“Give the kids time to grow,” says Ken Campbell in the Nov. 2 issue of THN. The facts certainly support the case that Ken makes for placing top prospects in the American League, as does his reference to the NHL stars who clearly benefitted from additional ice time and additional responsibilities during the lockout of 2004-05.
There is no doubt in my mind young players rushed to the NHL often suffer from arrested development due to the lack of ice time and lack of personal success that is inevitable for most first-year pros.
Top prospects will generally benefit from the opportunity to take their first steps at the pro level in an AHL environment that is less stressful and challenges them to be productive leaders on their teams; playing the power play, killing penalties and having higher expectations placed on them within the team framework.
There is also something to be said for paying your dues and gaining a greater appreciation for what it means to be an NHL player at an early age.
While it is true there are a number of successful NHL players who made the jump directly from junior hockey or the NCAA without a stop in the AHL, it has, in the past, been unfortunately far too common that the leap is too great. Players either fail (sometimes without recovery) or become role players due to the lack of time provided to truly develop to their full potential with a development stop in our league.
The lockout presented a terrific opportunity for players like Jay Bouwmeester, Jason Spezza, Mike Cammalleri, Patrice Bergeron, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Cam Ward and Eric Staal to gain confidence and become more complete players as a result of their season in the AHL.
It might be even more important to note the results achieved by other players whose stay in the AHL was longer and whose path to the NHL was not quite as quick.
Zdeno Chara, Steve Sullivan, Marc Savard, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Brad Boyes, Bobby Ryan, Tim Thomas, Martin St-Louis, Roberto Luongo, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell, Mike Green and Daniel Briere are but a few of the outstanding players who took a little more time in the AHL to get their NHL opportunity.
The challenge for coaches in our league is to have young players understand that for all of those NHL stars who have come through the AHL, it was not simply a matter of time before they were ready, it was a matter of improving their game.
Whether the goal was building offensive confidence, playing better on the defensive side of the puck, getting stronger physically or simply learning to prepare and compete every night, there are opportunities in the AHL to develop and be better prepared for the next step.
The really tough call is the one made by the NHL GM in determining which players might be ready for the immediate jump and how badly the team needs that player to immediately be on its NHL roster. Clearly a few players every year are ready to contribute at the NHL level and clearly those teams drafting high need to get better quickly.
In my opinion, most of the decisions in recent years have been the right ones. NHL GMs are very cognizant of the long-term best interests of their players and their teams.
As a consequence of the terrific competitive environment in the AHL and the focus on player development, we can now point to more than 85 percent of today’s NHL players as being graduates of our league. Our goal is to continue to help players, coaches and officials prepare for the next step.
Dave Andrews is the American League's CEO and president, roles he has held since 1994. A goalie during his playing days, his administrative hockey career has included stops as the Edmonton Oilers’ director of AHL operations, senior consultant with SportCanada, and head coach and director of hockey operations for the Western League’s Victoria Cougars. You can read his other THN.com Blogs HERE.