[Tom's note: The "Best of DBJ" series returns with this terrific late September post from Gallos. With another batch of NHL games being cancelled last week, Blue Jackets fan eyes increasingly turn to the minor league and major junior hockey systems. And while I don't think anyone would argue that having NHL games back is paramount, Gallos makes a great point that letting the CBJ's young bucks bang around in Springfield for a season isn't the worst thing in the world.
Oh, by the way, the Falcons are sitting in second place in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference right now. Enjoy Gallos' piece, everyone.]
One of the ironic things about this whole lockout situation is that it protects us from our own poor player development habits. While there have been some slight improvements over the last few years, the dearth of talent at the NHL level has continued to pull our young players into the NHL mix, sometimes forcing the issue as has happened in the past (see Brule, Pickard, Filatov).
The club has done a decent job of not rushing John Moore, and it was only the rash of injuries and suspensions that forced their hand and led to his call up from Springfield during 2011-12. He played credibly in the crunch, before fading late, which is the type of thing that a young player does. Now, with the NHL shut down by a player lockout, players like Moore, Ryan Johansen, and Cam Atkinson are forced down to the AHL level, where in reality, they probably ought to be.
Johansen was not eligible to go to the AHL last year. With the choice being Junior or NHL, the NHL won out. This year however, he is eligible to go to the AHL. From a development standpoint, he should spend the year playing center in the AHL after playing a lot of wing in the NHL last year. The problem is that this comes across as a demotion to the player’s psyche, when in reality, it is just re-setting of the proper development track. In that regard, the lockout is a bonus, as this decision is taken out of the CBJ’s hands.
Likewise, with Ryan Murray going back down to the Everett Silvertips in Junior hockey, you have a similar situation. Murray is a fine player, and is going to be a good, possibly great, NHL player. But he was injured some last year, and while possibly good enough to make the CBJ roster, he still has things to prove in Junior. He needs to spend this year demonstrating to his peers that he is ‘the man’, and then come up to the AHL or NHL if he can demonstrate the ability to stick at that level (if the lockout is settled for the 2012-13 season he will not be eligible for the AHL).
Likewise, more seasoning in the AHL will not hurt Cam Atkinson’s development. With the stigma of a demotion ‘removed’, he needs to gain more experience at the professional level. That experience will aid him in the future, as he really doesn’t have that much time in playing at the professional level since he came out of the college ranks.
I have seen a concern stated that these players might regress in their development. Rather I think it is the opposite, their development will remain on the proper track instead of being rushed. The lockout provides a handy excuse for this, as the parent club is not forced to demote these players to get them on their proper development track.
In addition to the psychological issues surrounding demotion not being in play, the AHL will have an enhanced level of competition this year. The litany of young stars on entry level contracts who will be playing in the AHL at the beginning of this year is long and loaded with talent. In that regard the AHL+ as I’ll call it, becomes a perfect developmental league for our young players. There will be an abundance of young talent in the league, and they will be facing these peers for years to come as their NHL careers unfold. This is a perfect time to attempt to establish winning traditions against these other players. It won’t be easy, but it can be done, and it will demand the best out of these young players if they are to succeed. The AHL+ is a perfect place for these players at this time in their development.
The lockout is not an ideal situation, yet the CBJ may reap a long term reward from this event through the proper development of our young players. In that regard, maybe some good will come of this whole situation.