The Road to the NHL Takes Many Turns

Last week for my Wednesday Mailbag, the following question was raised:

To give that the answer it deserves, it couldn’t come in the form of a paragraph in a question-and-answer format that is my Wednesday Mailbag. Instead, I informed Mike, I would give it the answer it deserves here.

And here we are.

The path to the NHL isn’t set in stone. It is different for every player and in a lot of cases, different by league. You may have heard me refer to the USHL as the best developmental league in the world on several occasions. And many people don’t like that especially since I cover the CHL.

But the USHL and the CHL have different roles. The next steps for a player in the CHL are either Canadian University Hockey – which doesn’t go far after that – or professional hockey. The USHL develops players mostly for the NCAA before those players move onto professional hockey and the job the USHL does superb.

The USHL is also a steppingstone for Canadian Junior A players looking to make the jump to the NCAA. There are no Bruins that fall into this category, but Dustyn McFaul and Quinn Olson are two players from Canadian Junior A that could have taken the USHL route before the NCAA.  

European Junior League players have so many options. From the J20 in Sweden, Oskar Jellvik chose to go to Boston College as his next step. Dans Locmelis, a Latvian who took his game to Sweden has committed to U-Mass for next season. Jonathan Myrenberg, drafted by the Canucks and acquired via trade signed with SHL Linkoping and is playing in Hockey Allsvenskan. Matias Mantykivi was drafted out of Finland’s Junior League and is playing pro in Finland. Roman Bychkov was drafted out of Russia’s Junior League and is now playing in the KHL.

While there are so many options for players, the Bruins do get involved to a point on where they feel a player is best suited to go for their development. Look no further than Fabian Lysell joining the Vancouver Giants of the WHL last season. It is both in the Bruins and the player’s best interests to have those discussions.

A lot of those decisions are based on where the players are in their development. It’s not uncommon for goaltenders to spend time in the ECHL. Linus Ullmark began his professional hockey in the SHL and after him, only Jeremy Swayman has not spent time in the ECHL. It’s too early for Reid Dyck as he’s not yet eligible, but he will ride the buses for the Maine Mariners in the future as well.

So, let me take your question and compare the four OHL players since we have two at each position and the paths, I see them taking. Let’s begin with Brett Harrison and Matthew Poitras. Both are natural centers who also play the wing. Harrison is a goal scorer while Poitras is a playmaker. Harrison has an NHL shot and is close to where his playing weight should be at the NHL level. Poitras has excellent vision and playmaking skills and is fearless when it comes to the dirty areas but will really need to add some strength.

Both players will head to the Providence Bruins when their OHL careers are over. At this point in time, I would say Poitras will need more AHL time than Harrison. But that could change depending on their development this season and next. But let’s remember they were selected in different draft years.

On the blueline we have Ryan Mast and Jackson Edward. In ways, they are very similar yet very different. Both are solid defensively. Mast has developed an offensive game at this level, Edward’s is just beginning to come into form. Both are physical with Mast having the size advantage, but Edward is no slouch. Their frames are almost filled in now. Both will need a couple of AHL seasons, but I don’t see one needed more time than the other. I also see both needing more time in the AHL than Harrison and Edward just because it takes blueliners longer.

But what is the role of the Providence Bruins? Interesting question.

Yes, they are there to develop players for the Boston Bruins, but they are also there to win. Let’s begin with the goalkeepers. Keith Kincaid is the number three goaltender for Boston. Kyle Keyser is the top prospect in the pecking order. So, is it Providence’s responsibility to keep Kincaid active and ready for duty should he be required in Boston? Or is it their responsibility to play Keyser as much as possible to further his development? I would suggest it’s a little bit of both, but leaning towards keeping Kincaid ready for Boston.

Let’s take it another step further with the defencemen. Mike Reilly is an NHL defenceman playing in Providence because the Bruins have cap issues. We know what Reilly is and what he is capable of when he plays his game. Jack Ahcan is a defenceman developing in Providence. He has the ability to be a powerplay quarterback and a good one. Except now, with Reilly’s demotion Ahcan has been taken off their top powerplay unit and moved onto the second unit. Is that winning at the expense of development?

During the offseason I wrote about how the Providence Bruins needed to play the players under NHL contract – you know, the actual prospects that needed to develop. As of today, the Providence Bruins have 18 forwards, 9 defencemen and 4 goaltenders on their active roster. There just isn’t enough ice time to go around for all those players, especially those that need to play to further their development.

So, you can see there are many, many paths to the NHL and the timeframe to get there varies for many reasons. The goal the AHL franchise has for that particular season also plays a role.

Follow me on Twitter @dominictiano

Published by Dominic Tiano

Following the Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft. I provide season-long stats, updates and player profiles as well as draft rankings.

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