Junior Player Development

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The Junior Hockey News

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Junior Player Development

Recently Steve Yzerman commented that he would like to see, or have the ability to place some junior age players into the AHL for development purposes. The premis for this opinion was that the high calibre player may be developed more quickly in the AHL, becoming NHL ready in a way the drafting team would prefer instead of spending what could be seen as a wasted final season in Junior.

Although Yzerman may be right in his opinion for a few select players in the draft, and the AHL may be better for them in their over age junior year, the AHL option is not likely to happen. If it does, it will be restricted in a way to limit the impact on Junior Hockey as well.

Ron Robison commisioner of the WHL weighs in on the issue;

"We would not be in favour of that. Most importantly, it’s the trickle-down effect of the system overall and how that would impact on not only our level, but every level as well because we would simply move to a much younger league. That would have an impact on midget hockey and other levels of junior hockey. We’re of the view that the system as we have it today has worked extremely well. I think when you look back to that age group of ’85s — with (Shea) Weber and (Dion) Phaneuf, and for that matter (Mike) Richards and (Jeff) Carter — it was an extremely beneficial year for them to have an additional year in junior hockey and to not rush the development system of players. When we meet with our minor hockey and provincial hockey associations, they’re telling us we have to be very selective with 16-year-olds. Our message to the National Hockey League is rely on our system. It’s historically been a good development system and let’s not rush the player development."

The OHL and QMJHL have made similar comments off the record.

Major Junior Hockey in Canada is a big business. It is big time NHL development, and their system has worked for nearly a century. Using the old saying, "If it isnt broken, dont fix it." comes to mind.

Common sense tells us that the NHLPA and PHPA will not support this action as well. If every season newly drafted players were to enter the AHL, those players that had been in the development system for a number of years would be pushed down a level, or pushed out. This is contrary to the development and contractual obligations that the teams entered into with their previously signed and drafted players, as well as their affiliate agreements with farm clubs.

Some farm clubs could benefit short term in this type of agreement, yet the short term benefit does not appear to outweigh the long term impact on development of players and the product.

The problem is caused by the ability of European players that are drafted under age having the ability to go to the AHL, when North American players can not. Most Europeans do not make the move, but some do if the NHL club sees them as being NHL ready in short order.

The easier solution for the NHL is to place the same restrictions on European Junior Aged players as it has on the rest of the world. This is the more likely scenario when new Collective Bargaining and IIHF transfer agreements are negotiated.

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