Back in July I wrote about the CHL/NHL Agreement and how it was bad for player development. Now that I have seen my first Canadian Hockey League (OHL, Saulte Ste Marie vs Sudbury) game in person I wanted to look at the agreement between the two leagues and specifically how it will effect the Bruins prospects.
The Bruins recently replenished their farm system by having 6 picks in the first two rounds of what was regarded as a deep 2015 NHL Draft. All but one of the players the Bruins picked, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson at Boston University, play in the CHL. Jakub Zboril (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Red Deer Rebels, WHL), Zach Senyshyn (Saulte Ste. Marie, OHL), Brandon Carlo (Tri-City Americans), and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL) all play in the CHL.
All of the above players who play in the CHL have signed their NHL Entry Level Contract except for Jeremy Lauzon, but because of their age they were not able to play in the AHL this year to continue their development. Since none of them made the Bruins out of training camp they had to go back to their junior hockey clubs.
Personally, I think it was fine for this year that all of these players play in the CHL, but next year could be a different story. Next year not all of these players will be able to play in the AHL. In order for a junior aged player to be eligible to play in the AHL the player must have turned 20 years-old on or before December 31. So basically the player would need to be born in the year 1996 to be eligible to play in the AHL. This is only for players who play in one of the three CHL leagues, not for players that played junior hockey, or college hockey in the United States, or any league in Europe. Those players can play in the AHL at 18. An example of that is David Pastrnak last year. University of Vermont commit and current Buffalo Sabre, Zemgus Girgensons, went from the USHL’s Debuque Fighting Saints to Buffalo’s AHL team, Rochester Americans.
This means that only Jake Debrusk (October 17, 1996) and Brandon Carlo (November 26, 1996) will be able to play in the AHL next season. Because Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson plays NCAA he can play in the AHL as soon as he signs an entry level contract.
My one concern is for Zach Senyshyn’s development. In Thursday’s game against North Bay he scored two more goals, he was held scoreless against Sudbury on Saturday. He now has 28 goals in 42 games. With 26 games left, baring any injury, you would have to expect that Senyshyn to end up with 40 goals. Senyshyn will not turn 20 until March 30, 2017, so he will miss the December 31, 2016 cutoff to play in the AHL. So if Senyshyn does not make the Bruins next year he is going to have to go back to the Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds. In my opinion this will be a waste for Senyshyn and it will not be the challenge that he needs for his development. What is the point to go back to a development league where you proved you can score in? It would be like a Major League Baseball team having to leave a player in Single A ball after he has hit 40 homeruns there. It does not make sense to do that.
Another example, but not a Bruins prospect, of how the CHL/NHL agreement does not make sense for developing players is the Canucks Jake Virtanen. This season he has only seen action in 19 NHL games. He has played in 10 AHL games this year due to the Canucks sending him on a “conditioning stint” loophole that helps teams avoid sending a player back to the junior league they’ve outgrown. There is a reason the Canucks do not want to send him back to his junior team. He is too good for juniors and it would be detrimental to his development. Virtanen would be better served by playing full time in the AHL against older men to develop into a better pro but the rules aren’t set up logically that way.
The Bruins could use the same plan the Canucks have used with Virtanen with Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril (DOB February 21, 1997) and keep them with the “Big” club. The problem with this if you are trying to compete for the playoffs it does not make sense to keep two guys on your NHL roster that are not going to see much playing time. Being a healthy scratch on a nightly basis could slow the development of these players, but sending them back to their junior team could too. NHL teams have to weigh their options and unfortunately the options are not always what is best for the player. It is what is best for the CHL and selling tickets.
Another option, which is the road less traveled, is signing a contract to play in the European Professional Leagues. This is what Auston Matthews has done this year with great success and it could become a viable option for players like Senyshyn and Zboril who are not able to play in the AHL, but they have out grown the CHL. If I were Don Sweeney and the Bruins I would want these players in particular to come into camp next year and if they do not make the team I would rather see them go to Europe and play professionally against older men to prepare them for the NHL. This would be better for the player’s development than the playing in the CHL.
Unless more players like Auston Matthews stand up for what is best for them and tells the CHL I am not going to play in this league, or they defect to European Professional Leagues this rule is not going to change. There has been talk that the CHL players are trying to form a union. If the players were able to form a union than this is something they could collectively bargain. It just does not make any sense to me that a player like Dylan Strome, who was the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to be ripping up the OHL (21 goals, 44 assist in 31 games) when he could be playing in the AHL. Strome had 129 points in 68 games last year playing with Connor McDavid for the Erie Otters. The kid has nothing to prove and should move on.