NHL teams hold the rights to prospects drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League for two years after the draft, while teams have four years to sign a player signed outside of North America. College players can be signed up to 30 days after they finish school.
The deadline to sign junior and non-North American prospects is June 1st. That means the 2014 draft class is up this year- let's take a look at who the Jackets chose in June of 2014:
Round One: LW Sonny Milano - signed, currently in the Calder Cup finals with AHL Lake Erie.
Round Two: D Ryan Collins - unsigned, entering Junior year with University of Minnesota.
Round Three: G Elvis Merzlikins - unsigned,
rights held until June 1, 2018. Had a terrific season with Lugano of the Swiss League and represented Latvia well at the World Championships. EDIT: Due to his age when he was drafted, Elvis must be signed this year as well, to retain his rights.
ANOTHER EDIT: Looks like he doesn't need to be signed:
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Round Three: D Blake Siebenaler - signed, currently in the Calder Cup finals with AHL Lake Erie.
Round Four: RW Julien Pelletier - Unsigned. Must be signed by June 1st, 2016
Round Five: RW Tyler Bird - unsigned, entering junior year with Brown University.
Round Seven: D Olivier LeBlanc - Unsigned. Must be signed by June 1st, 2016
Pelletier and LeBlanc are the two players that the Jackets must sign next week, if they wish to retain the rights to these players.
Pelletier has had a difficult go since being drafted, dealing with injuries, suspension, and was traded from Cape Breton, to Rouyn-Noranda, to Sherbrooke, where he currently plays. His best season was his draft year, with his offensive numbers decreasing each season since. It's highly doubtful that he'll be offered a contract by the Jackets.
LeBlanc is a player that I've been quite fond of, and have had the pleasure of watching live many times. Two seasons ago, while serving as Captain of the Saint John Sea Dogs, LeBlanc was traded to Cape Breton, where he is an offensive leader on the blueline. While not the biggest defenseman, his game is about scoring points and he put up 36 in 59 games in the regular season, and followed that up with 11 more in 13 playoff games this past season. LeBlanc was invited to Team Canada's World Junior camp, and was a member of Team QMJHL at the Subway Series against the Russians.
I'm hopeful the Jackets extend an offer to LeBlanc, as I believe his skill can translate to the pro game. He's a great skater and has worn a letter at every level. He reminds of a Ryan Ellis-lite.
We'll know on June 1st if the Jackets agree.