Learning the AHL: How players can be acquired



With Stanley Cup finals and Calder Cup Finals now complete, attention has now turned to the 2018-19 season for NHL and AHL clubs and the Belleville Senators are getting primed for its second season.

With the NHL Draft taking place later this week in Dallas (June 22-23) and free agency commencing July 1, there are going to be a number of new faces in Ottawa and Belleville as the Senators front office staff get set for a huge few weeks for the organization.

With that being said, here’s a look at the five ways a player can be acquired:

NHL Draft

The Ottawa Senators, like many National Hockey League teams, acquire the most players through the NHL Entry Draft, which is held in June every year. The draft allows each NHL team to select amateur players between the ages of 18-21 to acquire their signing rights in the eyes of the league. Once a player is drafted, Ottawa can elect to sign the player they’ve selected to an entry-level contract, making them eligible to play in the NHL immediately. However, amateur players from North American leagues like major junior (ex. OHL) and junior A (ex. OJHL) are not eligible to play in the American Hockey League until they are 20 years of age or are turning 20 by December 31 of the season. Amateur players from European leagues are eligible to play in the AHL immediately after being signed.

Of the 47 players that suited up for the Belleville Senators in their inaugural season, 18 were drafted by the Ottawa Senators. Some of these players include Colin White (1st Round, 2015), Andreas Englund (2nd Round, 2014) and Max McCormick (6th Round, 2011).

Professional Free Agency

A common way of acquiring more experienced players is professional free agency, which begins July 1 every year. When NHL and AHL players’ contracts expire, they either become ‘unrestricted free agents’ meaning they can sign with whatever club they desire; or, they become ‘restricted free agents’ meaning their rights are still restricted to the team that they previously played for. Whether a player is restricted or unrestricted depends on their age and/or professional experience. NHL and AHL clubs may also sign free agent players from other leagues such as the KHL (Europe/Asia), SHL (Sweden) and ECHL (North America).
Some of these players include Erik Burgdoerfer (signed 2017 from Buffalo Sabres, NHL), Max Reinhart (signed 2017 from Kolner Haie, DEL/Germany) and Jack Rodewald (signed 2016 from Wichita Thunder, ECHL).

Amateur Free Agency

All amateur players who remain undrafted or unsigned become unrestricted free agents. Most players that are signed as amateur free agents are either “overagers” (playing their final season of junior hockey) or college players who are ready to turn professional.

Some of these players include Andrew Sturtz (signed 2018 from Pennsylvania State University, B1G), Jordan Murray (signed 2017 from University of New Brunswick, AUS) and Macoy Erkamps (signed 2016 from Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL).


NHL and AHL teams can acquire players directly from other clubs by trading assets like players, draft picks and other considerations. While trades can happen virtually at any time of the year, there is a trade deadline set in place for both the NHL and AHL levels during the regular season–players must be acquired before these deadlines to be eligible to participate in their respective playoffs.

Some of the players that have been acquired via trade include Eric Selleck (acquired by Belleville in 2018 from Hartford (AHL) in exchange for future considerations), Patrick Sieloff (acquired by Ottawa in 2016 from Calgary (NHL) in exchange for Alex Chiasson) and Nick Paul (acquired by Ottawa in 2014 from Dallas (NHL) along with Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill and a 2nd round draft pick in exchange for Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson).


The least common, but equally as important way of acquiring players is through waivers. When an NHL contracted player is assigned to an AHL team, they must clear waivers unless they are “exempt” due to their age or NHL experience. Waivers allow any NHL team to claim a player that another NHL team is trying to assign to the minor leagues, allowing the receiving team to give that player an opportunity to play in the NHL rather than being sent to the AHL. Players who are under an entry-level contract (ex. Colin White, Gabriel Gagne, Max Lajoie etc.) are deemed “exempt” and do not need to clear waivers to play for Belleville, however, more veteran players (ex. Erik Burgdoerfer, Jim O’Brien and Ben Sexton) must clear waivers before playing for Belleville.

Former Belleville Senator, Chris DiDomenico, was put on waivers by the Ottawa Senators before being claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay would eventually put DiDomenico on waivers in trying to assign him to their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, before Ottawa claimed him back. This is an example of a situation in which an NHL team put a player on waivers, lost him to a claim, and re-acquired him via waivers again–this results in the player being automatically eligible to be assigned to the AHL again, which is why DiDomenico joined Belleville immediately after.

Next week, we take a look at the varying contract types available in the NHL and AHL.

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