The beginning of the NHL season sees some of the game’s top prospects getting a taste of the pros. Many get their nine game tryout before heading back to junior while the elite ones will stick. But what happens to the kids who aren’t ready for the NHL and are too good for junior but not eligible for the AHL?
It is a problem teams will face when dealing with their CHL prospects. Unlike European draft picks or players drafted out of the USNTDP, CHL players are not allowed to play in the AHL until age 20. But when a player is drafted from another league, they are free to do as they choose. As an example, J.T. Miller played for the OHL Plymouth Whalers post-draft and since he was drafted from the USNTDP, he played in the AHL the next year.
Another example is Montreal Canadiens 2013 second-rounder Jacob De La Rose, who is playing with AHL Hamilton this season after playing his post-draft year in Europe last season. Kids outside the CHL get more choice when deciding where they are going to play and as good as the CHL is, it is very limiting. For most kids, it’s either the NHL or back to the CHL they go until their junior eligibility runs out.
It is important to note that the rules are a function of the NHL-CHL Transfer Agreement, which was re-newed in September 2012. Still it is unclear how long the agreement was signed for, and if there is any opportunity to amend the rule. That said it is something that should be at least considered at the earliest possible opportunity.
The CHL has grown immensely over the years but many markets rely heavily on young stars to attract attention. Powerhouses like the London Knights and the Portland Winterhawks crank out big name prospects left and right. But a small market like the Sarnia Sting has had players like Steven Stamkos, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk in recent years where it helped shine some light towards the franchise. So in that case it is understandable that teams who have big name prospects and rely on them heavily are loathe to want to lose them to the pros any sooner than they have to. It’s certainly a question of whether players are hurt by being held back.
Elite players who go back to junior often light up the scoreboard and grow as offensive dynamos. Many NHL teams send them back with the message of get better defensively, develop physically and become a leader. It is rare that a prospect is hurt by longer development in lower leagues but at the same time, players need a challenge and with kids being ready at earlier ages, what’s the point in keeping them for longer besides to make money?
A recent example would be Buffalo prospect Mikhail Grigorenko. He made the Sabres out of training camp two straight seasons before being sent back to the Quebec Remparts after 25 and 18 games respectively. It was a scenario where it was plainly obvious Grigorenko was too good for the QMJHL but not ready for the NHL. The Sabres even tried to send Grigorenko to the AHL the second time around on a conditioning stint but it was blocked by the NHL. Grigorenko, now pro eligible, is playing for AHL Rochester where he hopefully benefits from being in one place for the entire season. He is a big, talented centerman with a ton of potential and could be an important piece one day for Buffalo.
Or consider how Jonathan Drouin wowed last year before being returned to junior where he lit the QMJHL on fire. It makes it easy to wonder, if Steve Yzerman had had the option last year, whether Drouin would’ve been sent to the AHL instead of going back to Halifax.
In the end, NHL teams should have more control over where their prospects play. Young players are more ready for the pros at early ages and shouldn’t always have to go back to junior when it’s clear they have outgrown it. The AHL would be an excellent option, as it would provide youngsters with quality competition at the professional level but keep them away from the bright lights of the NHL. In turn, players who move up to the pros give even younger kids better opportunities in the CHL. Player development is what’s most important and it needs to be the priority.
For the latest sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?