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Canadiens Joe Vrbetic Uses An NHL-CHL Exception To Turn Pro At 19

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Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens prospect Joe Vrbetic will be turning pro at 19 years old due to an exception in the NHL-CHL agreement.

Despite being 19 and turning 20 in October, Joe Vrbetic signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket. With Cayden Primeau and recently re-signed Kevin Poulin likely to take up the two goaltending jobs in Laval next season, Vrbetic seems destined to play for the Trois-Rivières Lions next season, a luxury the Canadiens can now afford with their ECHL team close by. For Vrbetic, it assures the Montreal Canadiens’ 2021 7th round pick more playing time than he likely would have had in North Bay and allows him to take the next step in his development by playing against pro players.

The NHL-CHL agreement stipulates that a player drafted out of Canadian major junior must return to their respective teams, should they not crack the NHL roster, until the age of 20 years old or after having completed four seasons in major junior. To be considered 20 years old in the CHL, a player must turn 20 before December 31 of that calendar year. This differs from the NHL’s ruling on age, which is cut off on September 15 every year for their NHL Draft purposes and allows late-born players the opportunity to jump to the pros less than two years after being drafted; a developmental advantage.

With Vrbetic having an October 24 birthday, he was able to take advantage of this exemption and jump to the pros, where he’ll likely have to prove where he belongs in the pecking order of young goaltenders in the organization. Due to being drafted out of the CHL at the 2021 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens hold Vrbetic’s rights until June 1, 2023, and can thus evaluate his performance at the pro level before deciding whether or not to tender him a full-blown entry-level contract. With other prospects like Jakub Dobes and Frederik Dichow likely looking to turn pro in the next year, Vrbetic will have the opportunity to set himself apart from his peers right in the Canadiens’ backyard.

The ability to sign late-born CHL players to AHL contracts is a new and intriguing strategy for the Montreal Canadiens, as it puts into full view the value of having an in-house ECHL team to allow a structured developmental process for their players. It will be interesting to see how Vrbetic does in the ECHL, and it may not be outlandish to think he may get some games with the Laval Rocket at some point this season to test his metal versus better competition.

 

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