According to a recent tweet from Damien Cox, the CHL has submitted a brief requesting that the NCAA allow major-junior players to retain eligibility to play college hockey. It’s an intriguing request, and one that would cause a ripple effect in the hockey world, touching everything from CIS programs in Canada to junior leagues in the United States.
The most important aspect of the proffered deal is that it broadens the educational options for major-junior players who haven’t been drafted by an NHL team or who don’t intend to play professional hockey at all. Currently, many of these players choose to take advantage of the CHL educational package and attend college, often playing CIS hockey. Presumably if the NCAA lifted its ban on major-junior players, the CHL would retool its educational package to offer some sort of assistance to players who chose NCAA schools instead.
Whether the future career these players are looking for involves hockey or not, more choice when it comes to academic programs is never a bad thing, because the college experience is subjective.
For some players, it could be a chance to rejuvenate a career that isn’t going the way they want. Some guys are late bloomers, and NCAA teams are also seen by scouts — leaving the CHL for college hockey wouldn’t mean giving up the NHL dream.
Take, for example, a guy who has played his 16 and 17-year-old seasons in the OHL. He isn’t quite seeing the production he wanted, and so wasn’t drafted his first eligible year, but the college team who recruited him sees potential and is still open to him joining their team. If he joins them and has a great season, an NHL team may use a draft pick on him in his second eligible year. If his development takes longer, he could still be signed as a college free agent.
Players develop in different ways and at different rates. This would just give them another avenue to do so.
It would also give NCAA schools a wider talent pool to pull from. After all, how many NCAA commits has the CHL stolen away in recent years?
However, there’s a major drawback, and you can bet it’ll be brought to the forefront by that one guy who ruins it for everybody.
Imagine, if you will, a CHL player who is drafted by an NHL team they have no desire to play for. Whether this is because the team is horrible or because their prospect pool is too deep for this imaginary prospect to crack the NHL lineup anytime soon is up to you.
This player doesn’t sign an ELC within two years (again, whether the decision is on his part or the team’s depends on your chosen scenario) and, rather than risk going back into the draft and getting chosen by another team he hates, he decides he wants to go to college. In college, he can spend four years developing in an NCAA program, being watched by scouts on the regular, and at the end of those four years, he can sign somewhere as a college free agent.
Come on. You know there’s at least one guy out there who would do it.
Unfortunately, despite the good a new deal could do for these young players, this is all nothing more than a drawn-out thought exercise.
The NCAA would never allow it, because their eligibility rules are more complicated than determining what counts as goaltender interference, for one thing. Another issue, however, would be the USHL’s reaction.
A large part of the appeal of the top junior league in the United States is that it is a place prospects can get extra development against similarly talented players while retaining their college eligibility. Allowing CHL players to retain their NCAA eligibility as well would create a threat to the USHL’s ability to recruit and retain prospects — a huge blow to the league who had the most prospects drafted into the NHL in 2015.
Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation. The CHL wouldn’t have submitted that brief if they didn’t think they stood a chance.