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Daily Dish: Hockey Development Needs a Plumber - Junior Hockey News

Published: Tuesday, 11 May 2021  
By: Stephen Heisler,

In the past we talked about some of the problems with pay-to-play teams and even the oversite from sanctioning bodies. Well today we are going to jump up a level of play and talk about another issue that is clogging the developmental elevation process.

I think it's ironic to hear team owners complain about the red-tape and hassle of calling up lower level prospects during the season then hear the same guys not want to send another player up to the next level. 

This is yet another situation where junior hockey has allowed the wallets to retard natural development. Here's an example of how it really should be.

One of the European advisors sends a young Swiss player to a club with a single team in a lower level league. The player arrives a week before the start of the season, speaks minimal English, but proves in practice to obviously be a very skillful player.

During the first game, the youngster hits the switches and lights the lamp six times while getting another four points with assists. Everybody in the building can see that this player does not belong in the league.

The coach knows a NAHL coach and within days, the young talent is on practice ice with his new team. The international prospect continues to light the lamp, but at a slower rate, and amasses 30 points over the next ten games.

Like the coach before him, the NAHL bench boss has a decent relationship with a USHL coach and before you know it, the player manages to accumulate in excess of a hundred USHL points to close the season. Ultimately, the prospect gets picked in the first round of the NHL draft and lives the American dream.

That's the way it should work...but it does not because there are tremendous clogs in the system. Most of those clogs are caused by ego and greed. Coaches and team owners get too caught up in winning and the money grab to allow a player to bolt up the developmental ladder. The situation has become so ridicules that there are good hockey people questioning if the system is functional at all.

How can we fix it? All of us in junior hockey need to step in and force a player acquisition system that is functional.

The issue is always going to be about money. Low level pay-to-play clubs are funded by the players. When a team losses players that have not paid in full, there a decline in operational revenues. So I can understand why teams are hesitant. Higher level teams should be able to bring players up from lower levels at any time. The higher level team should be able keep that player for up to five games during the assignments (and cover all transportation costs). At the time the player is rostered for a sixth game, the higher level club should negotiate with the lower level club to clear the player’s balance of the player fee.

There are a number of owners that would jump off a bridge before agreeing to such a policy. Aside from the actual player fee, these operators feel the higher level club should have to pay a developmental premium for these prospects.  

Elimination of the drafts is another way for leagues to force operators into keeping their end of the bargain. In that scenario, players will flow to the best operators, forcing the other operators to either step up their game of drop to a lower level of play. The draft simply pushes players to other options if they are unhappy with the team that has selected them.

There is a good reason why we don’t see open drafts from the Canadian leagues, other than age specific drafts at the major junior levels.

In the end, a change of ideology would be in the best interest of creating a true developmental system where players can easily be identified and moved up (or down) the ladder.

That's just my opinion, what's yours?

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Stephen Heisler, and not necessarily the views of does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.
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