The first few weeks of Dylan Strome’s NHL career haven’t exactly gone as planned. The youngster has been a healthy scratch in five of the Arizona Coyotes’ eleven games this season and has struggled during his limited time on the ice; he’s recorded a single assist, a minus-five rating, and has won just 40.6% of his faceoffs through six games. It’s become relatively clear that the 19-year-old isn’t quite ready to play in the NHL full-time and could benefit from another year of development as he continues to grow into his 6’3″ frame.
A Complicated Issue
In a perfect world, this situation could easily be rectified; Strome would be sent down to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL to get acclimated to the pro game, and would come back up to the Coyotes when ready. However, in the less-than-perfect reality, Strome is prevented from playing in Tucson this season by the CHL-NHL transfer agreement, which states that players drafted out of the CHL who are under the age of 20 are ineligible to play in the AHL until their junior team’s season has ended. This rule puts the Coyotes in a predicament: They must either keep Strome in the NHL for the rest of the season and use a year of his entry-level contract, or send him back to the CHL, where he has little left to prove.
This restrictive rule has had an impact on the rest of the league over the past few years and has directly affected the Coyotes as well. Two seasons ago, Max Domi entered training camp with hopes of earning a spot on the opening night roster. He wasn’t quite good enough to play in the NHL at the time, but he could have made Arizona’s AHL squad where he would have been able to play up to an NHL roster spot as the year progressed. However, since Domi was just 19 at the time, he was forced to play a full season with the OHL’s London Knights.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 2, 2014
Brendan Perlini, the Coyotes’ 2014 first-round pick, found himself in a similar situation last season; he narrowly missed making the opening night roster and was sent back to the Niagara IceDogs where he struggled, potentially a result of being forced into another year of junior hockey where, again, there was little left for him to prove. This season, Perlini is flourishing in the AHL, and likely will find himself in the NHL before season’s end as a result.
Perlini on the power play! pic.twitter.com/aZjO55GatE
— Tucson Roadrunners (@RoadrunnersAHL) November 6, 2016
Now, Strome is in the same situation. A short stint in the AHL where he could play first-line minutes would do wonders for the youngster’s development. However, this isn’t an option, and the CHL’s age rule is to blame. While it’s easy to understand why the rule exists, it’s also easy to imagine how this rule could harm the development of players who, like Strome, clearly have nothing left to prove in junior hockey.
Like the NHL, the CHL is a business; it depends on the services of skilled players to draw interest from fans and television networks. If the CHL allowed star players such as Strome to begin their professional careers a year early, the league could lose fans interested in seeing players of that calibre return for another run at the Memorial Cup.
An Easy Fix?
As a result, NHL teams and their prospects are locked in a catch-22; players who are clearly ready to begin their professional careers but not quite ready to play in the NHL are forced to either spend another year playing against kids in the CHL or spend a year bouncing around the lineup in the NHL.
NHL teams pay millions in development fees to CHL and can't send a 1st round pick who has outgrown junior to AHL?
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) October 31, 2016
This situation, as complicated as it may appear, has a relatively simple solution; the CHL and NHL should amend their transfer agreement to give each NHL team the option to keep one underage prospect per season on its AHL affiliate. Since this rule would apply to a maximum of just 30 CHL players per season, it would keep most of the CHL’s top talent at home. Other leagues, such as the NCAA, have no such age rule in effect and frequently lose talented players to the NHL, yet manage to make large sums of money regardless of the players on the ice.
It would be hard to imagine the CHL taking too much of a financial hit if they were to loosen their grip on their top players. Stars in the CHL who clearly are a level above the kids they’re playing against arguably don’t gain as much from another year in Junior that they would from playing in a professional development league such as the AHL.
In Strome’s case, he won’t be challenged by the opposition if he is to return to the CHL this season and his development could suffer from spending another year playing against kids instead of professionals. However, Strome’s development could also be harmed if he continues splitting time between the ice and the press box in the NHL. Changes need to be made to the CHL-NHL transfer agreement, and they need to be made soon.