A few weeks ago a KHL team tried to pull a fast one on the NHL by drafting 2015 draft eligible forward Connor McDavid in their 2014 draft. He was taken in the 2nd round and the news made waves all over North America. Many were asking if he had to go or if he would indeed go. If he for some reason decides to go to the KHL he’ll definitely have home, It’s unlikely McDavid will indeed head over to the KHL when he’s just a season away from the NHL. While McDavid won’t be heading to the KHL, it might be time for the NHL to reconsider their agreement with the CHL before the KHL becomes a real threat to their junior players.
For the most part the NHL doesn’t have to worry about their “stars” ditching the glamorours NHL life and going to the KHL. The older players that do head to the KHL are either of Russian descent or are past their prime and hoping to extend their careers by a few extra years. The NHL isn’t truly worried about those guys, for every one veteran who heads to the KHL, there are 200 other players willing to take their spot in the NHL. What Gary Bettman and the NHL need to be worried about is the next generation of NHL players coming out of the CHL, who have no place to play. The NHL and CHL have an agreement, that any CHL player under the age of 20 can only play in the NHL. If their NHL club doesn’t have room for them, they have to be sent back to their CHL team until they’re good enough for the NHL. There is no option for the player to go to the AHL, it’s either over their head in the NHL or below their feet in the CHL.
Let’s use Mikhail Grigorenko and the Buffalo Sabres as the example today, because this has happened to these two parties for the last two seasons. Grigorenko has nothing left to prove at the CHL level, yet isn’t quite ready for a full time stint in the NHL with the Sabres. The perfect place for Grigorenko to get the development time he needs is the AHL, however because Grigorenko was only 19 this season he wasn’t allowed to play in the AHL. For the Sabres their only two options became letting Grigorenko sit in the press box at the NHL level or have him play with the kids in the CHL level; Not the most ideal situation for either party. At one point Grigorenko even refused to show up to his QMJHL team and there was some talk he would indeed head to the KHL to play professionally.
Mikhail Grigorenko isn’t the only one who has seen his development held up by this deal with the CHL and with the KHL having a brand of professional hockey slightly below the NHL, what’s to stop these junior players from heading over to the KHL for a year or two before they’re NHL ready? Heck, some of them might camp out there for their careers.
We’re seeing more and more European players who are drafted by the NHL staying in the Swedish elite leagues or the KHL to play out their junior days, before coming to North America to play in the NHL. The Swedish Elite league and KHL offer a very competitive brand of hockey and provides players who aren’t able to play in the AHL with a professional brand of hockey.
It’s not the veterans heading overseas the NHL needs to worry about; It’s the younger players. The KHL is very confident in their ability to become a rival to the NHL and drafting McDavid took guts, maybe the next NHL eligible player the draft will make the hop over to the KHL for his junior hockey days. Just take a look at their never ending pursuit of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The KHL is very confident in the level of their league.
With the KHL expanding and many players taking the college route instead of the CHL, the NHL and AHL might want to reconsider the agreement with the CHL. For players who don’t believe they need more time in junior, or those having trouble getting the attention from their NHL club, the KHL is very real option. Players like Mikhail Grigorenko have options, the NHL isn’t the only league around anymore and while Connor McDavid isn’t about to head to the KHL, what’s to stop other young and talented players who aren’t interested in CHL playing time? Not to mention the KHL will offer them money, while the CHL will not.
There is little doubt the NHL is still the best league for professional hockey around and every young players dream is to lace up in the NHL. However, what’s some time playing competitively in the KHL before your NHL days begin?