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The NHL and Canadian Junior leagues have to fix their player agreements

Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Jordan Dumais is having an incredible season for the Halifax Mooseheads. He is scoring at a blistering pace, currently leading the QMJHL in scoring over Connor Bedard, a prospect you have probably heard of once or twice.

Dumais has clearly learned all he can at the junior level. But he has a problem, absolutely not of his own making. Unless he sticks with the Blue Jackets next year, he is forced by rule to go back to junior hockey, a league he is already thoroughly dominating, and potentially stunt his growth as a hockey player.

Dumais isn’t the only person this has affected – it happened this year, with Seattle’s Shane Wright. From Hailey Salvian at The Athletic:

Wright’s situation — too young for the AHL, not ready for a full-time role in the NHL, and potentially too good for major junior hockey — is a tricky one.

It’s a function of the agreement between the NHL and the CHL that requires all draft picks — selected out of the CHL — under the age of 20 to be loaned back to their major junior club unless they are on the NHL roster or have completed four full junior hockey seasons. In other words, it’s NHL or bust for 18- and 19-year-old players out of the CHL.

Wright ended up playing minimal minutes for the Kraken in limited games before being healthy scratched until he could be sent to the Kraken’s AHL affiliate for a conditioning stint. Wright was then selected to the Canada’s World Junior roster. After the conclusion of the World Junior tournament, Wright was returned to the OHL to complete his junior season.

Is that really the best way for a young player to develop, especially one who has nothing left to learn at the junior level? Wouldn’t it have made much more sense for Wright to play big minutes in the AHL, develop and play through mistakes in a professional league, and be brought along in the Kraken’s organization?

It’s easy to see a similar path for Jordan Dumais next season – the Jackets could elect to keep him on the roster out of camp to see what he has at the NHL level. He could flash, but be overwhelmed by the size and speed of these professionals. As a result, his minutes get limited before a series of healthy scratches. Fans get mad, and then Dumais is assigned to Cleveland ahead of World Juniors (where he will certainly make the roster) before being returned to Halifax after the tournament.

Can’t he just play top nine minutes in Cleveland?

One solution that seems far too easy for the NHL to implement is an exceptional player application. The CHL already has that option for players to join a year early – can’t the same be applied for player to leave a year early? Dumais, with 42-63-105 in just 48 games played, could certainly fit the bill. He’s dominating the league with this year’s presumed #1 overall pick, Connor Bedard, and leads the QMJHL in scoring. He has nothing left to learn by spending another year dominating 17 year olds.

Stunting player development because of arbitrary agreements should never be an option, but is one that seems like it is more of a possibility because of the current system. The system should be changed.