UP THE LADDER TO THE ROOF

This is Tyler Pitlick. He spent only one year in junior after his draft, then headed to the AHL in Oklahoma City. Once there, he didn’t play a lot, during a period where he should have been playing big minutes every night. The leap from junior to the AHL is difficult, especially for players who arrive without the maturity and skill set to force a more experienced player to the bench. In Pitlick’s case, a fairly substantial injury history  was about to impact his hockey career and the wasted early time in the AHL didn’t help at all.

I write this every three or four years, hoping one day we see some movement but resigned to the reality we won’t see it again in my lifetime. We are going to talk about the CPHL. The Central Professional Hockey League was designed as a feeder league for the AHL. 20-year olds fresh from junior who couldn’t handle the AHL pace would settle in at the ‘Double-A’ level (to borrow a baseball term) and establish themselves.

We are about to see a great example of why a second tier minor league club could help a team. If the Edmonton Oilers had a second minor league team (completely under their control) management could move Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Ryan Mantha up and down the overall depth chart and ensure each received a full season’s worth of playing time. As it is, with only 68 games available (times six defenders) chances are these men will see 45-55 games with the Condors.

THE CPHL

  • It was a de facto development league.
  • Each club carried only 15 players and 10 of those had to be under 23.

Players in the CPHL (like Serge Savard and Jacques Lemaire) played a ton, developed their skills and had mentors to help in development. It was a fabulous idea, as the kids played at this level without the older AHL players crowding playing time (because they were ineligible).

Q AND A

 

  1. Isn’t this what the ECHL does? No, not really. The Oilers don’t send top prospects to their ECHL team. Last year in Norfolk, prospects with some connection to the Oilers included Ben Betker (five games), Joey Benik, Jaedon Descheneau, Zach Pochiro and Mikael Tam. The CPHL had higher end prospects, here’s Montreal’s team in 1966-67.
  2. Which Oiler prospects last year would have been candidates? Jesse Puljujarvi, Nick Ellis, Kyle Platzer, Greg Chase, Braden Christoffer, Mitch Moroz, Matt Benning until he moved up. Guys like Griffin Reinhart wouldn’t be on the CPHL team but maybe he needed it year one pro and that might have helped his development.
  3. What would be the positives for the players? They’d be getting playing time at the pro level and developing in a league where about 70% of the opposition is in the same age range. Their status as regulars (and the small roster size) would guarantee playing time. We don’t have TOI totals for the AHL, but it is a certainty that someone like Platzer would have played more in the ECHL (and had a bigger role) than he did in the American League. A player like Mantha might be able to get his bearings during a 20-game stay and then move up to the AHL without getting run over ala Taylor Chorney when he arrived. That has value to player and team.
  4. What would be the positives for the team? Teams would be able to sign more minor league veterans and therefore have better depth in the organization if injuries occur. The overall quality of the league would be better since the depth would be much better.
  5. Anything else? The batting average might improve in terms of drafting success (fewer failures) and their AHL clubs would be stronger and better able to overcome a rash of injuries.
  6. Anything else? Yes. I think the second tier might be a good spot for junior players who are overqualified for the CHL but are ineligible to play in the AHL. It would require a rule change, but the NHL does that kind of thing to suit their needs all the time (get Lou to do it).
  7. What leagues would be affected? Aside from the CHL (mentioned above), the Euro leagues would be impacted at some level since NHL teams would be adding as many as 15 roster spots.
  8. From the current group of Oiler pro players, recent pro signings and CHL/Euro/college bound prospects, which 10 players would you nominate for this season’s experiement? G: Shane Starrett. D: Ryan Mantha, William Lagesson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear. F: Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, Kyle Platzer, Greg Chase, Braden Christoffer.
  9. From the current group of Oiler pro players, which 5 players would you nominate in the “veteran” group for this season’s experiment?  G: Eddie Pasquale. D: Ryan Stanton. F: Patrick Russell, Brian Ferlin, Brad Malone.
  10. You’ve listed some very good young prospects. If those players can’t make the AHL as rookie pro’s then there isn’t much hope for them. It is a matter of changing your perspective. Lets take Kyle Platzer as an example. Last year, he was sheltered in the AHL at age 21 and would have been better served by playing more minutes at the pro level against players (mostly) his own age. You can make the argument it would have been better for his development. More sorties, more knowledge.
  11. Can you give examples of players who “got away” who might have benefited from this kind of thing? I didn’t mention him earlier but do believe Tyler Pitlick would have benefited from time in a CPHL-type league. He was used sparingly during the early part of his first season (didn’t turn 20 until November 1), perhaps more playing time during the first six months of his career would have helped.

A second minor league would give these kids another rung on the ladder, and perhaps cause fewer prospects to fall. I’ll remind you again down the line.

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14 Responses to "UP THE LADDER TO THE ROOF"

  1. OriginalPouzar says:

    Interesting – a second development team of a high level to send our players to would be great.

    Its a bit of a pickle that he have 4 real prospect d-men (well, 3.5 really, Mantha is a level down) coming to the AHL at the same time. That’s great but an AHL team can’t just play a bunch of rookie pros on the back-end, they need to balance with veterans (Lowe, Simpson, Fayne, Auvitu, Stanton).

    I see Mantha and potentially Betker starting the year in the AHL if there aren’t any further injuries on the defensive depth chart, other than Reggie.

  2. OriginalPouzar says:

    I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out some of the nuances of how this league was used.

    Part of the post states that the league would be a filler league to the AHL for prospects not quite ready for the AHL. To me that sounds like the ECHL (although later the post states that higher end prospects don’t got to the ECHL implying they would go to this league)

    The post also states that, if the Oilers had a team in such a league, they would/could have send guys like Ellis, Benning and Puljijarvi to play. I don’t reconcile that with the above as those players were clearly ready for the AHL.

    It sounds more like it wouldn’t be a league for prospect that weren’t ready for the AHL entirely but also made up of higher end AHL-ready prospects where there wasn’t enough ice for them at the AHL due to other prospects – for example, send Ellis there because he could start as well as LB starting in the AHL.

    Is that on the right path?

  3. RexLibris says:

    The sheer impact something like this would have on as crucial, and enigmatic, a position as goaltending makes it strange that the void hasn’t been effectively (emphasis there) addressed.

    The ECHL feeds into the AHL to an extent, but more often it looks to me like it “catches” the dropouts from the AHL rather than elevating worthy talents upwards.

    We know that greed is a principle motive for most sports’ team owners, if they could collaborate to create a feeder league to their AHL squads that would, by design, maintain ridiculously low talent costs and, essentially, flank the AHL between tiers, and given what the eventual benefits to the ultimate cash-cow (the NHL team) would be, this seems more like a matter of a good idea gathering dust for lack of awareness or accumulated weight of effort.

  4. Thinker says:

    There are half a dozen leagues that are better than the echl. Not sure why you want to use it to develop players. If you can’t play big minutes in the AHL, you should be in junior, college, or europe.

  5. Lowetide says:

    OriginalPouzar:
    I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out some of the nuances of how this league was used.

    Part of the post states that the league would be a filler league to the AHL for prospects not quite ready for the AHL.To me that sounds like the ECHL (although later the post states that higher end prospects don’t got to the ECHL implying they would go to this league)

    The post also states that, if the Oilers had a team in such a league, they would/could have send guys like Ellis, Benning and Puljijarvi to play. I don’t reconcile that with the above as those players were clearly ready for the AHL.

    It sounds more like it wouldn’t be a league for prospect that weren’t ready for the AHL entirely but also made up of higher end AHL-ready prospects where there wasn’t enough ice for them at the AHL due to other prospects – for example, send Ellis there because he could start as well as LB starting in the AHL.

    Is that on the right path?

    No, not really. The idea of this league is to have new pro/entry level players start there, making sure they get their footing. Clearly Benning wouldn’t have been there long, but we didn’t know that on his first night in pro hockey. I think it’s key to have a league where players actually play, and against men their own age. It might be five games or five months, but the idea is to dominate that level and then move up.

  6. Lowetide says:

    RexLibris:
    The sheer impact something like this would have on as crucial, and enigmatic, a position as goaltending makes it strange that the void hasn’t been effectively (emphasis there) addressed.

    The ECHL feeds into the AHL to an extent, but more often it looks to me like it “catches” the dropouts from the AHL rather than elevating worthy talents upwards.

    We know that greed is a principle motive for most sports’ team owners, if they could collaborate to create a feeder league to their AHL squads that would, by design, maintain ridiculously low talent costs and, essentially, flank the AHL between tiers, and given what the eventual benefits to the ultimate cash-cow (the NHL team) would be, this seems more like a matter of a good idea gathering dust for lack of awareness or accumulated weight of effort.

    I know, right? It makes too much sense. I bet fewer prospects fail and none should suffer from lack of playing time.

  7. Thinker says:

    Lowetide: I know, right? It makes too much sense. I bet fewer prospects fail and none should suffer from lack of playing time.

    I bet the same number fail, since there are only so many nhl roster spots.

  8. kelvjn says:

    They could do this with a rule change in ECHL on HOW they limit the age and experience of the roster; they didn’t do it because not enough of them were convinced that it is a good idea.

    Things different between today and he 60s:
    -There are a lot more NHL teams today.
    – There were no CBA or cap or free agency.
    -There were more competing minor leagues.

    All in all, NHL as a league was less established (it was possible for up start leagues like WHA to find new hockey markets to setup and rival the NHL), but NHL teams were more powerful over the established minor teams and players back in the days.

    ECHL is still nominally the feeder team to AHL, but they also needed to cater to their local fan base because the NHL has more to lose now.
    -An entire california division of ECHL teams are on non-traditional markets that nhl try to gain.
    -ECHL teams like Bakersfield a few years ago need the fights and gimmicks to maintain sustainability.
    -More players movement today (and more extensive draft coverage) means an AA team competes against European leagues for second or third tier free agent talents. So they tend to ended up with the sluggers and others that doesn’t hope to see real movement path. Even with age and experience restriction, real prospects won’t really see much meaningful competition (Plazer and Chase was in similar situations one year and when sending down always burned it up)

    A new, say, Canadian based AA league will directly competes against the ECHL, which NHL initially prioritize to grow support. And this new development league need to get fairly big otherwise you will have NHL teams sharing roster and it become never ending ice time push power struggle.

    Alternatively, they can also elect to herd all young players in an AA league if they lift the age restrictions in the AAA. The older pro vet will automatically block most entrant level players in the roster as they want to win in their own local markets and trickle down the younger prospects.

    But, at some point, one wonder why they just don’t loan out youngsters to European leagues (which they already do). The NA youngsters grew up in smaller rinks it’s not like they will forget how to play.

  9. Thinker says:

    I think the biggest problem facing development is that careers are set in motion before kids hit puberty. Thereby limiting the talent pool to only those with a specific growth curve, and missing out on incredible athletes who are late bloomers. They then play way too much hockey to the point that they many are not physically developed young men by the time they hit the nhl draft, due to the staggering number of games the chl plays. This is evidenced by the weak testing results at the combine. Not to mention the disservice you have done these kids by setting them behind in school so that their options are limited when the majority don’t make it.

  10. Gerta Rauss says:

    I think a league like this could have helped with Yakupov’s development as well

  11. Lowetide says:

    Thinker:
    I think the biggest problem facing development is that careers are set in motion before kids hit puberty. Thereby limiting the talent pool to only those with a specific growth curve, and missing out on incredible athletes who are late bloomers. They then play way too much hockey to the point that they many are not physically developed young men by the time they hit the nhl draft, due to the staggering number of games the chl plays. This is evidenced by the weak testing results at the combine. Not to mention the disservice you have done these kids by setting them behind in school so that their options are limited when the majority don’t make it.

    One thing I’ve observed over time is that these theories are cyclical. Once upon a time, Gordie Howe played whatever sport was in season. Jeff Krushell tells me they are returning to that in order to give kids a chance to refresh and for their minds and bodies to change up. It sounds like a great idea to me, but suspect 20 years from now we’ll be talking about kids needing to train in one discipline 12 months a year.

  12. Thinker says:

    Lowetide: One thing I’ve observed over time is that these theories are cyclical. Once upon a time, Gordie Howe played whatever sport was in season. Jeff Krushell tells me they are returning to that in order to give kids a chance to refresh and for their minds and bodies to change up. It sounds like a great idea to me, but suspect 20 years from now we’ll be talking about kids needing to train in one discipline 12 months a year.

    That wasn’t the point, but I’ll take that bet. I was talking about not getting physical workouts in because ypu constantly have games, and thus are always doing maintenance level lifts at best. Hockey is the least translateable sport, and I think a ton of nhl players would struggle less defensively if they learned simple help defence from basketball.

  13. YKOil says:

    Thinker: That wasn’t the point, but I’ll take that bet. I was talking about not getting physical workouts in because ypu constantly have games, and thus are always doing maintenance level lifts at best. Hockey is the least translateable sport, and I think a ton of nhl players would struggle less defensively if they learned simple help defence from basketball.

    Like learning spacing and passing to the open spot (which will soon be filled) like in soccer.

  14. OriginalPouzar says:

    I am concerned about Bear, Jones and Paigin each getting enough ice time in the AHL this year but tehre might be the ability to pair each with a more veteran AHL player – Stanton, Fayne, Lowe.

    Mantha/Betker to work their way in or play in the ECHL depending on injuries, etc.

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