The Washington Capitals got an unexpected surprise when defenseman Connor Carrick stepped up and earned a place in their lineup this fall and even though the 19-year-old was sent to AHL Hershey today, that in itself is a confidence booster.
See, Carrick was slated to play for the Ontario League's Plymouth Whalers this year, but his play dictated that the pros were within his skills. Drafted out of Team USA's National Team Development Program in 2012, Carrick does not have to go back to major junior; only teenagers drafted out of the CHL are forced back, based on an agreement with the NHL.
That's the situation Morgan Rielly faces, should the Toronto Maple Leafs decide he needs more game time. Rielly will head back to the Western League's Moose Jaw Warriors, because that's the squad he played for when the Leafs tabbed him with the fifth overall pick the same year Carrick went 137th. Bit of an unfair advantage.
Major junior boosters will tell you the CHL is still the best level of amateur competition in hockey and they're right: Nearly every top-3 pick in the past five drafts has come from their ranks (Sasha Barkov and Victor Hedman are the only two exceptions). But that draft origin loophole is pesky.
Tommy Vannelli was the first player taken by the St. Louis Blues this summer. The Minnesota-bred defenseman went 47th overall out of Minnetonka high school, with an impending commitment to the University of Minnesota. But the combination of books and pucks proved a bit tricky and Vannelli soon left college, setting up shop with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers instead. Through six games, he has three goals and seven points. Should his development accelerate, the Blues could send him to the AHL next year instead of Medicine Hat, something they can only do because he was drafted out of a high school, not the CHL.
Montreal's Louis Leblanc and Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons also played in the AHL as teens, so it's not just Americans getting a leg-up on the pro game. But the CHL-NHL agreement this loophole subverts seems like it needs an update.