With a 2-0 loss on Saturday night to the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were eliminated from the WCHA tournament and in all likelihood any chance they had at being invited to the Frozen Four tournament is also lost. Minnesota's elimination means that Golden Gopher senior forward Mike Hoeffel, New Jersey's 2nd round pick in 2007 (57thoverall) is free to sign with the Devils. After playing a full four years at Minnesota, Hoeffel has exhausted his college eligibility and now is able to take the next step of his development in the professional game.
After the jump I look at the timeline in which the Devils are obligated to sign Hoeffel in, where we should expect him to play next year and what type of impact he might have down the road.
Mike Hoeffel Career Statistics:
When will the Devils sign Hoeffel?
Per CBA article 8.6 section C, the Devils have exclusive rights to Hoeffel, up to a point. The CBA states: ......his drafting Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiation for his services through and including the August 15 following the graduation of his college class. Additionally, I know many people have expressed concern that the Devils are up against the 50 player signed contract maximum. That is not a concern this year because Hoeffel was a draftee of the Devils. This allows them to make his contract effective for next year per CBA article 50.8 section D which states:
(d) No Club or Player may enter into an SPC that does not cover at least the then-current League Year. The foregoing does not apply to an SPC entered into pursuant to Section 50.5(f) above, or to Unsigned Draft Choices or Draft Related Unrestricted Free Agents, who shall be permitted to sign an SPC during the period from March 1 through June 1 immediately preceding the League Year in which such SPC is to take effect.
Of course they could sign him now andassign him to Albany immediately (they would need his permission to send him to Trenton of the ECHL), but they will probably allow him to finish his studies and then get a look at him at development camp in July.
Where should we expect him to play next year?
Unless he has an amazing prospect and training camp I would expect him to begin the year with Albany next year. While the WCHA does have some great teams, the increased level of competition in the AHL is something Hoeffel will need to adjust too. This will also be a period for him to adjust to the different rink size of the professional game as opposed to the Olympic size rinks the NCAA uses.
While I do expect him to begin the year at Albany, if he shows promise he won't stay there for long. The Devils have shown this year that they are not afraid to use rookies in important spots. Due to playing for a full four years in college Hoeffel is actually older than current Devils Jacob Josefson and Nick Palmieri, so if they feel he is progressing or has nothing to gain by playing in the AHL they will likely give him a shot in the NHL at some point next year.
What type of expectations should we have for Hoeffel?
Back in December I did a short profile on Hoeffel and Devils defensive prospect Seth Hegleson with Ryan Cardinal of GopherPuckLive.com. Ryan, who saw Hoeffel play throughout his college career had this to say when asked about Hoeffel's NHL future:
Ryan: I don't know if he'll project to be a top six forward at the pro level at this point, but he's a strong skater, and if he buys into a third line type guy, I think he could do really well in that role since he has good size and will always have the ability to pop in goals since his shot is great (just doesn't hit the net enough).
If Hoeffel, can become a third line player who can skate well and score occassionally I will take it. One problem with prospects like Alexander Vasynuv and to a lesser degree Nick Palmieriis that they are going to have to play in a top 6 role to be effective. If Hoeffel can stand on his own as a third line player he would supplant players like Mattias Tedenby who will eventually move from the bottom six forward to a top six forward.
I am also not concerned about his lack of penalty killing time in college. With players like Vladimir Zharkov, Rod Pelley, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson and David Steckelin the mix there is also not a large need for an additional player on the roster who can kill penalties.
So what do you think Devils fans? Will Hoeffel be signed sooner or later?