Photo courtesy of the Chicago Wolves/AHL
The NHL-CHL agreement has long been a complaint amongst fans, and even NHL teams to an extent. It is simple at its root. The base of it is that players have to be either 20 years old or have played four seasons in junior hockey before they can join an NHL team’s minor-league affiliate. This is a conundrum that is often talked about because there always seems to be a 19-year-old who is forced to go back to junior and then tears his league apart with ease because he was clearly too good for the CHL a year earlier.
The reality is that some years, there are players that would likely benefit from being able to play at the AHL level at 18 or 19 years old. Putting up over two points-per-game at the CHL level is impressive but it’s not necessarily the best thing for a prospect, especially if he came close to the mark as a draft-eligible prospect. Often times a prospect develops bad or lazy habits because the game just comes so easy to them.
This year, due to the global pandemic that has delayed the OHL and, until recently, the WHL, we have been given the chance to see many of the players drafted this past October in the AHL. To say they’ve been successful would be an understatement. Seth Jarvis, drafted 13th overall by Carolina, leads the AHL in scoring with 11 points in 9 games but was sent back to Portland on March 2nd because of the agreement. Jamie Drysdale, drafted 6th overall by Anaheim, was just named Rookie of the Month in the AHL thanks to his nine points in 11 games, good for a tie of the team lead. Zayde Wisdom, Nicholas Robertson, Quinton Byfield, Connor McMichael, and Phillip Tomasino, among others, are putting up big numbers for teenagers at the AHL level.
So what do we do with the NHL-CHL agreement? First, we have to look at why it’s in place. The primary reason it is in place, at the heart of it all, is the sustainability of the CHL and the three leagues (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) within it. If teams were allowed to take their drafted players out of their junior team’s hands at will when they are hitting their peak junior hockey years, you strip them of the reason many fans are in the buildings. The CHL is dependant on the gate revenue and people being in the building and in a typical year, they would feel the hit of losing a star like Drysdale or Byfield. The NHL needs the CHL to stay healthy and flourish because it is the largest feeder league (or trio of leagues) to the NHL. The more revenue those teams generate the better their ability to continue to improve in every aspect from off-ice training to skill development.
Having the best North American junior-ag