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Prospect Pulse: The Right Path

Over the last month or so, I have been reviewing the Jets’ prospects and trying to get up to speed with each kid’s developmental path, issues that have come to light since they were drafted/signed and then trying to extrapolate where they are headed as a player.

Running parallel to this research is my interest in the ongoing battle between the NCAA and the CHL. The CHL has had a good summer on the battlefront, luring several big name draftees (Miller, Gibson et al.) away from their college commitments. The NCAA is obviously chagrined, and the usual war of words (better NHL-track, more games, money changing hands, etc.) has been keeping the dog days of summer interesting.

More on this ongoing battle in player development after the jump.

One of the oft-repeated charges (never actually leveled by the NCAA or its schools) is that the NHL clubs who draft the players will pressure them to sign entry-level deals and play in major junior or the American league (with college drafted players being exempt from some rules). To my knowledge, I have never seen this charge proven or even admitted to publically by an NHL executive. Nevertheless, I can certainly see it happening if the club does not want to wait long for said player to make his professional debut. And, I suppose the NHL team has every right to steer their draft pick towards what they feel is the best developmental path.

On the flip side, I also understand why colleges are upset at losing high end recruits. They have spent a lot of time and effort convincing these kids to play at their respective schools, and losing good players helps neither the level of play nor the prestige of college hockey. This is not to say college hockey always loses out, as they are able to recruit and retain some very high-level players who were actively pursued by CHL teams.

This brings me, finally, to my point. I personally subscribe to the notion that there is a “right” place for every player to play. If one kid is mature and ready to play major junior at 16, then that’s what he should do. If a player is a little behind developmentally or physically, perhaps college is better for him because it will feature fewer games and more practice/training time. In short, it’s a decision best left to the individual player.

Going forward, I am extremely curious to see how the Jets will handle these situations. It is my hope that they will not blindly subscribe to one developmental path or the other, but will rather assess the situation on a per-player basis. They have been proactive in looking at college free-agents and the Moose were formerly very good at finding undrafted gems in major junior. To cut off either of these pipelines would be detrimental to the team going forward.

Using my crystal ball, I would imagine that the Jets brain trust (based on their astute moves to date) would be prone to making the right decisions on each player. Using the example of a Daultan Leveille, the Thrashers drafted a tall and skinny kid with excellent offensive instincts and speed out of a Junior B league, and then let him continue on to Michigan State to grow physically and mentally. There was no pressure for him to join the OHL, and they have likely made the best decision for the player. I am confident that this decision will be the template going forward.
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The purpose of today’s Pulse is to gauge the fan base and ask for feedback as to how you think these situations should be handled? I (and the IC Staff) would be very interested to have a good discussion on this situation in the comments.

As always, follow me on Twitter @ickylek for more discussion.