Wright, Savoie, and Exceptional Status

In Canadian major junior hockey, the exceptional status is given to a 15-year-old player who the league deems good enough to play an entire season at the major junior level. Otherwise, the player would only be able to play five games at age 15 in major junior until they turned 16. Before this season, the only players who were granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno. Of all of them, only Veleno wasn’t playing in the Ontario Hockey League; he was a Quebec League player.

This season, two players applied and only one was granted the status. Shockingly enough, it was a player from the OHL that was given the status in Shane Wright. The other– Matthew Savoie– was not given status, despite him having been compared to Sidney Crosby at age 14. It also continues the Western Hockey League not granting players exceptional status. Due to this, Savoie said that he committed to the University of Denver for the 2021-22 season. It should be noted that Jack Hughes also applied for exceptional status two years ago, but was denied and is now on his way to University of Michigan next fall….maybe…if he doesn’t get to the NHL before that, as he is projected to be one of the top two picks in this Draft.

There’s two way to think about this whole situation. The first is that it’s a travesty that the WHL isn’t letting this kid, who has 31 goals and 71 points in 31 games playing a year older than he should be. The second is that it’s good that the WHL isn’t rushing a kid who may not be able to deal with the grind of travel and physicality that the WHL often presents, not to mention the mental and maturity factor of it all.

It’s easy to see both sides of the coin. You don’t want to have a kid who’s obviously head and shoulders above his peers in bantam or midget hockey, risk him getting bored or even seriously injured, or embarrass the competition. In most of the exceptional cases– the players were able to succeed with three of the five of them being 1st overall picks in the NHL Draft and four of five being in the first round. Sean Day was the player who didn’t get pick in the first round, though he was also the only defenseman of the group who was given that status.

Some believe that Day’s performance was the reason why Hughes wasn’t given the status, but that’s subjective as hell and you could counter that by saying it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.

On the flip side, it’s almost good for the younger players not getting bigger than they should be if they aren’t ready for it. Again another subjective aspect of the judging process, but at the same time– to hold off on a player who the committee may have the slightest doubt of it is erring on the side of caution. You may lose a player or two– like with Savoie and Hughes– but it might be better than burning them out at a young age or having them flame out when such high expectations were placed onto them. Plus, when I mentioned maturity– these kids at 15 may or may not be ready to take on a pro-like schedule, away from home all the time, and growing up before they may be ready to.

While it could be the CHL’s loss, the NCAA does have the ability in something great. Of course, Hughes may not make it to the college level, while Savoie could be using his as a bluff or doing the same thing as Jack Eichel in playing the year before his draft year and then leaving after a season. Many claim that the major junior route is the quickest route to the NHL– and it’s probably true– but at the same time, if Savoie and Hughes can play in the NCAA, even for a year, and dominate before going to the NHL; it may change some opinions…but probably not.

On the Topic Of Training Camp and Prospects

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Training Camps are when hope springs eternal for some teams. Other teams it’s just a chance to see how good a team will be two or three or more years down the line. However, the idea that there are people who are actually “fighting” for a spot on the team is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there’s going to be pressure on some guys, but by in large, the depth charts are pretty set.

Not only that, but it’s very odd hockey where it’s much like spring training where there’s split squads and some fans go overboard with the results– both positively and negatively. It often gets annoying and makes me want to speed up to opening night to make the idea of “position battles” go away for another year.

The thing that irks me the most is keeping the kids who have junior eligibility in the camp far longer than they should be. In all honesty, the only time a player with junior eligibility should be at an NHL camp is when it’s the prospects camp early in the summer. The NHL really should look at an “exceptional player” rule to allow some of these junior players the chance to make the team out of camp, but it would also allow the other ones who really don’t have a chance the ability to train and then play for their junior team because their seasons start earlier than the NHL’s.

It just seems a bit silly to have over sixty players in a camp when they’re going to send 15-20 home on their first few days, a majority of them going back to their junior team. I understand that technically those players are the property of the NHL teams, but does it really do them any good to have that short of an experience and miss some time with the team they’re going to spend the majority of the season with?? It’s almost the same as my disdain for keeping players up for nine games when they know they aren’t going to play there for the entirety of the season.

The idea of raising the draft age is a smart one. Even if it’s just a year, it’ll allow the player to mature more in juniors, which would do them a world of good. When you look at the amount of players who are going the NCAA route, it just shows that if you raise the age or not, those players aren’t going to be jumping into The Show right away; which is maybe what teams want with some of the contracts that they give to players being a placeholder for the prospects spot.

Maybe I’m just not into the training camp hype. One player does amazing against junior or AAAA-level talent and then people wonder why he’s a bust during the year when playing against actual pro level talent. Let the kids be kids in the junior area or the NCAA area. They don’t need to be jumped into the league when you not only lack the room for them, but also could destroy their confidence down the rode for being pushed ahead too early.

Minor League News: Re-No and New Found Land for ECHL in St. John’s??

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There has been some news out on the ECHL in the past couple days when it comes to markets that are looking to get into the league. One of the stories is good, the other– not so much.

The bad news first in that the mirage of the Reno market for the ECHL continues. It seems that Reno has been in the mix for the ECHL for the better part of a decade. There seemed to be some traction when the Reno Puck Club came to be in 2016, but since then– there has been some personnel turnover on the city of Reno side which has stalled a team getting into the market, while the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority is looking to get out of managing the possible Events Center that the team could be playing in. While some in Reno think this is just a formality before a team gets there– especially with Vegas being in the NHL and a perfect link to affiliation– I wouldn’t hold the collective breath of the area.

However, one interesting story popped up about a group trying to bring the ECHL to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labarador of all places. Since the St. John’s IceCaps are no more after Montreal moved their AHL operations to Laval, the Mile One Centre has been bare. There are two groups trying to get hockey back to the area, though– one of which is trying to get the QMJHL back into the arena, while there’s a second group looking to get the ECHL into the area. In fact, it seems that Dean MacDonald, the man heading up the ECHL St. John’s effort, thinks that he could ice a team in the ECHL for 2018-19 if all goes to his plan…which seems really quick and really quiet for all involved.

This story has had some rumors come out of it, but it’s never really taken serious considering how much of an outpost that St. John’s has been when it comes to minor league hockey. The fan base there is second to none when it comes to support, but at the same time, even with the Northeast expansion the ECHL has had– St. John’s would still be over 1,200 miles away from their closest competition, the newly-minted Maine Mariners. That’s been the problematic part with St. John’s being in the AHL and possibly the ECHL.

In all honesty, the QMJHL makes sense since there is a Maritime Division and there would be much closer rivals. Not only that, but the QMJHL could bring a little better profit with the shorter distance to travel, less player payment, and probably better turnout for hockey. The ECHL seems like something that would be lost on Canadian fans. There’s only one team currently in Brampton and only two in the history of the league– lest we forget the Victoria Salmon Kings.

Yet, the fact that focus is on the ECHL shows that there’s a really good business model that owners want to get into. Sure, the lack of other leagues help– but there hasn’t been much of anything to say that the ECHL doesn’t have the best model to go by. That’s one of the reasons why the Utah Grizzlies haven’t jumped ship back to the AHL and that’s due to how the ECHL works out for them dollars and sense-wise.

While we patiently wait for Reno and eyebrow-cock St. John’s, the fact that more people want to get into the minor league hockey business is a good problem to have for the league looking to keep growing from their 27 teams right now.