, selected No. 3 by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2013 NHL Draft, stick with the team that returned him to the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League at the end of training camp in the 2013-14 preseason?

Those questions will be answered as early as Wednesday.


Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

Drafted: No. 1 in 2014

2014-15 stats: 7 games, 0-2-2, minus-2, 21:54 avg. time on ice

Why he stays: Ekblad is fourth on the team in average ice time per game and gaining valuable experience alongside veteran Brian Campbell. He has done everything first-year coach Gerard Gallant has asked of him and seems adamant about learning from his mistakes.

Why he goes: It appears the Panthers are in rebuilding mode with a new coaching staff and new faces throughout the lineup. Returning Ekblad to the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League for a fourth season where he will be the center of attention and given an opportunity to star for Canada at the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championship could be best for his development.

Likely outcome: Ekblad has found instant chemistry with Campbell and has seemingly made the Panthers a better team on the back end — he stays.

Sam Reinhart, F, Buffalo Sabres

Drafted: No. 2 in 2014

2014-15 stats: 8 games, 0-1-1, minus-1, 10:41 avg. time on ice

Why he stays: He certainly doesn’t play like an 18-year-old and knows where to go on the ice to put himself …read more

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