Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Now why would Hockey Canada’s prez want the NHL draft age pushed back?Far be it to say this would have anything to do with Team Canada's fate at the past two world junior hockey championships.

On Saturday, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson let it drop than he's planning to lobby the National Hockey League to raise the draft age by a year during its next round of collective bargaining negotiations. It seemed to slip through the cracks while attention was focused on 18-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' first NHL hat trick and the joy of seeing Don Cherry belatedly eating humble pie, but it seems worth examining.

From Eric Francis:

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson has submitted a nine-page document to the NHL outlining his belief the league's entry draft should move from age 18 to 19.

"I wanted to do it because I thought it was the best thing for Hockey Canada and the overall structure," said Nicholson, who hopes the study will be part of the upcoming CBA discussions.

"For the most part, 18- and 19-year-old players are not close to being ready for the NHL. If the draft goes back a year, it slows down the process at every level. Right now, everyone is on a treadmill to get there." (Calgary Sun)

For supporting evidence, Nicholson cited the 2003 NHL draft class, whose arrival in the NHL was pushed back by the '04-05 lockout. Another off-shoot of the lockout, which Francis didn't mention, was that another off-shoot of the lockout year was that Canada had one of its most stacked world junior squads of all time.

Nicholson says there would have to be some latitude, "meaning perhaps the top ten picks or entire first round would allow NHL teams to select 18-year-olds." However, is this just posturing? It's inconclusive at best whether moving the draft back would really make any big changes. There were draft picks who didn't pan out  when the NHL had a 20-year-old draft in the 1970s, too. As Joe Tasca pointed out, a different age cutoff won't idiot-proof the entry draft, or NHL organizations.

Analysts always like to use Josh Bailey as an example of a player who was rushed into the league. A first round draft pick in 2008, Bailey has failed to reach his potential during his first few years on Long Island. He bottomed out last season, spending part of the year in the minors.

Everyone seems to think Bailey's struggles can be blamed on the Islanders' refusal to send him back to Windsor to enjoy one final dominant season in the OHL. Apparently, Bailey wasn't given the opportunity to properly develop as a player, and as a result, may never recover. Not once has anyone suggested that Josh Bailey just might not be a good NHL player. No, that can't be.

... There's no definitive proof to support the argument that an extra year of junior will help more Canadians stick in the NHL. Nicholson says increasing the draft age will help teams draft more effectively, as scouts will have an additional year to better gauge a player's true potential. It's a shoddy argument, at best. What will a scout see in an 18-year-old than he doesn't see in a 17-year-old? More points, sure, but that doesn't necessarily mean the player is any closer to developing into a future pro stud. (Kukla's Korner)

Meantime,  one thinks of the players Canada has lost out on having at the world junior in recent years. The roll call of those who missed out on wearing the maple leaf over the Christmas holidays in recent years is pretty impressive: Jeff Skinner, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly. Steven Stamkos played in the world junior at age 17, but more in a minor role. If the draft was moved back in the next CBA, presto change, that might change with future players.

That's not to say that's Nicholson's ulterior or ultimate motive, but it's a hard connection to miss. Hockey Canada should be advocating on behalf on the Canadian Hockey League; neither should be ineffectual about how the the NHL handles 18- and 19-year-old players who can only go to the big league or back to junior.

Both should push to end the practice of stretching out the nine games a teenager drafted from the CHL can play in before the first year of his contract counts against the NHL salary cap. No one should be shuffled around like Brayden Schenn was last season when he played for five teams in four months (Los Angeles Kings, Manchester in the AHL for a conditioning stint, the Brandon Wheat Kings, Team Canada and the Saskatoon Blades.) It kind of sucks that Kitchener Rangers star Ryan Murphy's parents arrived in Raleigh, N.C., last week hoping to see his first NHL game only for him to cut on the same day. The same goes for teams such as the Niagara IceDogs and Portland Winterhawks losing points in the standings that could matter later on while Ryan Strome and Ryan Johansen are parked in a NHL arena press box. Perhaps the deadline should fall at the 10--game mark of the NHL team's season, regardless of how many times the player has dressed.

That actually would be in major junior hockey's interest.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).

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