For those who do not know, the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) is an umbrella organization that encompasses all three major junior hockey leagues (OHL, WHL, and QMJHL). Those leagues supply the league with many of the young players that are drafted each year in the NHL entry draft.
In order for a player to be eligible to be drafted, he must turn 18 years old by September 15th of the year. Because the date falls during the year, you have players that are draft eligible for the first time with two different birth years. For instance, this year’s first overall pick, Taylor Hall, was born on November 14, 1991. The second overall pick, Tyler Seguin, was born January 31, 1992.
Once a player has been drafted, he must either make the NHL roster or be returned to the junior club that owns his rights. My problem with the rule is that this is the case unless the player turns 20 years old by December 31st. Now, if Hall and Seguin did not make their respective club’s roster, they both would need to go back to junior for this season, but because of the different birth years, next season, Hall would be eligible to play minor pro while Seguin would still need to be sent back to junior.
Now, the CHL defends the rule stating that they need to protect the quality of the product on the ice. But as a developmental league, shouldn’t the primary function be the development of young players? I want to discuss two players from the 2009 draft class that in their second season after begin drafted, have no ability to play minor pro. Their respective teams decided to handle each player differently, but I believe in both cases, a disservice is being done to their personal development as hockey players.
The first player is Brayden Schenn of the Los Angeles Kings. Schenn was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft and considered a high end prospect. He impressed the Kings last year enough that they almost kept him on the roster, but instead sent him back to his junior team, where he dominated. Again this season, he had a strong camp. However, the Kings are very deep at center and there isn’t a lot of ice time to go around for a rookie like Schenn. He has already dominated the junior leagues and has nothing to learn there except bad habits. So, rather than have Schenn bored with the lack of competition in junior hockey, they are keeping him with the big club playing fourth line minutes. This is a player that would be best served in the AHL playing on the first or second line playing key minutes and continuing his development.
The second player is Jared Cowen off the Ottawa Senators. Cowen was a highly rated defenseman that suffered a severe knee injury his draft year and saw his stock slip a little, getting drafted ninth overall. Coming off that injury, Ottawa sent him back to his junior team for the season after his draft year, wanting him to get a year to recover from the injury. Now, this season was a whole different situation. Cowen had a terrific camp and had many people wondering if he would make the team. At the end of the day, the signing of Sergei Gonchar and the remaining veterans on the team made keeping Cowen unrealistic. With no option to send him the the AHL so he could take the next step in his development, the Senators were forced to send him back to his junior club, where he will be just a year older and more mature, playing against the same competition as last year.
Playing minor pro hockey would be the most effective way for these players to continue their development as hockey players, but the CHL’s rule has both players in less than ideal situations. The NHL should really consider pressuring the CHL to change this rule to force players to honor their junior eligibility for only the first season after they are drafted. There have been too many players ready for minor pro in their second season that have been forced to either play 10 minutes a game in the NHL or be bored in juniors. Let’s act in the best interest of these young players rather than selfishly keep these players in junior well after they have outgrown that setting.
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