There are two seasons in Canada: hockey season and waiting for hockey season.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this time of the year with WHL training camps completed and the start of the regular season only a few weeks away is that everyone wants to make predictions. The people from the DUBNetwork will soon be casting our votes for our preseason predictions.
Nothing is more unpredictable than trying to predict junior hockey. This is not only a challenge for fans and people in the media it’s also an unknown for WHL management. General managers in the WHL are never really sure what their team will look like because of the many elements that are out of their control. There are so many unknown factors.
16-year-olds – Players who were selected in the Bantam Draft 16 months ago now have their first chance to earn a spot on a WHL roster. Until training camp starts you never really know which of these kids are physically and mentally ready to be in the league. There is the challenging element where players are considering going the NCAA route and will not show up to your camp. They very well could then change their mind and now want to play in the WHL.
17-year-olds – In many ways when you are 17 this is the last chance for rookies to make their way into the WHL. While there are 18-year-old rookies once in a while it does seem this age group is in their make or break season. Much like 16-year-olds, you are never positive who can make your team until you see them at training camp. For the returning players you are expected to have increased responsibilities but as a GM you are guessing which players can go from scoring four goals to notching 20.
18-year-olds & 19-year-olds – This is the age group where NHL teams are now a factor. When one of your players is selected in the NHL Draft, you are at the team that took them’s mercy as to their immediate future. NHL teams can be unpredictable as to which players they will keep in the big leagues. A WHL team could be banking on having a key player back on their team and then be left empty-handed when they never are returned. Now for the next many weeks you are constantly looking for updates from the NHL on the possibility they will change their mind and send the player back to the WHL. It could happen in October, November, December and at times after the World Junior Championships in January. As a WHL GM, in September it’s very unsettling to not know about an important piece of the puzzle for many months.
20-year-olds – The NHL continues to be a factor as they can now keep players in their system by sending them to the AHL or ECHL. You could have six 20-year-olds on your WHL roster but it could be October until you know for sure if a player is going to be returned to your team. In recent years we have even seen AHL players returned to the WHL in December. Now you have some big decisions to make in your over-ager situation.
Import Players – The Import Draft is held in June and in some instances you are not positive the player will report to your team until training camp starts. Plus, in some cases, until camp happens, you are not sure if the player can even earn a spot on your roster.
WJHC & Trade Deadline – Other contributing factors to your team success include losing players for five or six weeks to the World Junior Championship. If you are lucky enough to have a two or three players who are elite talents and they play at this tournament you will see them leave your WHL team in early December to participate in their country’s camps. If they play in the tournament they may then need a week or so to re-charge their batteries after the event. For some teams, missing these key players for a long stretch has major implications in the standings. Then of course you have the January 10th trade deadline which is your last chance to finalize the roster.
So you’re a WHL general manager and during the summer you are thinking about your team. Other than not knowing which players may or may not report to camp, not knowing what players could be kept in the pros, not knowing for sure about your newly drafted Import players, not knowing which players are ready to make big jumps in their production, not knowing which players will be missing from the line-up because of the pros and WJHC, you have a complete understanding of how the season will go. Good luck.