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MELTZER'S 411: About the College Kids

Flyers contributor's thoughts on the growing number of prospects choosing college

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

The times, they are a-changing: Historically and until recently, the majority of North American Flyers prospects developed via one of the three Canadian major junior leagues (OHL,WHL, QMJHL) before turning professional. While the CHL is still a key source of talent not only for the Flyers and for teams leaguewide, more and more young players go the NCAA route before turning pro. The majority are American-born players but this is hardly exclusive.

Come the start of the 2019-20 season, the Flyers will have five prospects in CHL-affiliated leagues and six in European leagues. The former group consists of WHL defensemen Yegor Zamula and Wyatte Wylie, WHL goaltender Roddy Ross, OHL defenseman Mason Millman, and QMJHL right winger Egor Serdyuk. All European league affiliated prospects are in Sweden: goaltender Samuel Ersson, defensemen Adam Ginning, Linus Högberg and David Bernhardt and forwards Olle Lycksell and Marcus Westfält.

The single largest group of Flyers prospects outside of the North American pro leagues next season will be a group of 11 NCAA-affiliated players: seniors Wade Allison (Western Michigan, F) and Tanner Laczynski (Ohio State, F), junior year player Wyatt Kalynuk (Wisconsin, D), sophomores Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth, F), Jack St. Ivany (Yale, D) and Gavin Hain (North Dakota, F), and incoming freshmen Cam York (Michigan, D), Bobby Brink (Denver, F) and Ronnie Attard (Western Michigan, D).

The 11th NCAA-affiliated Flyers prospect is 2018 first-round pick Jay O'Brien. After an injury-plagued and underachieving freshman season at Providence College last year, O'Brien entered the NCAA's transfer protocol (which will be explained shortly) this summer in order to attend and play hockey for Boston University. Most likely, O'Brien will spend the 2019-20 season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL, a Canadian Junior A league) and then join BU for the 2020-21 campaign. He has appealed to the NCAA to be allowed to play for BU in 2019-20.

With so many collegiate players in the Flyers' system and a host of related rules and regulations implemented both by the NCAA and under the terms of the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NHL Players' Association, here is an FAQ-style overview of how the rules affect the Flyers and their NCAA-affiliated players.

DURATION OF NHL RIGHTS: 4 YEARS OR 5?

When an NHL team drafts a player, the duration of time that it can retain his rights varies by the league from which the player was drafted. 

For prospects classified as CHL-affiliated players in their Draft year, the rights are held for two seasons and expire on June 1 of the second year if the player is not signed to an entry-level NHL contract by that point. This is the most straightforward set of rules. Things get more complicated with the other groups. 

For European league prospects or CHL players who, in their NHL Draft year, are contracted to a European league team but on loan to a CHL team, the duration of NHL rights depends on which national hockey federation governs the player's European league affiliation and the age of the draftee. If the country's national hockey federation has a formal transfer agreement with the NHL, a drafted 18-year-old player's rights are held for four years. If there is no transfer agreement, as with Russia, there is an indefinite hold on the player's NHL rights but the player is not eligible to come over to play in North America until he's either finished or been released from his KHL-affiliated contract.

Specific to the Flyers' group of Swedish prospects, the team holds their rights for a duration of four years from the time they were drafted. The Flyers' rights to Högberg and Bernhardt will expire on June 1, 2020 if the respective players are not under NHL contract. The Flyers hold 2018 second-round pick Ginning's rights until June 1 2022, along with those of Ersson and Westfält. The rights to Lycksell, a 2017 draftee, are held by Philly until June 1, 2021.

The NCAA rules are also rather complicated. The duration of NHL rights depends on the duration of the players' NCAA hockey eligibility. In the majority of cases, this means four seasons from the time the player is drafted, with an Aug. 15 expiration date on their NHL rights. In some cases -- players who play in the USHL, for example -- their NHL rights can be held for a total of five seasons after they are drafted. 

Specific to the Flyers, this means that the team has until Aug. 15, 2020 to sign Allison and/or Laczynski following the conclusion of their respective senior seasons. If not, they become unrestricted free agents. New Flyers center Kevin Hayes was originally a first-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 but opted for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2014 after playing four seasons at Boston College. He signed with the New York Rangers.

Cates is an example of a five-year rights player. Although he was drafted by the Flyers in 2017, he played a full season of USHL hockey in 2017-18 before joining Minnesota Duluth for their NCAA championship-winning 2018-19 season. Therefore, Cates has three seasons of NCAA remaining. The Flyers hold his exclusive NHL signing rights until Aug. 15, 2022.

The Flyers' rights to recently graduated University of Michigan left winger Brendan Warren will expire this summer. He is not in the organization's plans to sign to an entry-level deal. 

NCAA TRANSFER PROTOCOL

Under NCAA rules, a player who transfers out of one collegiate hockey program into another must sit out one season before he can join his new college's team. The player will not lose a year of NCAA eligibility during the missed season. He is permitted to play in other leagues during that time, as long as the league is classified by the NCAA as an amateur league. 

For NCAA purposes, none of the three CHL leagues are classified as amateur circuits. This is due to the players' receiving stipends (although they are not salaried). If a player leaves an NCAA team and joins a team in the OHL, WHL or QMJHL, he forfeits all remaining NCAA eligibility.

On the flip side, the NCAA considers Canadian junior A leagues such as the BCHL to be amateur leagues. Thus, O'Brien can join the Penticon Vees for the 2019-20 season without compromising his remaining three seasons of eligibility once he joins Boston University.

The Flyers' holding period on O'Brien's NHL rights depends on whether the NCAA denies or upholds his transfer protocol appeal. If the appeal is upheld and he is permitted to join Boston University immediately, the Flyers will hold his rights until Aug. 15, 2022. If the appeal is denied and he spends 2019-20 in the BCHL, Philly's rights on him are extended to 2023. 

Tomek also went through the NCAA Transfer Protocol during his collegiate career. Drafted by the Flyers in 2015, he attended the University of North Dakota as a freshman and sophomore. After appearing in only two games over those two seasons, he went through the Transfer Protocol to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha. During the required one-year waiting period, he played in the USHL for the Waterloo Blackhawks, and the Flyers hold on his rights extended one additional year. 

Tomek remained a backup goaltender when he joined UN-O, appearing in just five games and playing 140 minutes. This spring, he received an offer to sign with a pro team in his native Slovakia. Tomek signed the deal, foregoing his senior year. The Flyers will allow his NHL rights to expire.

DEVELOPMENT CAMP ATTENDANCE RULES

The NCAA permits players to attend NHL Development Camps in July but there are strict rules for doing so without losing their amateur status as defined by the NCAA. This year, most of the Flyers' NCAA-affiliated prospects were in Development Camp, including O'Brien and 2019 first-round pick York.

In a nutshell, the NCAA required the collegiate players at Flyers' Development Camp to pay their own way (including transportation costs, hotel and food) for all but the first 48 hours at camp. The "48-hour rule" partial exemption that allows the Flyers to cover hotel and food for two days applies only to first-time attendees. The 48-hour clock starts ticking upon arrival at camp. All attendees must pay for their own round-trip transportation. Returning attendees must pay their own way for the entire duration of their stay, which technically includes even food. 
 
The NCAA has a once-per-team addendum as pertains to the 48-hour-rule for Development Camp. For example, James van Riemsdyk's brother, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Trevor, attended Development Camp both with the Flyers and Ottawa Senators while he was a student at the University of New Hampshire. The 48-hour-rule on partial expense coverage applied to both teams' Development Camps.

Even if the player fully pays his own way to Development Camp, the NCAA has additional rules that govern attendance. The most important rule is that players may not miss any classes at school in order to attend either a Development Camp in July or an NHL Rookie Camp in September. Thus, if a player is registered for summer classes at school, he cannot attend an NHL Development Camp. For this reason, Laczynski was ineligible to attend the Flyers Development Camp this year. Come Rookie Camp in September, every NCAA prospect is affected (which is why they do not attend). 

The NCAA's eligibility rules even affect things such as players' ability to keep pro team swag such as Flyers hats or t-shirts or their jerseys from the scrimmage at the end of camp. These are considered "material benefits" by the NCAA, so Development Camp attendees either must pay the team for the cost of the items, return them at the end of camp or donate the items to charity.

SLIDE RULE ELIGIBILITY

What happens once an NCAA prospect signs an entry-level contract? Regardless of the previous duration of his collegiate career, the player must forego all remaining NCAA eligibility. This was the case with Flyers 2018 first-round pick Joel Farabee, who signed with the Flyers after his freshman season at Boston University. His future now falls solely under the NHL's regulations spelled out in the CBA. 

Specific to the 19-year-old Farabee, his signing this years delves into two areas that often confuse people: the American Hockey League's age-eligibility rules and the NHL's "slide-rule" requirements. 

The oft-cited rule that players must be 20 years of age to play in the AHL applies only to players signed out of the OHL, WHL or QMJHL. For players signed out of college, European leagues or were Euro leaguers on loan to CHL teams in their draft-eligible season, the age restriction does not apply. Thus, Farabee is eligible to play immediately for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Secondly, the NHL's slide rule -- which allows an NHL-contracted player under the age of 20 to play in other leagues without burning a season off his three-season NHL entry-level contract -- applies to the AHL in cases where the player is eligible to play in the American League due to exemption from the age requirement. 

Specific to Farabee, this means that if he spends the 2019-20 season with the Phantoms, his NHL contract will slide and he will still have three seasons remaining on his Flyers contract come 2020-21. Even if Farabee is called up to the Flyers, he can dress in up to a maximum nine NHL games next season without burning the first year of his ELC. Beyond that point, the Flyers could either keep him in the NHL or send him back down to the Phantoms at any point but the first year of his entry-level deal will be triggered in either case. 
 

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