When is an 18-year-old not an 18-year-old? When he finds himself analyzed by the NHL's collective bargaining agreement.
New York Rangers rookie Anthony Duclair has been a revelation this season, putting in great work at the Traverse City prospects tournament and then parlaying that into a superb showing at training camp. The youngster has his first NHL goal under his belt and now the question is whether the Blueshirts will keep him on Broadway all season long.
Except the normal nine-game rule doesn't apply here.
Ordinarily, a player's entry-level contract is triggered once he plays his 10th game of an NHL season, which is why you'll be hearing a lot about Buffalo's Sam Reinhart or Ottawa's Curtis Lazar heading back to junior (or not) in the coming days. But because of a quirk in when Duclair signed, he's different. The Quebec Remparts standout signed with the Rangers in January of 2014, days after the turn of the calendar. That made the difference, noted agent Kent Hughes of MFive Sports, the firm that represents the teen.
"Even though he was technically playing his 18-year-old season in the CHL," Hughes said, "by the terms of the CBA he was 19."
Meaning this year, his contract can't slide. It's great for Duclair, who finds himself closer to restricted free agency and doesn't have to worry about a nine-game barrier to break through this season.
"It's a timing thing and it's a leverage thing," Hughes said. "You can ask for it all you want but it may not apply to every situation."
For example, client Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres technically played four seasons on a three-year entry-level contract. Girgensons went straight to the pros from the draft, suiting up for Rochester in the American League instead of heading to the University of Vermont. His contract "slid" that season and he won't be an RFA until the summer of 2016.
How teams approach different prospects is interesting. Hughes had a great side-by-side example in clients Alex Chiasson and Reilly Smith, both college players drafted by Dallas.
In 2012, the two juniors left school once their seasons were completed. Smith came from Miami and signed his entry-level deal, playing in three games for Dallas and burning the first year of the contract in the process. Chiasson, who had to prove himself a bit more to the Stars, instead signed an AHL tryout deal after leaving Boston University at the same time and played nine games for Texas. Then in the summer, Dallas signed him to his NHL deal.
That all means that Smith, now with Boston, got to free agency first, but had no arbitration rights (and in fact, only signed on the eve of this season with the Bruins). Chiasson, now with Ottawa, won't hit RFA status until this summer, but has arbitration rights and can receive offer sheets from other teams.
As for Duclair, I'm sure contract talk is not his top priority right now as he dazzles at Madison Square Garden with his speed and skill, but his contract quirk does help the Rangers in one respect: There's no nine-game decision to make.
"They're free and clear to do what's right for him," Hughes said. "But it's only relevant because he played so well in training camp to get himself there."