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Hockey’s March Madness: signing prospects for playoffs

With a lot of the NCAA hockey seasons ending, primarily in Div. I, as well as the major junior regular seasons (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, etc.) being sent to playoffs, a lot of NHL teams have signed their top prospects to entry-level deals, negating their amateur status.

This push to sign younger players comes with the NHL playoffs looming in just a couple weeks. And at the end of March, the chaos of clinching for the playoffs, or tanking for the lottery draft pick, is always fun to watch.

One of the bigger signings as of late, especially because he made his NHL debut on March 28 was Quentin Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks. After spending two seasons at Div. I Michigan University, part of the Big 10 Conference, he signed an entry-level deal with the Canucks. Hughes registered 62 points as a Wolverine, garnering him a $4.8 million, three-year entry level contract and earns an average $1.6 million every year for those three years.

He was probably one of the biggest pickups, after registering his first NHL point, an assist, in the 3-2 shootout win for Vancouver over the Los Angeles Kings.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of hockey — a contract can be signed at any time following the end of the college hockey season (or junior season for that matter) right before the playoffs so that an NHL team can either: a) bulk up before the playoffs given injuries, or b) send their prospects to their (potentially) more successful minor league teams in the AHL or ECHL and give them more playing time against some players of their caliber.

But, there are still a lot of prospects who have not signed, merely because their teams are still going, and those players do not want to forfeit their amateur status, whether that be under the NCAA policies or the junior hockey policies. The wonders of young athletes being paid giving everyone headaches.

Hughes is only one of a couple players from the top 10 picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft who have not signed with a team — whether that was immediately after the draft or sometime during the season. It is always impressive to watch NHL teams know exactly when to sign a player or let them grow a little more in college or juniors.

Cover photo from the University of Michigan athletics

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