Already, it seemed the perfect time to consider life for 18-year-olds in the NHL, with Mika Zibanejad of the Senators meeting Sean Couturier of the Flyers.
And then Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson strolled down the corridor at Scotiabank Place to cement the deal.
President Bob is on a mission these days. Hockey Canada would like to see the NHL entry draft age raised by a year – so that NHL teams select players that are 19, instead of 18. Excepted would be the elite 18-year-olds, perhaps a top 10 list, or maybe the entire first round. That would have to be decided upon by the NHL and its players association.
Nicholson doesn’t deny that the likes of Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all demonstrated they can play in the league at the tender age of 18, RNH being the latest to join after Skinner and Hall strutted their stuff a year. Other kids, the mere mortals, should given longer time to develop, Nicholson argues.
“It’s about the trickle down effect through minor hockey,” Nicholson says. “Now, it’s sort of the norm for exceptional players to play up (in higher age groups), it used to be the exception. And we’d like to slow that process down and allow our players to – not just be good players, but exceptional players before moving up to that next level.”
Where does the proposal go from here?
Nicholson has had several discussions with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, and has been told the move would have to include an “exceptional player” clause to avoid legal challenges. A Hockey Canada study looking at graduates since the lockout shows that very few 18-year-old players selected beyond round one have an impact in the NHL right way.
Ryan O’Reilly, a second round pick (33rd overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in 2009, is held up as the rare example of a later pick able to jump to the NHL without a problem.
It will be interesting to see what the NHL and its players association have to say about the issue, though it will hardly head the list of pending Collective Bargaining Agreement talking points. In general, the PA wants those entry level contracts to kick in as soon as possible, and yet the 18-year-old rookies are also taking up the spots held by current card-carrying PA members.
If the league and PA did agree to change the age, would it alter things very much when only a handful of 18-year-olds play in the league anyway? The “exceptional player” clause would have to be more restrictive than the entire first round for this move to have teeth.
Senators center Jason Spezza was a second overall pick in 2001, but returned to junior and didn’t join the NHL until 19, when he split time between the Senators (33 games) and AHL Binghamton (43 games).
Spezza knows this much. Today’s teens are more ready physically and mentally to join the pros than they were a decade ago.
“Coming to camp now, 18 year olds are a hell of a lot more prepared than they’ve ever been,” Spezza says. “They’ve got their own nutritionists, trainers. Look at (Zibanejad). He’s 200 lbs now, he’s going to play at 220 or 225.
“It would be tough (to change the age). It’s been an 18 year-old draft for how long?”
For about 30 years. But it wasn’t always so. The first draft age, in 1963, was actually 17, and the first player drafted, Garry Monahan, was 16 years and seven months (players could turn 17 between Aug. 1, 1963 and July 31, 1964). During the 1960s and ’70s the age shifted a few times, jumping to 18 in 1965, rising as high as 20 before settling at 18.
ZIBA VS COUTU
Let’s hold off on those Zibanejad/Couturier, sixth vs. eighth overall, comparisons just yet. It’s way too early. Comparing teenage prospects requires a two to three year window, not two to three weeks. Will Zibanejad even be here next week, past the nine-game trial? We know Couturier will be, as he has been given the green light to reside with veteran forward Danny Briere. Neither rookie had a huge impact on a game that the play of Senators backup goaltender Alex Auld ensured was over after 20 minutes.
Last year, it was Claude Giroux bunking at Chez Briere, now it’s Couturier, set to move in this week.
“I’m making lots of money on him,” quipped Danny Briere, the great French Canadian mentor on the Flyers. “Like with Claude, I start low, and when they start making the big bucks, I charge them more. That’s why Claude moved out – too pricey for him.”
Giroux cracks back that Briere, a divorced dad of three boys, is a “terrible cook,” and that the men lived on takeout and the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. Briere’s boys, aged 10, 12 and 13 can’t wait until Couturier moves in and they have a new video game partner to gang up on.
“Three kids and two dogs – you don’t get bored,” Giroux said.