Throughout the lead-up to the NHL lockout, there's been plenty of uncertainty about how it would affect the Canadian Hockey League and 20-year-old overage players. As late as last week, four days before the deadline, one signed 20-year-old draft pick had no idea if he could play in his team's regular-season opener.
Please bear in mind this is a situation specific to the Regina Pats and defenceman Colton Jobke. But Jobke, who was a free-agent signing two seasons ago, has been told he can't play while he's technically assigned to the American League. If he had been assigned to the CHL, which some NHL teams have already done, then it would be no problem.
From Greg Harder:
The 20-year-old defenceman, who's under contract to the NHL's Minnesota Wild, has been informed that he can't play for the Pats before he leaves to try out for the AHL's Houston Aeros.
"I got a call from Brent Flahr, the assistant GM in Minnesota," explained Jobke. "It was kind of bizarre. I didn't really expect a call from him so I was kind of nervous when I saw a missed call from him. He just explained that I was placed on Houston's roster for the time being until things move ahead (with the lockout) and, for insurance purposes, I wasn't allowed to play anymore." (Regina Leader-Post)
No one should panic and wonder if this affects every junior who is signed to a pro contract. It is an exceptional circumstance even within the exceptional circumstances of a lockout, since Jobke had not been assigned to the Pats. It would not apply to a younger player; for instance, the Winnipeg Jets sent 19-year-old world junior forward Mark Scheifele back to the Barrie Colts last week.
A player has to demonstrate where he should play this season — in the minors or back in junior. Twenty-year-olds return to the CHL every season.
The lockout could amp up the numbers game for several CHL teams, but there's no guarantee the volume of 20-year-olds coming back will be closer to a flood than a trickle. The principle of upside suggests a team will want to push the younger player over a minor-league veteran. Interestingly enough, though, the Western League has an Oct. 10 cutdown date for overages, which almost syncs up with the Oct. 12 start to this AHL season.
A team with a deeper, older lineup can also hold a spot for a player. The OHL's Plymouth Whalers are doing so for 20-year-old Colorado Avalanche pick Mitchell Heard, who's currently with the Avs' AHL team.
Meantime, what's the logic behind everything happening last minute? For instance, Kamloops Blazers Guy Charron told the Kamloops Daily News last week that the Columbus Blue Jackets hadn't clarified whether one of their 20-year-old prospects, defenceman Austin Madaisky, was cleared to play in WHL regular-season games. It probably goes to NHL teams not wanting to do anything that might give the appearance the intention all along was to have a lockout, which is probably decided on a level above the front office.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.