Finally, we're at the point in NHL training camps where the cuts start to mean something; where they're more than just the perfunctory shuffling of no-hope minor leaguers and juniors back to their respective teams. Now, it gets interesting - and the decisions can also provide a sense of how a developing player stands with his current team.
First case in point: The Los Angeles Kings' decision to send Thomas Hickey down to their Manchester farm team, at a time when 32 players remain in camp. Hickey was the fourth overall choice in 2007; and even at the time, GM Dean Lombardi characterized the selection as an all-or-nothing kind of gamble. They went way off the board to draft the 6-1, 191-pound skilled defenceman from Calgary that high; and a couple of the longer shots that year - including P.K. Subban (Montreal) - seem far closer to playing.
Not sure how the 2007 draft overall is going to stack up historically, given that for now anyway, it is has produced just the one star, Patrick Kane, and a couple of other players on the cusp of breakthrough years (David Perron, Jakub Voracek, T.J. Galiardi).
The player chosen just ahead of Hickey, the Phoenix Coyotes' Kyle Turris, is at least making a spirited run at a final roster spot. The Coyotes' two other top-rated kids, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov, didn't make the cut, as they tried to get down to numbers in advance of a trip to Europe, where they'll start the season with a pair of games against the Boston Bruins. Turris's chances of cracking the final roster were better a month ago, or before Eric Belanger signed as a free agent and Kyle Wellwood accepted a tryout invitation. Even so, with a strong final week, Turris may stick after all.
Sometimes, it's easy to forget what a wide gulf it is between junior or college hockey and the NHL. So many of the bluest of blue chippers - Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Kane, Drew Doughty, Steve Stamkos, Matt Duchene - have all made it look so ridiculously easy the past few years that there is a temptation to get impatient with the ones that don't land in the bigs right away - and then shoot the lights out immediately.
In some cases, such as Hickey's, injuries have contributed to a slower development curve. In others, it's just a matter of filling out, and learning to adapt to playing against physically mature men night after unrelenting night in the 82-game schedule.
It is a point Stamkos made to me the other day when we talked.
For all the strange and adorable things the previous Tampa ownership group did wrong, the one decision that has paid big, long-term dividends was grabbing Gary Roberts for 30 games at the tail end of his career in 2008-09, which also coincided with Stamkos's rookie year.
Roberts took Stamkos under his wing that year; taught him about nutrition, strength-training and helped turn him into an ultra-fit kid. No wonder he blossomed the way he did - in the past year-and-a-half, he has been chasing Alex Ovechkin as the league's premier sniper. Stamkos trained at Roberts' home gym just north of Toronto this summer; and he lavished praise on the experience, suggesting that the ex-Flame, ex-Leaf is rapidly moving into the top ranks of personal trainers as an accidental second career. According to Stamkos, about 25 of his peers flocked to Roberts' abode to get in on the action this summer besides him.
For Stamkos personally, last season's 51 goals - tying him with Sidney Crosby for the league lead - will be a hard act to follow.
I wondered in the context of a sensational sophomore year: Does he draw confidence from scoring 50 so soon? Or does it simply add a fresh level of pressure?
"Obviously, there's pressure," he answered. "The bar's been set. The expectations are there, not only from myself, but from the media, from my teammates and from the coaching staff.
"On the other hand, knowing I can do that at an elite level, that's only going to build confidence,. I'm coming in this year as confident as I've ever been."