With games currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL is looking at any and all possibilities that would allow them to finish the 2019-20 season. In an effort to do so, the league has already postponed the NHL Entry Draft indefinitely.
As of now, we don’t know when the draft will happen - there is talk that it could happen as late as October, if the league decides they can finish the season in August and September.
Whenever the draft happens, one thing is for sure - it’s not going to be the only thing postponed and/or cancelled. No announcements have been made, but there is no way teams are going to be able to run the development camps we usually see at the end of June. It’s likely that we will also see the cancellation of rookie camps/tournaments that are held later in the summer.
In the grand scheme of things, these cancellations will be a small blip on the radar for a league that is just trying to get back on the ice but it could have a major impact on young prospects who are trying to make the jump to the NHL next season.
Presumptive first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière is going to be in then NHL. He’s ready. The cancellation of development and rookie camps will have more of an impact on guys selected later. Guys like Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale are already too good for the CHL, Tim Stützle looks almost NHL ready and guys like Lucas Raymond and Anton Lundell would have a chance to impress their new NHL teams at camp.
Development camp is a chance for very young players to learn about the organization that just drafted them and for coaches to see how close they think top prospects are to the next level. Without a chance to work with coaches and teammates through the summer, there is a very good chance that Lafrenière is the only 2020 draft prospect to make the jump directly to the NHL.
This also applies to previously drafted prospects like Bowen Byram, Nick Robertson, Philip Tomasino, Connor McMichael and Dylan Cozens. These players have been through one summer of development with their NHL franchise, but this was set to be a formative one for them all.
Each of these players has proven to be too good for the CHL and as this past season progressed, it has been assumed that all of them would have a legitimate chance to make the jump to the NHL next fall.
Without development camps and rookie tournaments, this becomes a lot more questionable. Young players use this extra time on the ice in the summer to both impress coaches and learn the team’s system. This summer, NHL teams will likely miss a lot of extra hours on the ice and that’s not insignificant.
On top of the lack of summer practice time, we are likely to see an abbreviated training camp, whenever it happens. This will likely cause many teams - and particularly coaches - to default to proven veteran players that have a much longer track record than the youngsters.
Some of these prospects might still make the NHL - Nick Robertson in particular because of Toronto’s desperate need for entry-level contract - but it’s far less likely than it was a month ago.
Bo Byram is most definitely too good for the WHL but that doesn’t make him a certainty to be with the Avalanche next season. Colorado is a legitimate contender and already have a very young blueline. How young will Joe Sakic and Bednar want their defense group to be in a season when they have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations?
Is there room for all of Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Ryan Graves and Byram. There’s also the presence of Conor Timmins to consider as well. With veterans like Ian Cole, Nikita Zadorov and Erik Johnson around, it’s easy to see a world in which the team defaults to what they have at the pro level and send Byram back for one more year.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for these players to be sent back to junior for one more season. Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome were both far too good for the OHL when they went back in 2016. Max Domi was already too good for the OHL in 2013-14 and was still sent down for the season after that. Unfortunately, thanks to the NHL-CHL agreement, going back to junior is the only option if these players don’t make the NHL.
We already know that life in the coming months are going to be nothing close to what we’re used to - the hockey world is no exception. As of now, the NHL plans to start the 2020-21 season as currently scheduled but before then, we are going to see the cancellation of a lot of hockey. When the development camps and rookie tournaments go, so will the opportunity for young prospects to play during one of the most important times in their development.
Some prospects might not need the extra ice time with their new organizations, but the road to the NHL has become a lot harder for guys like Bo Byram, Nick Robertson and a whole handful of others.