Players lacing up in the AJHL as the WHL remains on hiatus
EDMONTON -- The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) is garnering a lot of attention as the only high-level hockey league to be back on the ice in Alberta.
The Western Hockey League (WHL) is currently on hiatus, which left NHL prospect Jake Neighbours without a team to play on.
“After a certain amount of time and training and practicing so much, it’s only a matter of time before you have to play some games and get your rhythm back,” said Neighbours.
The Edmonton Oil Kings forward was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in October. He is currently on loan to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits.
“I definitely think the AJHL has become stronger for sure from it and I’m excited to get playing some games,” said Neighbours.
The Bandits aren’t the only ones to benefit from an influx of talent, several NHL prospects are joining the AJHL temporarily before the WHL is scheduled to return to play in January.
All three leagues are seeing benefits from the arrangement. NHL and WHL players are glad to be back on the ice and the AJHL is enjoying increased exposure for their entire roster.
“I think our last game we had eight or nine NHL scouts coming to watch us,” said Spruce Grove Saints General Manager Rob Sklaruk.
“The rest of the group gets to play with these high-end players and I think in the long run it helps your program,” added Sherwood Park Crusaders General Manager Kyle Chase. “We want our players that are new and our returning players to aspire to get to that level too.”
AJHL teams won’t be able to stack their roster with high-level players, each one is limited to a maximum of four players that have each played 40 or more games in Canadian major hockey.
Not all teams took advantage of this opportunity, some believing it is taking spots away from players who were good enough to make the roster during a normal season.
“We didn’t take away roster spots from anybody else or send guys home. We did it because if made sense for us and we were able to do it,” said Sklaruk.
“I respect where they’re coming from, and maybe they’re not happy about it. There’s only a handful of teams that haven’t chosen to bring on those players. The rest of us have embraced it,” said Chase.
The players on loan to AJHL teams will be returning to their WHL clubs on Dec. 20.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Adam Cook