Getting Drafty: Why The New U20 UK League Means It’s Time To Change The EIHL Signing System

This time last year, I wrote a column arguing that the way forward for UK hockey was to adopt a North American system of drafts and player trades to both shake up player movement within the EIHL and allow a potential route for young British talent to make its way into the EIHL system.

Whilst it was an excellent idea in theory, there was much discussion of the obstacles in place to such a system-for example the ability of young British players to potentially move from one end of the country to another for a development place, the lack of firm wages or contracts, and the difficulty of housing players each year.

The main stumbling block, however, was the widely-fragmented and inconsistent British junior system, which rarely allowed the best young players to compete against the best, leading to tricky evaluation of youngsters actual skill. In short, there was no coherent way for teams to actually assess young talent outside their own systems.

However, as of next season, thanks to the IIHF’s intervention and insistence that without it GB will no longer be allowed to compete in the World Championships, UK hockey will have an elite U20 league, which already has 15 teams committed to icing squads next season, according to IHUK.

This would seem the ideal opportunity to introduce at least a rudimentary “draft” system. I can see it working something like this.

– Players are eligible to be “drafted” after one year in elite U20 system. or at age 19-whichever comes first. This means that young prodigies will be able to become part of a team “system” earlier than 18, but also means that there will be a pool the first year out and there’s no “upper limit” on draftees

– Each EIHL team must have at least 5 U20 players in their “system” each year. This means that, while they may not be the “first” team of the player, they will hold the EIHL rights to their services, and so if they sign with an EPL/NIHL club at any time before the age of 23, then they will considered to automatically be on a “two-way” contract, much as the two-ways work in the North American system, and can be called up/sent down to their EIHL teams as necessary, thereby eliminating any chance of EIHL teams playing “short-benched”.

The draft itself will work thusly..

It will consist of five rounds, with each EIHL team being given the opportunity to select 5 players from the U20 league whose EIHL rights they wish to obtain each season. The draft will take place in May.

Draft picks will be allocated the same way as the NHL, with the 10th team in the EIHL having the first pick in each round, and the league champion having the last.

Once a player is selected, they will be considered part of the EIHL roster but will NOT count against any roster limits or salary caps unless they are actually with the team.

Given that the draft age is 19, they’ll be eligible for at least one more year in the U20 league, for the team they currently play for, but can be also called up to the EIHL roster of a squad where necessary. The EIHL team will decide whether their “prospects” play for the U20 team or the EIHL squad. However, they cannot insist a player remains in the U20 league should an EPL/NIHL contract be offered.

Under this system, draft picks can be traded to other EIHL teams during the season for players or other draft picks contracts. They are assets just like players themselves, and are teams to do with as they wish – 

for example, let us say that Nottingham have a surplus of imports – if they wish they can offer one of them to another EIHL team for one or more of their picks the following May.

– Conversely, if an EIHL team wishes to approach and sign a roster player from another EIHL team during the season-they can do so without the player being released first…if they offer one or more draft picks as compensation and this is accepted, The team losing a player would obviously then be able to sign a replacement import if they wished…or call up one of their “pool” of prospects.

The first “draft” would take place at the end of the 2015/16 season, concurrent with the end of the first U20 league season.

Once an EIHL team “owns” a players rights, they have the ability to call an U20 player up for preseason games if they wish to evaluate them. Wages for these U20 players will be set at a “league minimum” while they are with an EIHL team, and will be on a “per-game” basis.

To reiterate…an EIHL team owning player’s rights ONLY means that they have “first call” on that player’s services should they wish to use them and the player is playing within the UK system. It does NOT mean that they can dictate where the player plays outside of the EIHL, that they can prevent them going abroad to further their game – nor which contracts they can or cannot sign. As said earlier, should an prospect sign for an EPL/NIHL team before the age of 23, he will be considered to be on a “two-way” contract with the EIHL team holding his rights. Should they sign for a team abroad, the EIHL team holding their rights will have “first call” on their services should they wish to return to the UK.

When players reach the age of 23, the EIHL club holding their rights must sign them to an “official” contract in the following offseason if they haven’t already done so, or they become unrestricted free agents, with no further link to the team that drafted them.

As soon as a player signs an “official” contract (not a two-way, but as a pro player with an EIHL team), they become that team’s asset and are treated like any other roster player with regards to pay, housing etc.

This is a slightly modified version of the North American draft system – and under this system, a young British player who gets drafted is effectively guaranteed a link with an EIHL team until the age of 23. It means that teams at the top tier of the sport suddenly have the chance to lock up the rights to far more young UK talent while also having the ability to allow it to develop before signing. If used right, it shows young Brit players a clear path to the top of the sport in the UK and offers a more concrete way for all leagues to develop young British talent.

The creation of an elite U20 league is an excellent first step in development. But there needs to be a path beyond that to the top of the sport in the UK. This system is one way to give young players that path. If it’s implemented properly.

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