by Jason Nadeau
The eternal question for all hockey prospects in North America is IF they should sign in the WHL or its other CHL brethren the QMJHL or OHL? Now, this issue is so big, I can’t really give you advice worth listening to without knowing your individual circumstances. In fact, my position is that choosing between the CHL or NCAA is entirely dependent upon your own specific situation and there is no general ‘correct’ answer or path to follow.
I would actually put aside the issue of IF and concentrate on the one that I can provide some insight on, WHEN should you sign in the WHL/CHL? I have put together an INNOVATIVE and ORIGINAL statistical examination of the WHL that analyses how many games are played by first and second year prospects. This should provide an interesting look at who actually gets ice-time and IF it is in your best interest to sign and play as soon as possible or to wait and explore other options.
This will be a multi-part discussion that examines two seasons in the Western Hockey League, the 2007-08 & 2008-09 seasons. I don’t want to just throw a bunch of stats at you because it will be too convoluted to wade through. I think the best approach will be to break down each discussion point by issue and statistical results and then provide my conclusions. Hopefully, this will allow you a point of reference from which to make up your own mind on your best career path. And if you have already made a decision, this information should at least provide you with a benchmark to evaluate your current progress by.
The Raw Statistical Data is Below.
WHL 2007-08 1991′s
WHL 2007-08 1992′s
WHL 2008-09 1992′s
WHL 2008-09 1993′s
I will divide it up and provide you with the results throughout the articles.
Part 1: 1st Year Midget Players in the WHL – 5 Game Rule
Below is a chart that examines 1992 through 1993 birth years in their first season of WHL eligibility.
Total Players Signed (1992)-2007-08 42
Total Games Played 152
Players Per Team Who Played Games 1.9
Avg GP Per Player 3.62
Total Players Signed (1993)-2008-09 29
Total Games Played 107
Players Per Team Who Played Games 1.32
Avg GP Per Player 3.7
Now, I’ll do my best to explain what I was evaluating and what its consequences are, if any?
Let’s start with the data on 1st year WHL players. This is a group of players that are ONLY allowed to play 5 games during the course of the regular season with their ‘designated’ WHL or CHL club. If their midget team is eliminated from further competition, they are allowed to play beyond that 5 game mark during the playoff run of the Major Junior team.
1) How many players actually play in their first season & How many games do they typically play?
The combined results for first year players (71 total players) show us that an average of 35.5 players or 1.82 player per team actually played games each year and that the players averaged 3.65 games played each.
So this begs the question, What benefits do players have by signing in their first year of CHL eligibility for their 5 game ‘experience’? The obvious answer is the experience itself. This definitely has merit for a lot of players, much like a call-up to the BIG club AHL to NHL, actual game play in the regular season helps players to realize how far they still have to come and what they need to focus on to improve their game or it reinforces their confidence and they now see that they can play effectively at that level in the future.
However, let’s cut to the chase and examine the benefits from a more materialistic, ‘What’s in it for me’ approach? The CHL is bound to provide each player a FULL year scholarship at the college/university level for every season that a player plays in the CHL. As long as a player plays at least 1 game each season, they are bound to provide that financial assistance to a player at the end of their CHL career. This is a good way to ensure you are getting partial financial coverage of your future academic career, especially if the result of playing that one game is losing out any hope of earning a NCAA scholarship. At the CHL level, hockey is a 100 Million Dollar PLUS business each year, make sure you are NOT taken advantage of while protecting your own future interests and career.
2) Who actually plays WHL games?
Of that 71 players who gain WHL experience, 33 or 46.5% of the total amount of players were either 1st or 2nd round WHL draft picks. The overwhelming majority of the remaining players were 3rd-4th rounders with VERY FEW being mid to late round picks.
Since the majority of signings are top draft picks, who other then those elite few benefits from signing a CHL contract at this point or earlier?
If I were a 5thround or later draft pick or an undrafted player, I would NOT even worry for 1 second about considering the WHL option at this age group. Concentrate on your 1st season of Midget hockey and sleep better at night (that goes for you parents as well). The data proves that you wont play and further, what benefit do you truly get from playing 3.65 games?
However, if I were a high round pick, my best advice would be to treat this 3-5 game audition for what it is….. LEVERAGE!!!!
Let’s face facts, the only reason the WHL has their Bantam Draft 1 year earlier then the OHL is that they want to eliminate the NCAA option and competition for players as soon as possible. If you notice ALL the rhetoric being spewed back and forth lately between the NCAA and the CHL you will find that the large majority of it comes from the OHL because they still have to compete for higher end players at later dates then is the case in the WHL. On the West coast, it is largely a moot discussion because our results show that the top 35+ players of each group sign WHL/CHL contracts before they are even eligible to play Junior hockey on a regular basis! It is a great way to control your market and your products, which are of course, your children.
Let’s face it, 5 games is NOT going to really affect how you play the following year or impact in a major way IF you make the team or not, nor make a big difference in the grand scheme of things developmentally. They want to deny you the NCAA option as soon as possible. Even if you have NO INTENTION of going the NCAA route, use this leverage for ALL that it is worth. Gain every possible concession that you can. Negotiate as many years of scholarship in advance as possible. Now, the WHL has tried to limit the amount of years that a team can provide a player at one time, but never forget that these are multi-million dollar businesses and they can and will bend the rules to suit their own purposes whenever they can. In the VERY least, trade your NCAA rights for at LEAST TWO years of WHL scholarship guarantees. The more you can get in advance the better for your future. We all know that CHL teams sometimes pay their veteran players significant salaries to fill their arenas instead of that player turning pro early. Therefore, they are sometimes willing to be creative in securing their latest and most valuable ‘products’. So remember to use one of the few instances in your young career where you can rightfully leverage your value for a reasonable return!
I will conclude this discussion in my next article before moving on to the topic of 2nd year Midget players and a prospects true first year of Junior Eligibility!
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