In this offseason, the buzzword among Bruins fans has been simple: prospects, prospects, prospects. Thousands of Bostonians sat glued to their TVs or celebrated in the plaza outside Faneuil Hall as Peter Chiarelli announced the selection of Tyler Seguin with the #2 overall pick; the second round was just as exciting as the B's draftedJared Knight from London of the OHL with Toronto's former second round pick, as well as Ryan Spoonerwith the Bruins' own second rounder.
The two second-rounders, as well as other prospects like Craig Cunningham, Joe Colborne, and newly acquired David Warsofsky had a great development camp, prompting Bostonians to rub their hands together with glee once again. Three excellent draft picks for the price of one (Phil Kessel notwithstanding) seems pretty sweet. But as cuts are made, some fans have been left baffled as to why certain players are obligated to return to juniors; why some can go back to college after one camp but not another; why some players of the same age grouping split off to join the AHL or ECHL while others opt to go back to juniors for a fifth season; and why some kids can go to the AHL at 19 while others cannot.
As the waiver wire opens and movement happens, here's a primer on who can go where, when, and why.
There is an agreement in place between the NHL and the CHL (Canadian Hockey League, the overarching organization beneath which stand the OHL, the WHL, and the QMJHL) which exists primarily to protect the CHL. The rule is as follows:
Players drafted and playing for CHL teams are ineligible to play in the professional minor leagues (AHL, ECHL) until they are 20 years old (by December 31st of that year) or have completed four years in major juniors. A perfect example of this is Jared Knight, this year. Knight won't turn 20 until January 16, 2012. He's already completed two years in juniors, playing his third in London this season. If things continue along their course, and Knight does not make the NHL Bruins for the 2011-2012 season, he'll have to play that year in London as well, and will be eligible for AHL play in 2012-2013. Barring CHL involvement, players have to be 18 by September 15 to be eligible for the AHL at all.
That's the most basic version of this rule. Cunningham is exploiting another aspect of the agreement; the overage rule. While the main part of the agreement exists to keep talent in juniors (those leagues wouldn't be very competitive if, as soon as they were drafted, 18-year-olds could report to the minor league affiliates. The talent would weaken considerably), the overage rule is in place to encourage talent to siphon into the minors. CHL teams are allowed three players over the age limit (players who have already completed four years or who are 20 before 12/31 of that year). Cunningham is 20 years old as of September of this year, and he's completed four years of play for the Vancouver Giants; he was offered an AHL contract, but opted instead to play as one of the Giants' three overage players in a fifth year for his junior team.
European players further complicate The Agreement. If European players are drafted in the CHL draft before they're drafted by an NHL club, this rule applies to them. However, if they're drafted as a member of a European squad, and choose post-NHL-draft to play for a CHL team, they can, in fact, report to the NHL team's minor squads before the age limit kicks in. To explain this in detail, let's look at three European players who were drafted in 2006: Jiri Tlusty, Artem Anisimov, and Ivan Vishnevskiy. Based on the agreement, the age cutoff for the AHL for 18-year-old players drafted in 2006 would be 20 years old by December 30, 2008.
Artem Anisimov is the simplest of these three cases. He was drafted by the New York Rangers out of the Yaroslavl Locomotiv of the KHL, and was assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack at the age of 19 for the 2007-2008 season. He turned 20 on May 24, 2008. No CHL involvement means no age restriction. Easy enough.
Ivan Vishnevskiy is the opposite case. He was the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies' (QMJHL) second pick in the CHL import draft in 2005, before being drafted by the Dallas Stars out of R-N in 2006. Since he was drafted from a CHL team, the same rules apply to Vishnevskiy as any other player drafted from a CHL team: 20 years old or 4 years of play. Vishnevskiy played for Rouyn-Noranda for three seasons, turned 20 during the 2007-2008 season, and reported to the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL to start the 2008-2009 season.
Jiri Tlusty exemplifies the strange hybrid case of a European player who played for the CHL but was drafted from Europe. He was drafted tenth overall in 2006 from HC Kladno of the Czech Extraliga, then signed with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. After one season, he split the season between the Marlies of the AHL and the NHL's Maple Leafs as a 19-year-old. Since he was drafted by the Maple Leafs from Europe, he was eligible for minor league play. David Krejci could have been in a similar situation; he was also drafted from HC Kladno in the same draft before playing for the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL the following season; he, however, opted to spend two years in juniors before playing for the AHL P-Bruins at the age of 20.
These rules don't just apply to Europeans, as was the case with the Blackhawks' Jeremy Morin. He was drafted out of the USA's National Development program before signing with the Kitchener Rangers in 2009-2010. After some controversy, it appears he will report to Rockford of the AHL to begin the 2010-2011 season if he does not make the Blackhawks' NHL squad.
THE "OTHER" AGREEMENT
Another element in this convoluted equation is the NCAA, the United States' college organization (Canadian universities don't fall under this umbrella). College players can turn pro whenever they want; the caveat being as soon as they sign even a tryout agreement or play a single game for pay, they're immediately ineligible to play in the NCAA.
Development camps over the summer don't count, which is why Warsofsky and Tommy Cross were visible there but not at rookie camp this year. Both returned to college, Warsofsky to Boston University and Cross to Boston College. Others like Matt Bartkowski and Colborne gave up a few years of university to turn pro after their college seasons ended last year; both finished two years of school. Colborne gave up his NCAA eligibility the moment he signed with the P-Bruins last season; Bartkowski gave his up when he signed his contract over the summer. The moment pen touches paper, they can't go back to college to play hockey. This even extends to college players attending development camps/rookie tournaments before Labor Day (Traverse City, for example, used to be held in August) - they must pay their own way entirely, as part of this, which is why NCAA players often will opt out of summer NHL camps. The NCAA is incredibly rigid on their eligibility rules.
On the flip side of this, college players could theoretically leave school at age 19 and play in th AHL, as the CHL has no bearing on what college players do. As an example, Jonathan Sigalet left Bowling Green State University after one year to play for the P-Bruins at the age of 19 in 2005-2006. Chris Bourque did the same, albeit earlier; he left Boston University midseason of his freshman year in 2005 to play for the Portland Pirates. This year, Nick Leddy of the Chicago Blackhawks is also eligible to play in Rockford at the age of 19, after leaving the University of Minnesota.