One of the most common questions regarding Montreal Canadiens prospects is whether they qualify to play in the CHL, AHL or NHL. It’s a particularly interesting topic for the Canadiens, who have several of their top forward prospects ready to make the jump to another league this summer.
A community member named Ron in the MontrealHockeyNow comments asked the following:
“Hi Marc: Can you clear up the AHL eligibility status of Beck and Roy? I’ve heard/read that 19-year-olds can’t play in the AHL Roy turns 20 in a few weeks, so he should be cleared for AHL takeoff. Beck turns 20 in February 2024. Mtl might be better off having him dominate in OHL and playing a key role for Team Canada juniors. Thoughts?”
There’s a particularly archaic agreement in place between the NHL and the CHL, which forces young players in North America to be returned to their CHL clubs if they’re not given full-time jobs in the NHL.
The agreement stipulates that NHL teams must return CHL players drafted and signed to an Entry-Level Contract to their CHL club if the NHL club does not retain that player on its active roster. The Agreement applies solely to CHL players ages 18 and 19.
Simply put, any drafted player currently developing in the CHL that is 18 or 19 years old and signed to an ELC cannot be assigned to the AHL. That includes the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League.
Therefore Beck, 19, cannot be assigned to the Laval Rocket. He can only be kept in the NHL or re-assigned to the CHL.
Some will tell you the agreement was put in place to ensure prospects take a slow, steady approach to development, but don’t be fooled. It was put in place in the 1970s to ensure talented players will sell more tickets for their respective CHL clubs.
There is an option for players like Beck to head to Europe to continue their development in a professional league, which is what Montreal Canadiens prospect Vinzenz Roher decided to do this summer when he signed with the Zurich Lions of the NL.
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) June 26, 2023
Personally, despite some people criticizing Beck’s production once he was traded to the Peterborough Petes, I’d suggest that they ignored the context in which he played following the blockbuster trade.
Beck was used in a defensive situation that was not conducive to scoring, but even if we keep his assignment in mind, he still produced the type of underlying numbers that would push him toward the brink of being ready to turn pro.
Owen Beck, the king of well-rounded tracking data.
Offence stayed steady with PBO despite the dip in points. Strong defensive and transition results. One of the very best at creating space for his teammates (advantages created, off-puck assists). Always attacks the inside. https://t.co/dnsIJR02BX pic.twitter.com/BYWJyDkjfi
— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) June 26, 2023
I don’t think he’s necessarily ready to dominate at the AHL level, but it would be fun for teams like the Montreal Canadiens to have control of where their prospects are developing. Beck, in my opinion, would benefit greatly from working with professional coaches, surrounded by the players he will eventually play alongside once he makes it to the NHL.
He’d also be in regular contact with the Canadiens’ development team, which would also be a significant boon for his overall skill set.
Beck is at the point where he needs to rely a little less on his skills and a little more on structure, as well as a focus on the intricacies of professional hockey. He would be able to do that much easier in the AHL than in the CHL. But alas, it’s not an option.
The Rest Of The Montreal Canadiens Prospects
A player like Filip Mesar, on the other hand, is not restricted by the CHL-NHL agreement.
Seeing as the first-round pick was drafted out of Europe, he can essentially play anywhere. Unless he earns a job with the Montreal Canadiens, expect Mesar to be assigned to the Laval Rocket this spring.
If the Canadiens wanted to push the envelope with the 5th overall pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, David Reinbacher, they could also place him in the AHL (or the NHL) as early as next season.
Fortunately, regardless of whether they decide to assign him to the Laval Rocket of the AHL or keep him in Switzerland, Reinbacher’s entry-level contract will slide.
The same applies to players drafted out of the NCAA. They can sign their entry-level contract once they are 18 years old, and be assigned to the AHL, like Jakub Dobes, for example. Dobes had to sign a contract with the Rocket in addition to his contract with the Canadiens, which kicks in next season, but you get the point.
As for Joshua Roy and Riley Kidney, they will both be 20 years old by the time the season starts and have both completed four years of QMJHL service and are therefore no longer bound by the CHL agreement. They can safely be assigned to the AHL, the next natural step of their development.