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The art of trying to stick in the NHL

Montreal Canadiens' Victor Mete is tripped by Toronto Maple Leafs' Eric Fehr during second period NHL pre-season action Wednesday, September 27, 2017 in Quebec City.There is a youth movement on the Canadiens, as junior-age defenceman Mete, rookie Charles Hudonand centre Jacob De La Rose all are expected to at least start the NHL season in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot.
Montreal Canadiens' Victor Mete is tripped by Toronto Maple Leafs' Eric Fehr during second period NHL pre-season action Wednesday, September 27, 2017 in Quebec City.There is a youth movement on the Canadiens, as junior-age defenceman Mete, rookie Charles Hudonand centre Jacob De La Rose all are expected to at least start the NHL season in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot. CP Images/Jacques Boissinot

There are currently just a handful of players playing in the National Hockey League who could still play in the Ontario Hockey League this season.

They come from three teams: the London Knights, the Windsor Spitfires and the Mississauga Steelheads.

So far five of them have appeared in an NHL game and they can keep on playing all the way to a ninth game before a year of their contract truly kicks in.

Here is the situation surrounding each one.

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Victor Mete (London Knights)

You can surmise how much of a surprise Mete was at the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp by the number he was given. When the Calgary Flames handed out numbers last year, 19-year-old Matthew Tkachuk got No. 19. Calgary had a pretty good idea that Tkachuk had what it took to stay in the NHL.

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Mete was given No. 53. Since he has worn No. 98 for a long time, you can follow along with the logic that he was handed that number in training camp just like fellow defencemen, Eric Gelinas got No. 52 and Noah Juulsen got No. 58. Only, Mete outlasted both of those players and everyone else and continues to play well as a 19-year-old National Hockey Leaguer.

He moves pucks well and he gets pucks deep. He can block shots and passes and he is an outstanding teammate. The only thing that might be working against Mete’s stay in Montreal would be the number of one-way contracts they have on their roster. When David Schlemko comes off the injured list, Montreal might have to stick an NHL salary in the AHL or waive a defenceman and risk losing him. There will be many long conversations in the offices of the Canadiens. They could free up space for Schlemko by assigning Mete to the London Knights, but once they have done that, he cannot be called up again for any long stretch until the Knights have been eliminated and with Mete on their back end, that could be a long wait.

Alex Formenton (London Knights)

Formenton is officially the youngest player to play a shift in the NHL this season. In his only appearance with the Ottawa Senators, he played seven of them. His ice time totalled four minutes, 54 seconds. That is well below any magical mark to ensure proper development and it likely means Formenton spent at least a portion of his first NHL game playing grocery stick. When you don’t get on the ice all that much, you get shuffled to the middle of the bench and eventually you are the player who separates the forwards and the defence. You are the grocery stick.

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If Formenton gets into more games and plays more minutes, then he could make a claim to be kept. Let’s remember just over two years ago, Formenton was playing major midget hockey.

Jesper Bratt (London Knights)

If you look at Bratt by stature, you do not immediately see an NHL player. He is not a very big guy. But, if you had to hand out the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, less than a week into the 2017-18 NHL season, he would probably get the most votes. Bratt electrified the pre-season playing keep away from all kinds of players during games and he has lit up the Devils’ opposition in the first two games of the regular season. The Stockholm native has five points in his first two games. He is the only player in the Top 20 in NHL scoring who hasn’t played his third game yet.

Bratt was selected by the London Knights in the CHL Import Draft in June and all signs pointed to him playing in London this season.

Right now, he’s an NHLer and if his pace and play stay the same, Bratt would make Calder voting very easy.

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Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads)

Tippett is a guy who can score and Florida needs that. They waved goodbye to both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at expansion time. Both wound up in Vegas. They combined to score 45 goals last year. Tippett has an incredible shot and is never afraid to use it, but he hasn’t been able to use it yet. His first two games with Florida have been spent as a healthy scratch.

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Panthers’ head coach, Bob Boughner told the Miami Herald that he felt that kind of a start would be good for Tippett, saying, “It’s going to be good for him… I want him to watch and I want him to be prepared because he could be in any day. (And) it’s not so much what he has to do, he’s ready to play, some guys have had good camps and some guys are in their positions. It’s like any other team, it’s a numbers game right now and I expect when he gets in there he’s going to be a good player for us.”

Tippett is with a head coach who has a great understanding of how NHL teams deal with junior-aged players. Boughner coached the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cup championships and is still a part-owner. Boughner is more than capable of weighing the benefits of both sides and deciding what is best for Tippett.

The Panthers do not play again until Thursday when they are home to the St. Louis Blues.

Michael McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads)

McLeod is in the same boat as Tippett. He has yet to play a game with the New Jersey Devils. He might be acting as insurance at the moment after both Kyle Palmieri and Drew Stafford were injured in New Jersey’s first game. Given that the Devils already have two other teenagers on their roster in Nico Hischier and Bratt, it is unlikely that they will hang onto a third teen too much longer. Especially if he is not getting into games. That’s rare.

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Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires)

Brown appeared in the Ottawa Senators’ season opener and saw just over 10 minutes of ice time. He has size, skill and experience in big games. Given that he was scratched when Formenton played, Brown may be up against the Knights’ forward in a battle to remain in Ottawa this season. Their situation will depend on when Colin White returns from a wrist injury (expected to be early November) or whether the Senators go looking to acquire a more veteran forward.

Mikhail Sergachev (Windsor Spitfires)

Sergachev started last year with the Montreal Canadiens and impressed in four games before being returned to Windsor for their Memorial Cup run. He has played in all three games this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa has won two of those games. Sergachev already has an assist. He has been in the bottom pairing, but is not part of the rotation of scratches involving Jake Dotchin, Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek. Barring a run of poor play, look for him to stick.