In a decision which could affect numerous NCAA players and NHL teams, an arbitrator declared 1998 New Jersey first round draft choice Mike Van Ryn to be an unrestricted free agent.
Van Ryn, drafted after his freshman year at the University of Michigan, left college after his sophomore season to play for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. He and his agents argued that a loophole in the NHL collective bargaining agreement made the young defenseman a free agent.
Arbitrator Lawrence Holden agreed with Van Ryn, a bitter pill to swallow for both the Devils and the NHL. It was hoped New Jersey would avoid an arbitrator’s decision and settle with Van Ryn.
The Boston Bruins had a similar situation in 1999 with former draft choice Ben Clymer who left the University of Minnesota in order to play in the Western Hockey League. However the Bruins relented after receiving pressure from the league, allowing Clymer to become a free agent and sign with Tampa Bay. This avoided the inevitable arbitrator’s decision setting a precedent for the future.
Van Ryn, a solid two-way defensman, should generate considerable interest from other NHL teams. He is certain to receive more lucrative offers than he had received from New Jersey.
Mike Van Ryn wants to be a free agent. The New Jersey Devils want Van Ryn to remain Devils’ property. Others want Van Ryn to go back into the draft.
It remains to be seen whether Van Ryn hits the jackpot. With the NHL draft right around the corner, the former University of Michigan and Sarnia Sting defenseman’s status remains in question. After playing two seasons at Michigan, Van Ryn, a 1998 first round draft choice of New Jersey, decided to play a year in the Ontario Hockey League. The young defenseman and his agent claim this path should lead to free agency.
An arbitrator still has not decided Van Ryn’s case and an answer may not be forthcoming until mid-July. However Van Ryn and his agent, Don Meehan, remain patient and hopeful.
“We have a hearing scheduled for June 13,” according to Meehan. “The arbitrator then has thirty days to hand down his decision.”
Both New Jersey and the National Hockey League are quite anxious about the final decision in this case. The Devils are concerned they could lose the rights to one of their top prospects. The NHL is worried about the precedent that could be set by this case. If Van Ryn wins, a U.S. college hockey player who is drafted in the future could attain free agent status by playing a year for a Canadian junior team.
According to Meehan, “We remain very optimistic about the results of the arbitration hearing.” The Devils, along with the NHL, can only hope the optimism of Meehan and Van Ryn is misguided.
Well, in nine days the Devils will start training camp and there will be a few no shows. As usual the holdouts that take place in New Jersey is no surprise, but what is a surprise is that NJ’s top pick this past draft Ari Ahonen will bypass his opportunity to make an impression on the Devils top brass.
Ari Ahonen, chosen 27th overall, will skip this camp and work on becoming the No. 1 goalie in the first-division Finnish Elite League. Although the 6-2, 172-pound Ahonen is highly regarded, he is only 18.
“He won’t be here,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He’s going to be a No. 1 goalie at 18. It’s good, but you like to see your young kids brought along slowly.” Ahonen played for Jyvasklya in the Finnish Junior League last season. Lou feels Ari will be a starting goalie in the NHL in the future. With the progress of JF Damphousse developing a lot slower then the Devils hoped, it only made sense to go out and draft another netminder. A lot of heads turned when Lou Lamoriello choose Ahonen, but NJ who has one of the best scouting system in the league was sold on him from the beginning. It’s rumored that when NJ was scouting slick skating defensman Brian Rafalski they found Ahonen also. “I always take into account what Dave says” (Devils head scout David Conte) “And he came to me and told me that Ahonen was very talented and polished even at 17, we could not take a chance on passing him up.” said Lamoriello
The New Jersey Devils have had a great draft history over the past few years, putting the most players in the National Hockey League of any organization in the league. Almost 40 in the last 4 seasons. This kind of success must continue in order for the Devils to be competitive. Although the Devils first round pick is not until the 27th overall. The Devils have even with late picks, had tremendous success. I am sure that GM Lou Lamoriello will make this one no exception.