There are always a lot of questions on where a prospect will play this upcoming season if the player does not make the Blues roster. For many prospects, it is very limited on where they can play. Let’s review the different options:
Canadian Hockey League: The CHL, often called Juniors, consists of three leagues, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL). If a player was playing in the CHL prior to being drafted, the player must remain in the CHL until they are 20 years old by December 31st of that season (if they don’t make the NHL roster). A good example of this is Ivan Barbeshev and Robby Fabbri. Both players were drafted in the 2014 NHL Draft, and both players were playing in the CHL. Fabbri and Barbeshev played the 2014-2015 season for their CHL teams, Guelph and Moncton respectively. The next season 2015-2016, Fabbri was given a 9-game tryout for the Blues and made the team for the rest of the season. However, due to his January 22nd birthday, he would have been sent back to Guelph for the remainder of the season. Barbeshev on the other hand, didn’t make the NHL roster, but due to his birthday being December 14th, he played for the Chicago Wolves. Players who play in junior hockey are eligible to sign their entry-level contract (ELC). The contract will not burn contract years when playing in the CHL. This is the “slide” rule in the CBA. If Jordan Kyrou does not make the NHL roster, he will return to Sarnia, his junior hockey team.
College Hockey: If a player plays in the CHL, major junior hockey, they are not eligible to play college hockey. The NCAA has ruled that playing major junior is professional level hockey. However, certain junior players will play in the Junior A league that allows players to still have college eligibility. There are 10 of these leagues scattered around Canada, most notably the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Colton Parayko played in the AJHL before going to play college hockey. Most college hockey players come from the high school ranks or the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Local boy, Clayton Keller is an example of a player coming from the USNTDP program and then going on to play college hockey. College hockey players are not eligible to sign an ELC and remain eligible for college hockey. When Tage Thompson and Jake Walman signed their ELC after their college seasons ended last year, they both forfeited their remaining college eligibility.
American Hockey League (AHL): Players are eligible to play in the AHL when they turn 18. However, as discussed previously, CHL players are not eligible to play in the “A” at that age. It is rare for a player to play in the AHL at that age, but if they are, they are most likely international players. For example, William Nylander played at age 19 for the Toronto Marlies. This also looks to be the route for Blues 31st overall pick, Klim Kostin. Top CHL players may join the AHL team once their CHL season ends. The same for college players if they sign their ELC and forfeit their remaining college eligibility. For each AHL game, 13 of the 18 skaters must be development players. Of those 13 players, 12 must have played less than 260 professional games and one player must have less than 320 games. Professional games include international professional leagues. Walman, Dunn, and Thompson all will play in the AHL this season, if they do not make the Blues roster.
International Leagues: There are a lot of international professional leagues that drafted prospects will play instead of coming across the pond. Peterri Lindbohm was drafted in 2012 and played for 2 years in the Finnish professional league before joining the Blues. This may be the route for Niko Mikkola, too. This route allows international players to develop closer to their home before deciding to move to North America. The CHL does have an international draft for if international players decide they want to come over and develop on the smaller rink. Alexey Toropchenko has decided to take this option.
Teams are limited on the contracts they can sign to a total of 50. This includes NHL and two-way contracts. However, 18 and 19-year-old players that are in a junior league do not count towards the 50 contracts.
Another question that comes up often is regarding two-way contracts. A two-way contract does not make a player ineligible for waivers. The main difference between a two-way and one-way contract is the salary they player is paid in the AHL. A two-way contract pays players a reduced, agreed upon, rate in the AHL that is less than their salary if they played in the NHL. Waiver eligibility is a much more complicated process determined by the amount of games played and age when signing an NHL contract.