Nikita Filatov scored 16 goals and 32 points in 39 games for the Syracuse Crunch last season. (Getty Images)
There have been some bumper NHL rookie crops recently, but making The Show right after getting drafted is rarely a given. Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn are just a few who have done it in the past couple years, while the 2009-10 roster spots for John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene are all but guaranteed.
But what if some other big names don’t make it?
Under a longstanding agreement between the NHL and Canadian League, a player who still has junior eligibility must return to major junior, which is great for the CHL team, but what about the player?
Rushing a prospect can have disastrous consequences – no doubt about that – but I think it’s time the standards are relaxed and exceptional teen players be given the option of going to the American League.
To wit; Duchene’s teammate on the Brampton Battalion, Cody Hodgson, is seen as a very important part of the Vancouver Canucks’ future, but would currently be outside the team’s top six forward corps, behind fellow centers Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
If the Canucks wanted to ensure Hodgson spent the season getting big minutes – as opposed to say, 12 per game in Vancouver – wouldn’t the Manitoba Moose be the best destination for him? Naturally, Brampton fans would disagree, but Hodgson has accomplished everything he can as an individual in the Ontario League (a league title and Memorial Cup have eluded him, but with Brampton weaker and Windsor even stronger this year, it’s not going to happen) and is ready to play against men.
That’s a key distinction to make in this debate, actually. Teen players are a lot savvier these days than they were even 10 years ago. Thanks to personal trainers and nutritionists – not to mention their own unswerving dedication – these boys get man-sized a lot quicker. Schenn is a great example of this, while an exception to the CHL rule also proves the axiom.
Nikita Filatov, thanks to being drafted by Columbus before Sudbury of the OHL, went from Russia to the AHL, where he spent most of the season with the Syracuse Crunch (and brief stints with the Blue Jackets). Despite being just 18 when he first skated with the Crunch, Filatov was a dynamic force on the team, putting up 32 points in 39 games. That was good enough to tie him for fourth in team points, despite only playing half the season.
I saw Filatov play live twice last year for Syracuse and he was sick. He didn’t look like an awkward teenager; he looked like a circling Mako Shark who feeds on turnovers and shaky netminders. He did so against men, some of which were nearly twice his age, while others were in the AHL because they’re NHL-nasty, but not skilled enough to make the leap. That is to say, Filatov was exposed to those who wish him harm and the kid survived and thrived.
Similarly, Washington pick John Carlson had a great run with Calder Cup-champ Hershey once his OHL season was finished. If the defenseman doesn’t make the Caps this year, where should he go?
Technically, Tyler Myers should go back to Kelowna of the Western League if he doesn’t make the Sabres this season, but dude’s 6-foot-7 and 211 pounds. The blueliner showed off his slick skating with the Rockets last year, so honing his game for the next level would be better served in Portland with the AHL’s Pirates, would it not?
Playing in the AHL as a teenager shouldn’t be the norm, but for exceptional players who aren’t going to be NHL regulars, it should at least be an option now.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.