Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NHL/CHL agreement: Why juniors have to be 20 to play in the AHL

Here's something I wrote up a couple years ago, but it's pertinent every year at this time, so I'll repost it.

There's a good bit of confusion about the rules surrounding junior players because they're not in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, something everyone can access. The rules are in a private agreement between the NHL and CHL (Canadian Hockey League, made up of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL). A lot of people think the AHL has a rule that someone has to be 20 to play there. Common misconception. It's not a rule made by the AHL. If it were up to them, they would take everyone over 18. Officially that's the AHL's policy in fact.

The NHL/CHL agreement states that a player with junior eligibility signed by an NHL team must be returned to his junior team if he's not playing in the NHL. It's part of a deal that provides CHL money for players produced (sort of like the IIHF agreement between the NHL and European countries). The NHL agrees to send the teenagers back because CHL needs these players - its top players -- to make money. If the CHL didn't make money, they couldn't produce players. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.

Specifically, the rule says that if a player played in junior before they were drafted by the NHL, then they have to either be 20 years old by Dec. 31 OR have played four years of junior in order to play in the minors . That second condition rarely comes into effect. It would only apply to players who began in the CHL at age 15.

Players who are not drafted from the CHL, like NCAA and European players, aren't held to these rules. Players who were drafted out of Europe and then play in the CHL later, can play in the minors under the age of 20. European players drafted out of the CHL are held to it. Nationality is not part of the equation -- it's where you were drafted from (which league developed you).

In the long run, it's probably helpful for the prospects' development as people to stay in junior a bit longer. Teenagers are better off living with billet families instead of on their own, far from home. One issue that keeps coming up is that some players are clearly ready to move on from the CHL, but not quite ready for the NHL. They end up playing junior, but it's hard to keep them challenged or motivated in that final year.

Normally this rule means that players play two more years of junior after being drafted before they turn pro. There are two exceptions - the really talented who make the NHL at 18 or 19, and those lucky enough to be born between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31. Those lucky fall birthday players were the oldest in their draft class (a player must be 18 by the year of their draft to be eligible), and are old enough that they only have to play one more year of junior after their selection, then can move to the minors.

And on a related topic, CHL players are eligible to play in the AHL once their junior season is over even if they don't yet meet the age criteria listed above. So you could see 18 and 19-year-old juniors in the AHL late in the season. They can and do return to junior the next year.

Also important to note: if a junior player is returned to the CHL before he plays 10 games in the NHL (or AHL) in a given season, the year does not count towards the player's entry-level contract and the contract itself does not count towards the team's 50-contract limit. The team has to make a decision to keep or return him before game 10 starts.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Comments on Central Scouting's final ranks for 2010

A few comments on the final rankings for the 2010 draft by Central Scouting.

First, it's so important to remember that a lot can happen between now and the draft that will raise and lower someone's stock. The junior leagues are still in their playoffs, and we have the U18 World Championships, a major scouting event. Then there's the Combine, with not just physical testing, but interviews. A player's drive means so much towards whether they will make it. So, with all that said, always remember that the final ranks are the April rankings and if they made another list in June, it would look different.

They have Riley Sheahan down at No. 22, from No. 5. I think this is too low. Yes, he didn't score up a storm this year, but he was on the third line, with Ryan Thang. Now, Thang is an OK player, but he'll max out at a third liner in the NHL because he just doesn't have the offense. Sheahan would send Thang and Ben Ryan beautiful passes, which went unconverted. Put Sheahan on a first line, and he'll shine.

This is a bad year for European goalies, and not a great year for Europe period. There are some Russians, but with question marks, as always.

They have Calvin Pickard over Jack Campbell among North American goalies. For my money, I take Campbell. He's a big-game goalie, a bit cocky and while that can be bad day to day, ultimately that's what you want.

I like that Justin Shugg and Greg McKegg moved up. Shugg had no business being next to Josh Shalla on the mid-terms. They are now more in their proper place.

In general the NTDP guys seem high, except for Forbort who is rightly very high. I would never take Jason Zucker over Shugg, as he doesn't have the scoring ability. Former NTDPer Jake Fallon seems way too high as well for as little as he produces.

Telegin is too high at No. 33. I saw him in February and don't get the hype. Sadikov seems too high at No. 12 among goalies as well.

Luke Moffatt is below Aaron Harstad at 95 and 94, and I would not just flip them, but get them far apart from one another. Moffatt impressed me when I saw him, and Harstad was a healthy scratch.

Missing from the rankings: Brian Billett, Adam Polasek, and Cab Morris. Polasek and Morris were both overlooked in 2009, but Polasek seems likely to be taken, and Morris is certainly better than Jared Coreau. I think a lot of teams will take goalies because they didn't last year, though I'm not certain this draft class is much better in the goalie department. Certainly at the top, but I'm not so sure it has depth.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Comments on the 2010 NHL Combine list

The list of the 100 invitees to the NHL Combine in Toronto came out a few days ago. A few comments on it.

I've watched OHL, USHL and NCAA games this season, and no one jumped out at me as missing from this list. I was mildly surprised that Philip Grubauer or Nick Mattson weren't on it. Mattson (Indiana) came on strong very late in the year, so he got off a lot of radars. Grubauer's draft potential has a lot to do with how he performs for Windsor in the OHL playoffs. So far so good. Josh Shalla wasn't on the list -- it looks like people are starting to see what I saw in February.

The list was light on USHLers, just four, which doesn't surprise me because I think this is a bad year for the USHL. Even the four who were invited are not exceptional.

Only two guys invited were eligible last year and went unselected - Brandon Davidson of Regina and Jonathan Johansson of Sweden. Johansson is a June birthday and Davidson is an August birthday.

Last year, eight guys who were invited to the Combine were not drafted. The highest drafted guys who didn't attend the Combine went 31st and 35th. The World Championships and the CHL playoffs can really affect someone's draft position, and this list comes out before either of them.