June 20, 2012
Make it two high draft picks bent on casting off the shackles of the Canadian Hockey League's agreement with the NHL. A report from the Vancouver Province says Canucks first-round choice Nicklas Jensen is exploring playing in the Swedish Elite League rather than return for his final season with the Oshawa Generals.
There were indications last month that Boston Bruins second-rounder Alexander Khokhachlev, a Russian, might play in the KHL. Jensen was a point-per-game player during his second season with the Generals this past winter, so it's understandable that he would want a greater challenge for his age-19 year. This could be more peculiar to Jensen's situation than a sign of a growing trend, although he and Khokhlachev are not the only import players who looked at going to Europe at that age. Since Denmark is such a tiny hockey nation, many Danes have opted to develop in Sweden; here one thinks of Ottawa Senators centre Peter Regin.
It appears the Generals might be out one veteran scorer. In the big picture, one can only wonder what North American players at a similar stage in their growth — long shot to stick in the NHL at 19 but possibly too advanced for major junior — think of this. From Jim Jamieson:
A variety of factors played into the decision, said [Jensen's agent] Anton Thun, but chief amongst them was the belief that Jensen, 19 ... needs to play professional hockey next season. An agreement with Canadian major junior hockey prevents 19-year-old players from playing for NHL clubs' minor league teams."If he's not playing with the Canucks, he's going to be in Sweden," said Thun. "That's the best course for his development. In Sweden, he'll face a better level of competition."
... Thun said he is talking to "three or four" teams in the Swedish Elite League — Sweden's top professional league — to place Jensen there on a one-year deal. Thun said Jensen will train with his Swedish club in August and then be released to attend Canucks training camp in September. Of course, with a new NHL's collective bargaining agreement very much up in the air, it remains to be seen if training camps are held as usually scheduled.If Jensen were to stick with Vancouver, he would have an out-clause from the Swedish contract, the agent said. (Vancouver Province)
(Cue every coach and GM in the USHL and various European leagues which see players leave for the CHL saying, "Welcome to our world," in several languages.)
There is nothing to stop a Canadian player from doing the same thing, aside from the likelihood of having greater culture shock and possibly being labelled as a maverick within the conservative hockey world. The CHL-NHL agreement is up for renewal this summer as the big league works toward a new collective bargaining agreement. Coincidentally, Plymouth Whalers coach-GM Mike Vellucci was asked during a livechat earlier Wednesday if there was any possibility the agreement would be tweaked, allowing draft picks from the CHL to play in the minors before their 20-year-old season. Vellucci replied, "I have faith in Dave Branch to not let that happen," referring to the CHL president and Ontario League commissioner.
One wouldn't bet against Branch finessing an extension for the CHL's rather cushy agreement. It is clear some agents and players are more determined to deke around it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.