The NHL and the NHL Players Association needs to take a long look at the handling junior hockey-age players during its next contract negotiation.
More and more teenagers at the major junior level are becoming NHL-ready by their draft year. And yet NHL teams send a lot of these kids back to junior hockey for economic reasons.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, teams can keep a junior-age player for nine games without starting their NHL contract clock. This cause creates a free tryout scenario for NHL teams.
The Blues gave defenseman Alex Pietrangelo two such tryouts before sending him back to junior hockey. His NHL contract clock didn’t start until his third season with the organization.
Once Pietrangelo finally to play for the Blues, he quickly became their best defenseman. Did he really need a second year of junior hockey?
That maneuver saved the Blues some money, but it;s not like the team was overloaded with talent at the blue line. The kid might have helped the Note.
Many of the junior-age players starting this season in the NHL are way too talented to return to go back to teen hockey. Returning to the junior level would be a waste of their time.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers is a classic example. Edmonton hasn’t announced whether he will stay, but he lad is scoring at a point-per-game pace in the NHL this season.
Edmonton has a LOT of front-line depth, so Oilers management has kept is options open. Down in the Tampa Bay region, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has no such depth. That is one reason why he decided to keep winger Brett Connolly past his nine-game trial and start his clock.
Connolly, the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, is a scoring-line player for Tampa Bay. “We're a better team with him in the lineup,” Yzerman told reporters.
Also, coach Guy Boucher believes the NHL is a better learning atmosphere for a player with Connolly’s advanced skill
“We felt that the things he needs to learn are not necessarily about scoring goals right now, they are about the little details of the game and we felt that probably he would learn more here with us than his junior team because his junior team might play a different way,” Boucher told the Tampa Tribune. “And because he is able to follow the top guys with speed and because he is gritty enough and has a terrific attitude and wants to learn every day, he showed us that we feel he can adapt fast enough to be able to contribute — not necessarily in a lot of points — but in the fact that we can put him with top guys and he can skate.”
Elsewhere, the Senators sent first-round draft pick Mika Zibanejad back to Swedish club team Djurgardens. The Avalanche organization, on the other hand, is committed to first-round pick Gabriel Landeskog.