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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Europeans no longer have draft bonus

TRAVERSE CITY -- The Euro has dropped in value.

That is, the European hockey player being selected as a late-round gamble in the draft.

In the collective bargaining agreement that ended the NHL lockout in 2005, teams' rights to European-drafted players were severely curtailed. Before the current agreement, NHL teams could draft Europeans and keep their rights on the shelf forever whether or not the player ever signed a contract. Now, Europeans can remain in a system for only two years without a contract.

Non-college North American players were always in that situation and remain so. College or college-bound players may now be claimed by NHL teams for four or five years after being drafted (they may play a year of Tier II junior before entering college) without being signed.

The effect of the rule change could be seen at this year's amateur draft and at the Detroit Red Wings' prospects camp that concluded Tuesday in Traverse City.

In 2007, only 14 of the 60 players drafted in the final two rounds were playing in Europe. In 2000, that number was 30 of 64.

"In the old CBA, a North American you had to sign after two years and a European you could hold onto forever," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "You get into the later rounds, when there was a North American and a European kid that were about the same, you'd go with the European because he could develop. Some kids are ready at 20, some are ready at 25. Europeans have lost that time."

When the Red Wings made their fifth and final draft pick this summer, they selected Bryan Rufenach, a defenseman starting his collegiate career at Clarkston this fall. The Red Wings have until 2011 to make a decision on whether or not to financially commit to Rufenach by signing him. By then, Rufenach will be 22 and have four years of high-level college hockey on his resume. The same goes for the Red Wings' first-round selection this year, Brendan Smith, who is attending the University of Wisconsin.

With the Red Wings' other three draft picks -- Swedish forward Joakim Andersson, forward Randy Cameron of the Quebec junior league and forward Zack Torquato of the Ontario Hockey League -- the decision clock will expire in two years.

"The philosophy will never change in the first three rounds," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "But when you get to the sixth, seventh round, if you can select a player and he's going a route where you get extra time to evaluate him, that's an advantage. Lots of later-round picks end up playing in the NHL. They need time. If we would have drafted Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk (under these rules) and had two years to make a decision, probably we would have signed them, but allowing them to stay in their environment and develop at their own pace has allowed them to become the players that they are today."

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson of Sweden was the last player selected in the 2002 draft, 291st overall. When he signed a two-year contract in 2006, he became the lowest-drafted player to ever earn an NHL deal. Holland tabs Ericsson, who participated at the prospects camp, as having a good chance to some day play in the NHL.

For the Red Wings, the rule change could steer the organization away from one of its signature traits -- finding gold in Europe in late-round draft picks.

Detroit's top power-play forward unit of last season -- Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom -- had an average draft position of 213th overall with the highest pick being used on Datsyuk (171st) in 1998. At 22, Zetterberg was the youngest when he first played in North America. Datsyuk and Holmstrom were both 23 when they ventured across the Atlantic Ocean.

"Everybody develops at a different rate," said Nill. "People forget that Pavel Datsyuk didn't come over here until he was 23. We're in a tough business. We're very short term. There's pressure to win all the time."

And that pressure means that Europe will never be ignored as draft fodder for the NHL. While the low-round incentive for taking Europeans is now gone, the talent produced in hockey powers like Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will always be among the best in the world.

"The development doesn't know there's a two-year limit," said Hakan Andersson, Detroit's director of European scouting.


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