The NHL has extended its Player Development Agreement with the Canadian Hockey League for one year, the league announced Tuesday afternoon. In case you’re not familiar with the agreement, here’s a nice summary (courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers):
“A signed player aged 18 or 19 who was claimed from a CHL club and is not retained by the NHL club, must be assigned to the CHL junior club whom he last played for or owes a contractual obligation.
In 1979, the National Hockey lowered the draft eligibility age over a two-year period from 20 to the present-day 18 (with the birthday cut off set at Sept. 15 of the draft’s calendar year). Concurrently, in order to keep CHL teams strong both on the ice and at the box office, CHL players under 20 whose NHL rightsholder deemed not quite ready for the NHL were required to return to their Canadian major junior team rather than playing in the AHL during the season.
Those basic requirements have held in place ever since. However, for young players signed out of Europe or collegiate players who give up their remaining NCAA eligibility in order to sign an NHL entry-level contract or AHL minor league contract, the minimum age to play in the AHL is 18.”
Where this applies most importantly for the Buffalo Sabres at this point is regarding Dylan Cozens. The 19-year-old was drafted seventh-overall by the Sabres in 2019. He played this past season with the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he put up 85 points, including 47 assists, in just 51 games. He also served as captain of the team in his third full junior season.
The NHL had reportedly been discussing changing this rule, which would have allowed players under 20 to play in the AHL. However, since the current agreement has been extended for one year, that point is now moot - and Cozens won’t turn 20 until February 2021.
That means Dylan Cozens is either playing in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres for the 2020-21 season, or he’ll be going back to Lethbridge for his fourth and final season of junior hockey. Rochester is off the table.
So - will Cozens wind up playing in Buffalo or Lethbridge next season?
There are certainly pros and cons to both situations, for both the Sabres and the player in question. Can he handle a full season in the NHL? Can the Sabres roster fit him in, or will he wind up playing fourth-line minutes or be a healthy scratch half the time? Is he better off serving one more year in junior hockey, likely captaining Lethbridge again and tearing up the WHL for one more season?
It’s hard to say what the right choice is, and even if I could, what may seem like the right choice now may not be when the season comes around. To me, where Cozens ends up next season depends on a bunch of factors, including how he performs at camp (development camp, if there is one, and training camp), what other players the Sabres have on their roster when September rolls around, and how he looks in preseason, assuming he gets a few games in.
If he does head back to the WHL for the 2020-21 season, I look forward to watching him absolutely dominate.